How to Run Games at 4K on a 1080p Monitor With Supersampling
If you’re looking to run a game at 4K on a 1080p monitor, you can go beyond anti-aliasing to help upscale your graphics. Here’s how to use supersampling, whether you have an AMD or Nvidia graphics card.
Ever wished you could run a game at a higher resolution without splurging on a 4K monitor? If jagged edges are getting you down, a feature called supersampling will let you run your games at 4K or higher—even on a 1080p monitor—for a noticeably sharper image.
What Is Supersampling?
Those who have been in the PC gaming space for a while are probably already familiar with the concept of aliasing—where edges that should be smooth look like stair steps, creating a pixelated look reminiscent of early 3D games. This is particularly common at lower resolutions like 1080p, which is why games have included anti-aliasing features for years to help smooth out those jaggies.
Modern versions of anti-aliasing, like Subpixel Morphological Antialiasing (SMAA), work decently well, mitigating those obvious stair-step patterns without sucking up a ton of resources. But they aren’t perfect. Many will only smooth out certain types of aliasing around polygon edges, while others may make the image look a bit blurry.
Look at the photo above, from some foliage in Shadow of the Tomb Raider: on the left, you can see the branches are very jagged with anti-aliasing turned off. The SMAA-altered image on the right is better, but the smoothing kind of makes the branches disappear into the sky while adding some noticeable blur. It’s an improvement, but it’s not perfect.
That’s where supersampling comes in. Instead of applying anti-aliasing techniques to certain parts of the image, supersampling renders the entire game at a higher resolution—say, 4K—then scales it back down to fit your screen. The result isn’t the same as running the game on an actual 4K monitor, obviously, but it’s a surprising improvement over rendering the game at 1080p, even with anti-aliasing on.
If you don’t believe me, check out the two photos below, showing the same scene. The left is the same SMAA-altered image I showed earlier, while the right image has supersampling cranked up to 4K. You can see a noticeable difference in both the branches in the foreground as well as the trees in the distance to the right—and trust me, it’s even more noticeable in person than it is in a photo. Even though we’re still running the game on a 1080p monitor, the supersampled branches are clearly visible and defined, without the blur or aliasing of the previous images.
Supersampling is nothing new. In fact, it’s one of the oldest forms of anti-aliasing. It’s rather brute force, though, and as you can imagine, it comes with a huge performance hit. So it became less common when newer types of anti-aliasing, like MSAA and FXAA, came along and smoothed out jagged edges without destroying your frame rate.
But these days, supersampling has come back into fashion. If you have enough performance headroom—say, if you have a high-end PC and are playing a game from a few years ago—it’s a viable option for making your games look as good as possible.
With a powerful enough PC, you can even combine supersampling with a game’s built-in anti-aliasing options for a truly crystalline image. (It’s also great for real-time strategy titles where you want to see more of the map in your game window.)
Some modern games actually offer SSAA, or supersampling anti-aliasing, right in the options. In that case, you can just crank that to your desired level and get going—no extra work necessary. But for the games that don’t, Nvidia and AMD have driver options that let you force supersampling at the system level, called Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) and Virtual Super Resolution (VSR), respectively.
These essentially trick your computer into thinking a higher-resolution display is connected, so you can render a wide variety of games at 1440p or 4K, even if you’re using a 1080p display. Note that this only works if the game itself supports resolutions that high. If you’re playing really old games, you may need to apply patches or other tweaks to get the game running at modern high resolutions.
Enable Dynamic Super Resolution on Nvidia Cards
Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution (DSR) is a system-wide supersampling feature available from the driver’s Control Panel. Make sure you have a card that supports DSR, and that you have the latest Nvidia drivers installed before continuing.
Right-click your desktop and open the Nvidia Control Panel. Head to the Manage 3D Settings tab, and look for the DSR – Factors option in the list of global settings. Check the boxes for the resolutions you want to support. They’re listed as multiples of your native resolution, so if you have a 1080p monitor and want to render games at 4K, check the 4.00x box. (It doesn’t hurt to just check all the boxes now while you’re testing out the feature, since it’ll give you more in-game resolution options.)
Once those boxes are checked, look below at the option labeled DSR – Smoothness. By default, this was set to 33% on my system, but you can adjust it to your tastes. I’ve seen many folks say they prefer 10 to 20%. You may have to do some experimentation in-game to find out where your ideal setting lies.
Once you’ve set those options, apply them and close out of the Nvidia Options. Open a game, head to its Graphics or Display settings, and you should be able to set your resolution higher than your monitor natively supports. When you do so, it’ll scale the image down to fit your screen, with a noticeable improvement in image quality. Try different resolutions, smoothness settings, and combinations of anti-aliasing to get the perfect result for your game of choice.
Enable Virtual Super Resolution on AMD Cards
AMD’s supersampling feature is called Virtual Super Resolution (VSR), and it’s available on a number of graphics cards from 2015 and beyond. If you want to see if your card is supported, check out AMD’s product specifications database. Search for your card and see if Virtual Super Resolution is listed under Supported Technologies.
To enable the feature on your card, ensure you have AMD’s driver software installed, and open the settings panel by right-clicking your desktop and choosing AMD Radeon Software. Click the Settings cog in the upper-right corner, then head to the Display tab. Select your display and slide the toggle next to Virtual Super Resolution.
From there, you should be able to open your game, head to its Graphics or Display settings, and set your resolution higher than your monitor would normally allow. It will automatically scale the image back down to fit, but you should see an improvement in the image’s fidelity. Experiment with different resolutions and anti-aliasing settings to find the sweet spot, and enjoy!
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