Gpu Scaling Vs Display Scaling: Differences, Pros, Cons

The world of computer graphics is changing rapidly with new technology being released every day. One of the most recent developments has been a change in GPU scaling vs display scaling. This article will explore the basics of this subject, as well as offer some tips on how to keep up with this fast-paced field.

Gpu Scaling Vs Display Scaling

What is scaling?

Scaling has been around for a long time, most notably with the advent of large televisions. With these larger TVs came the desire to have content that was formatted for them. This led to HDTV being produced along with up/downconverted SDTV stations. Overscaled videos are ones where you can tell the video has been upscaled, for example an SDTV image with an HDTV aspect ratio (16:9). Upscaling can also be done in software or hardware to make lower resolutions look better on higher-resolution displays.

What is GPU scaling?

GPU scaling is when the graphics processing unit (GPU) handles upscaling and downscaling of the video. The concept of this was described in my last article, Understanding HDTVs . Since then, NVIDIA has released their new GeForce GTX 600 Series which included Kepler-based GPUs with 3D Vision Surround. These GPUs allowed for a new level of video scaling by including 3D Vision Frame Lock to the review. This technology allowed gamers to play games on both screens instead of just one screen at a time, provided that their computer had enough power and memory to handle such a process.

What is Display scaling?

Display scaling is when the display handles upscaling and downscaling of the video. The advantage in this case is that it can be done on a much simpler hardware level, potentially increasing clarity and performance by stopping unnecessary calculations from happening.

Main difference between GPU scaling vs display scaling

The difference between GPU scaling and display scaling can be summarized into 10 points:

Main difference between GPU scaling vs display scaling
  1. Display scaling requires a process that is done on the screen itself, either through hardware or software. These processes may be referred to as “scaling engines” and usually work by interpolating pixels, resulting in a smoother image than if all of the pixels were already there. This is not the case with GPU scaling, which takes the raw video and scales it on the GPU itself.
  2. Display scaling can allow for optimizations to occur at the display level resulting in more effective rendering of graphics, potentially increasing performance. Such optimizations cannot be performed by GPUs due to their inherently different rendering pipelines.
  3. Display scaling can be done on all monitors that are connected to a system, for example for multiple screens in a 3D Vision Surround configuration or different resolutions on the same monitor. GPU scaling requires multiple graphics cards which makes it more difficult to do with multiple screens attached to one computer.
  4. Display scaling can be done at any time, for example when changing resolutions in games or using display modes like Exclusive/Exclusive (Surround). GPU scaling requires the monitor to be unplugged and plugged back in to take effect.
  5. With display scaling, one does not need high-end GPUs and multiple graphics cards. It can be done on any graphics card or integrated GPU since it is a hardware feature of the monitor itself.
  6. Display scaling does not require 3D Vision and cannot use NVIDIA’s Frame Lock technology. With GPU scaling, 3D Vision and using Frame Lock for multi-monitor gaming is possible with Kepler GPUs and the right software.
  7. With GPU scaling, it is not possible to change the height of the resulting image since this information is embedded in the video itself and cannot be changed without either decoding and re-encoding it or by controlling your GPU’s output resolution (which you can do in gaming with 3D Vision). With display scaling, the height and width of the display can be changed dynamically by repositioning your windows.
  8. Display scaling is more effective when done with higher resolutions since there are more pixels to work with and provide a better interpolation quality. With GPU scaling, interpolation quality is dependent on your GPU’s performance which will be much higher with higher resolutions, resulting in better image quality.
  9. Display scaling results will vary between operating systems and hardware since not all drivers are the same nor does Windows itself scale identically. With GPU scaling, it is possible to get similar results across both NVIDIA GPUs and AMD GPUs alike if they are of equal performance levels.
  10. Display scaling is done by the monitor itself while GPU scaling requires software, resulting in more latency and less direct control over the whole process. With display scaling, it is fast because it’s done on hardware level encoding pixels directly to the screen, while with GPU scaling there are two levels of encoding which reduces performance.

The biggest difference between GPU scaling and display scaling, however, is the flexibility displayed by GPU scaling. While it can take a long time to set up depending on your system configuration, if properly setup it allows you to use any screen resolution without worrying about compatibility issues or other problems that can be caused by software changes made to your operating system’s graphics subsystem.

