Steam Deck Scaling Filters explained

As one of the most impressive portable gaming devices on the market, Valve’s Steam Deck boasts numerous standout features. One of the most interesting is its assortment of scaling filters, including Linear, Nearest, Integer, and FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR). This article will explain these filters and how they can influence your gaming experience on the Steam Deck.

What is image scaling?

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Before diving into the specifics of each filter, it’s crucial to understand what image scaling is. In short, it is a process used to adjust the size of digital images. When images are scaled, an algorithm uses pixel data from the original image to generate a new, resized image. However, this process can sometimes lead to a reduction in image quality or the appearance of artifacts, which is where scaling filters come into play.

Linear Filter

The Linear Filter, also known as bilinear or bicubic upscaling, uses linear interpolation to determine the pixel value of the output image based on the surrounding pixels in the input image. While this method can produce smoother and less pixelated images than nearest-neighbor scaling, it may cause images to appear slightly blurred or washed out, particularly when the original image contains fine details.

Nearest Filter

The Nearest Filter, also known as Nearest Neighbour, employs a straightforward algorithm that assigns the value of the nearest pixel from the input image to each pixel in the output image. This approach can be beneficial for pixel art or retro games where the aesthetic appeal lies in the blocky graphics. However, it can lead to distortion and pixel shimmering at non-integer scales due to differing pixel sizes (like 1×2, 1×1, 2×1, 2×2) within the same image. For modern games, this may result in visuals that appear pixelated or jagged, especially during upscaling.

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Integer Filter

The Integer Filter, or integer scaling, involves multiplying the original pixels by a whole number – hence the term “integer”. This method is ideal for games with 2D pixel art, as it preserves the graphics’ sharp edges and clarity, resulting in pixel-perfect integer-ratio upscaling. However, it only works well with certain Steam Deck resolution ratios, and incorrect ratios might lead to uneven pixel sizes.

FidelityFX Super Resolution (FSR)

FSR is an open upscaling algorithm developed by AMD. Based on the Lanczos algorithm, it provides results akin to nVidia’s DLSS but doesn’t require tensor hardware cores, although the quality is generally lower. FSR operates by rendering the game at a lower resolution, then scaling it up using its algorithm. This boosts performance while also providing image sharpening adjustments. On Steam Deck you can adjust the sharpness of FSR. Tinker with it if you want the best results.

FSR has the capability to elevate a 720p resolution to 1080p while barely affecting performance, thus delivering a crisper visual experience without compromising the smoothness of gameplay.

Scaling Filters in Video Games ELI5

Imagine you’re drawing a small picture with blocks (each block is a pixel). Now, you want to make the picture bigger. You have a few ways to do it:

  1. Linear Filter: It’s like if you take your small picture, redraw it bigger, and then smooth everything out with a big paintbrush. The result is a bit blurry but overall bigger and smoother.
  2. Nearest Filter: It’s like redrawing your picture by making each block bigger, but keeping its original color. The result might look jagged or blocky because the blocks (or pixels) are bigger, but the picture will stay crisp.
  3. Integer Filter: This is like the Nearest filter, but you can only make the blocks bigger by a certain amount (like 2x, 3x, etc.). So, everything stays sharp, but sometimes the picture won’t fit perfectly into the new, bigger size.
  4. FSR (FidelityFX Super Resolution): Imagine if you had a magical machine that could take your small picture and redraw it bigger, adding in extra details as it goes. It’s designed to make things look smooth and detailed even when you’re making the picture much bigger.
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These methods are called “scaling filters”, and they help make video games look good when we change their size on different screens.

Selecting the Ideal Filter

The optimal filter for your gaming experience depends on your preferences and the game you’re playing. Retro or pixel art games might benefit from the crispness offered by the Nearest or Integer Filter. Conversely, if you’re playing a modern 3D game and desire smoother visuals, the Linear Filter or FSR might be more suitable.

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