NVIDIA Image Scaling Tested
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NVIDIA Image Scaling (NIS) is a driver-based feature that takes the in-game image from a lower resolution and then upscales it to native resolution using a scaling algorithm. It also adds sharpening, making the output image look like it was rendered at native resolution.
So why bother? Performance. Since the game was originally rendered at a lower resolution, there are fewer pixels for the graphics card to work on, resulting in more frames rendered. This technique is similar to DLSS (Deep Learning Super Sampling). The difference is that NIS doesn’t use Tensor Cores or Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect how the upcoming frames/images will look. And since it doesn’t require any Tensor Cores (that are present in GeForce RTX cards), NIS is available on both RTX and non-RTX cards down to GTX 745. You just need to update the GeForce driver to 496.76 or newer.
This feature can be used in basically all games since it is a driver-based feature. You just need to enable it in the Nvidia Control Panel or in the GeForce Experience app.
Enabling NIS in the Nvidia Control Panel
1. Right-click on the GeForce Experience icon or right-click on the desktop and select Nvidia Control Panel.
2. Click Manage 3D Settings then select Image Scaling and turn it On from the drop-down menu.
3. Adjust the sharpening level and press OK. The Overlay Indicator is optional but we suggest enabling it to check if Image Scaling is working.
4. Finally, click the Apply button. Your screen will be blank for a second or two then come back up, so don’t panic when this happens.
Enabling NIS in the GeForce Experience App
1. Right-click on the GeForce Experience icon then select Nvidia GeForce Experience.
2. Click the Settings (cog icon) in the GeForce Experience app.
3. You can now turn on Image Scaling from the section with the same name. Your screen will be blank for a second or two, but not to worry – it will come back up shortly.
4. A pop-up notification will appear asking if you want to optimize all games and applications with the selected resolution and sharpening. If you do so, all games will be optimized and the selected resolution will be the resolution of the game when it launched. You can ignore this notification and then manually optimize each game through the GeForce Experience app, or in in-game settings.
Now that Nvidia Image Scaling is enabled, there are a few things that will show up in-game. First, the NIS indicator is on the top-left of the screen. If it is green, that means the game is rendered at a lower resolution and is being upscaled. If it is blue, that means the game is not being upscaled. Sharpening is always applied whether the game is being upscaled or not.
Another thing that will show up is the additional resolutions provided by the Image Scaling feature. These resolutions only show up when Image Scaling is enabled. You can select these resolutions in the game’s video settings.
For some games, 1130×635 or lower resolutions are not available.
Here is the list of additional resolutions for different native resolutions.
for 4K Output
for 1440p Output
for 1080p Output
|85%||3264 x 1836||2176 x 1224||1632 x 918|
|77%||2954 x 1662||1970 x 1108||1477 x 831|
|67%||2560 x 1440||1706 x 960||1280 x 720|
|59%||2259 x 1271||1506 x 847||1130 x 635|
|50%||1920 x 1080||1280 x 720||Not supported by Windows|
Selecting a lower resolution means that the game will first be rendered at that resolution, then upscaled to the native input resolution. Lower resolution is blurry and some details are not rendered properly compared to higher resolution wherein loss in image quality is minimal, that when upscaled, the image still looks like it has been rendered at input resolution.
Testing NIS in F1 22
Render Resolution Performance
First, we compare each resolution added by NIS with 50% sharpening. We also include 1280×720 and/or 1920×1080 with NIS off to see how much of an improvement and loss NIS does to image quality and performance, respectively.
Click the ⓘ button to expand captions
At the default image size, we can see that texts become sharper as the resolution goes higher, but improvements on the car and surroundings are non-existent. except for the fences which look better at higher resolution. Turning off NIS makes the image blurry but also makes the edges smoother.
Zooming in at 200%, improvements are more obvious with higher resolution. But the biggest difference is when you turn off NIS – the edges are smoother, it’s like applying anti-aliasing (which is already turned on in the form of TXAA). It’s like NIS and sharpening negates the effect of anti-aliasing.
The number of frames per second goes down as the resolution increases, which is natural because the game is rendered with fewer pixels at lower resolution. What we did not expect is that turning off NIS still gives you extra fps at 1280×720 but not at higher resolutions.
That lower resolutions provide extra fps while maintaining image quality is a good indication that NIS is a useful feature.
Now we will look at how sharpening improves the image quality at 1632×918 resolution.
At normal image size, the sharpening is a little noticeable when compared to the next level. But when compared to two levels higher, the difference is more visible as the image becomes clearer.
At 200%, the sharpening is more visible on each level. We felt that sharpening at 50% is already too much while 25% looks closer to 1920×1080 with NIS off.
Sharpening at any level didn’t really affect the performance. We suggest setting it to 25% as it improves the image quality just right.
NIS in The Division 2
Render Resolution Performance
The difference in image quality is almost non-existent, the improvement is only visible when you compare 1280×720 and 1920×1080, even when zoomed in.
The performance keeps improving at lower resolution without losing much image quality. Turning off NIS gives you extra fps at 1280×720 but not much at 1920×1080.
Over-sharpening is noticeable at 75% while 25% is the closest to 1920×1080 with NIS off, on both normal and zoomed-in.
The performance is basically unaffected at any level of sharpening. We suggest setting sharpening to 25% or 50%.
NIS in DOTA 2
Render Resolution Performance
At default image size, the difference in image quality is not noticeable for each resolution except at 1920×1080 which is over-sharpened in our opinion, but still looks great. Turning off NIS makes the edges smoother. 1130×635 resolution is available and it looks similar to 1280×720 with 50% sharpening.
Even at 200% zoom-in, the difference for each resolution is barely noticeable, though 1920×1080 with 50% sharpening looks best and details are clearly visible.
The performance at lower resolutions is the same with 150 fps. At 1920×1080 with NIS on, the performance dropped to 138 fps while turning NIS off it gained 4fps.
Over-sharpening is visible at 75% and 100%. Notice that the shadow is broken in 100% and 25% sharpening. 25% sharpening looks closest to 1920×1080 with NIS off, but since the shadow is broken, the next closest is 50% sharpening. Also, notice that the health bar is thinner when NIS is turned on.
The performance at all levels of sharpening is basically the same. We recommend setting the sharpening at 50%.
Sharpening doesn’t affect the performance at any level, but sometimes it causes some parts of the game not to be rendered correctly. 25% sharpening at 1362×918 resolution is the closest thing to 1920×1080 with NIS off. Turning off NIS gives you extra fps at 1280×720 but not much at 1920×1080.
Gaming Experience in DOTA 2
I played DOTA 2 with different combinations of resolutions and sharpening but did not notice any improvement or degradation in image quality, or even in performance. I didn’t get bothered if there were blurry textures or details here and there, in a fast-paced game like DOTA 2, you won’t be able to pay attention to those small details.
With that said, NVIDIA succeeded in implementing this new technology and feature to improve performance while maintaining image quality. Though not yet perfect, NIS is a welcome feature for gamers who don’t have access to a $500 GPU.