GPUs for scaling:

GPUs which are said to be able to upscale well : AMD Radeon HD 6990M+, AMD Radeon HD 6970M, NVIDIA GTX 560M.

Displays with good upscaling:

Displays with good upscaling capabilities: 1080p TVs (most TVs come in this resolution).

Displays with slight upscaling capabilities: 1440p monitors. Displays with terrible upscaling capabilities – 720p (or lower) laptops.

Examples:

Some Notable examples of GPU Scaling in action: Dark Souls 2, Fallout 3/NV, Skyrim

Some Notable examples of Display scaling in action : Crysis 3

GPU scaling Pros and Cons

GPU scaling advantages

There are many advantages to GPU scaling. Some of these advantages include:

  • scaling is always performed in real-time
  • GPUs do not go through the same driver and operating system overhead that CPUs already deal with, making scaling much faster.
  • since GPUs can be used for numerous other tasks, there is no need to idle the GPU while it scales.

Another advantage of using a GPU to scale large images is cost: specifically whether or not you own the particular graphic card that can do scaling. If you own a card that doesn’t support hardware scaling, then it will scale with its CPU or use only one viewport and framerate. If this is the case, using your CPU to scale can be more costly in terms of system resources than purchasing a new graphics card.

GPU scaling disadvantages

Currently, GPU scaling is not as advanced as display scaling and has many technical limitations. Some of these disadvantages include:

  • devices that do scaling are typically very expensive, as they need to be able to handle extremely high resolutions.
  • scaling can only be performed with hardware that supports it on the specific graphics card.
  • scaling is not supported on GPUs that have a fixed pipeline. This means that while scaling will work with DirectX, it will not work with OpenGL or earlier versions of DirectX.

Display scaling Pros and Cons

Advantages of Display Scaling

While display scaling does have numerous advantages, it is far more limited than GPU scaling. Some of these advantages include:

  • scaling can be done on any device that has a GPU, not just extremely high resolution GPUs with certain chipsets.
  • lower specs are required for the same performance when using display scaling.

Disadvantages of Display Scaling

There are also many disadvantages to using display scaling. Some of these include:

  • scaling is slower because software implementations cause additional overhead for the CPU, making it much less efficient than GPU scaling.
  • driver and operating system support is required in order for a monitor to be able to scale. This means that while scaling will work with DirectX, it will not work with OpenGL or earlier versions of DirectX.
  • software scaling causes the image to degrade in quality before returning an image after scaling which can be very noticeable. The degradation that occurs during software scaling is due to color compression and other algorithms that are used in order to scale images quickly (this does not occur in GPU scaling).
  • lower resolutions are typically supported for display scaling compared to GPU scaling. For example, 1440p is typically the highest resolution that can be scaled down with display scaling (if it is even supported) without any degradation occurring during scaling. However, GPUs can scale images downwards many orders of magnitude below their maximum capability without any loss in image quality.
  • the majority of software implementations for display scaling do not support multi-GPU configurations.

How can I tell if my computer can do GPU Scaling?

To see if your computer can do GPU scaling, follow these simple steps:

  • make sure you are using an Nvidia graphics card (Nvidia GPUs support hardware scaling)
  • open the Display control panel
  • in the Appearance tab make sure that Scaling of high DPI settings is set to either 128% or 150% (150% works better on older or low end cards)
  • switch to a DirectX application, such as a game
  • if you can now use multiple viewports in your graphics settings for the application, it means that your machine supports hardware scaling.

Please note that not all games benefit from being scaled. In particular, older games have been designed around fixed resolutions and will not take advantage of scaling.

If you are running windows 7, open the start menu and type “dxdiag” into the search bar. When it comes up click on that link or press enter. In dxdiag click the display tab at the top and you will see a screen with your GPUs info. If it says “hardware acceleration” in the 3D settings, you can use GPU scaling.

If your graphics card is not powerful enough to scale games in dx9 mode (>1Ghz+), then it also will not be capable of hardware scaling (with or without dx9). The only way around this is to either buy a new graphics card that does support hardware scaling, or you could try using scaling software.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are many differences, advantages, and disadvantages to both scaling methods i.e GPU scaling vs display scaling. While display scaling may be better suited for those with extremely high-resolution displays which require higher-end GPUs, GPU scaling is much more powerful as it has no limitations as long as you have a moderately fast GPU (or if your chipset supports hardware scaling).