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Anisotropic Filtering

Anisotropic texture filtering is not a part of the core OpenGL specification, but it is a widely supported extension that can dramatically improve the quality of texture filtering operations. Texture filtering is covered in the preceding chapter, where you learned about the two basic texture filters: nearest neighbor (GL_NEAREST) and linear (GL_LINEAR). When a texture map is filtered, OpenGL uses the texture coordinates to figure out where in the texture map a particular fragment of geometry falls. The texels immediately around that position are then sampled using either the GL_NEAREST or the GL_LINEAR filtering operations.

This process works perfectly when the geometry being textured is viewed directly perpendicular to the viewpoint, as shown on the left in Figure 9.4. However, when the geometry is viewed from an angle more oblique to the point of view, a regular sampling of the surrounding texels results in the loss of some information in the texture (it looks blurry!). A more realistic and accurate sample would be elongated along the direction of the plane containing the texture. This result is shown on the right in Figure 9.4. Taking this viewing angle into account for texture filtering is called anisotropic filtering.

Figure 9.4

Figure 9.4 Normal texture sampling versus anisotropic sampling.

You can apply anisotropic filtering to any of the basic or mipmapped texture filtering modes; applying it requires three steps. First, you must determine whether the extension is supported. You can do this by querying for the extension string GL_EXT_texture_filter_anisotropic. You can use the glTools function named gltIsExtSupported for this task:

if(gltIsExtSupported("GL_EXT_texture_filter_anisotropic"))
    // Set Flag that extension is supported

After you determine that this extension is supported, you can find the maximum amount of anisotropy supported. You can query for it using glGetFloatv and the parameter GL_MAX_TEXTURE_MAX_ANISOTROPY_EXT:

GLfloat fLargest;
. . .
. . .
glGetFloatv(GL_MAX_TEXTURE_MAX_ANISOTROPY_EXT, &fLargest);

The larger the amount of anisotropy applied, the more texels are sampled along the direction of greatest change (along the strongest point of view). A value of 1.0 represents normal texture filtering (called isotropic filtering). Bear in mind that anisotropic filtering is not free. The extra amount of work, including other texels, can sometimes result in substantial performance penalties. On modern hardware, this feature is getting quite fast and is becoming a standard feature of popular games, animation, and simulation programs.

Finally, you set the amount of anisotropy you want applied using glTexParameter and the constant GL_TEXTURE_MAX_ANISOTROPY_EXT. For example, using the preceding code, if you want the maximum amount of anisotropy applied, you would call glTexParameterf as shown here:

glTexParameterf(GL_TEXTURE_2D, GL_TEXTURE_MAX_ANISOTROPY_EXT, fLargest);

This modifier is applied per texture object just like the standard filtering parameters.

The sample program ANISOTROPIC provides a striking example of anisotropic texture filtering in action. This program displays a tunnel with walls, a floor, and ceiling geometry. The arrow keys move your point of view (or the tunnel) back and forth along the tunnel interior. A right mouse click brings up a menu that allows you to select from the various texture filters, and turn on and off anisotropic filtering. Figure 9.5 shows the tunnel using trilinear filtered mipmapping. Notice how blurred the patterns become in the distance, particularly with the bricks.

Figure 9.5

Figure 9.5 ANISOTROPIC tunnel sample with trilinear filtering.

Now compare Figure 9.5 with Figure 9.6, in which anisotropic filtering has been enabled. The mortar between the bricks is now clearly visible all the way to the end of the tunnel. In fact, anisotropic filtering can also greatly reduce the visible mipmap transition patterns for the GL_LINEAR_MIPMAP_NEAREST and GL_NEAREST_MIPMAP_NEAREST mipmapped filters.

Figure 9.6

Figure 9.6 ANISOTROPIC tunnel sample with anisotropic filtering.

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