Enhanced Graphics Settings for Google Earth

Graphics settings comparison in Google Earth

This week I spent some time setting up a new desktop with a new high-end video card. With this new system, I felt I could afford to turn on more graphics settings for 3D applications. I knew that these settings could improve the look of Google Earth – I occasionally would use this on my old box to make screenshots. But, using these settings while interactively viewing Google Earth is just awesome! It makes viewing the earth even more beautiful. Oh, and 3D models in GE look MUCH better with these settings. It’s hard to see in the scaled-down comparison above, but the clarity improvement of these two airport shots is pretty obvious even here.

If you have a relatively new video card which is ranked well for 3D gaming then you should try these tips out. Note: you should try each of these tips one at a time. See how each one effects the speed of update when you move around GE. If one of them slows things down a lot, you might want to avoid using it except when you want to to do a screenshot.
Here are the three main settings I recommend:

  1. Detail Area – From within Google Earth, go to “Tools -> Options“. On the “3D View” pane you should choose “Detail Area” to “Large” (unless you are running your screen at a low resolution – if you’re doing this, you’re wasting a good video card).
  2. Anisotropic Filtering – On the same “3D View” pane as above, try setting “Anisotropic Filtering” to “High“. If it slows things down too much, try “Medium“. This setting will greatly improve your view when you are looking at an angle (say down a runway at an airport, or at distant mountains). More details will be visible – things will seem clearer.
  3. Anti-Aliasing – Anti-aliasing is a technique used to reduce the appearance of jagged lines caused by pixels (which are square) when drawing a line at an angle. GE doesn’t currently have a setting for this, so you will have to turn it on using your video card’s settings (the method varies depending on your card). Look for the control panel application for your video card. Find the settings for “Anti-Aliasing” and start with the lowest setting. Try higher settings if it doesn’t seem to impact your graphics performance. NOTE: If you turn this on (instead of allowing applications to control it) all 3D applications you run will be affected. Also, you should close Google Earth and reopen it after changing the setting or the setting may not take effect. Once you have it on, turn on a vector layer like “Roads” or “Borders” in GE. You should see a great improvement verses looking at them without anti-aliasing. IMPORTANT – you must have the “Tools->Options->3D View->Graphics Option” set to “OpenGL” to see anti-aliasing – it does not work with DirectX in Google Earth.

    About Frank Taylor

    Frank Taylor started the Google Earth Blog in July, 2005 shortly after Google Earth was released. He worked in 3D graphics for many years and was very impressed with this exciting product. Frank left in 2009 to circumnavigate the earth by sailboat as part of the Tahina Expedition.



Comments

  1. Thanks for the tip. Makes a noticeable difference.

  2. Hey Frank,
    What’s your definition of a good video card? I purchased a computer a wee while ago, and I had them build it pretty close to the specs of my work computer (I’m a GIS professional), with the exception of the video card (I know, I know). I was thinking I should purchase a new card, but was struggling about which to get. I’ve blanked my screen a couple times (apparently it didn’t like a collada file set up as a refreshing network link while I was modifying it in sketchup in a seperate window). Any suggestions?

  3. Matt, the easiest definition of a good video card is one with lots of memory (256 Mbytes or 512 Mbytes), and that runs well when you turn on lots of advanced features like Anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. Another easy measure is that if you bought it within the last year and it cost more than US$250, there’s a good chance its a good one. For better information, you should read reviews of video cards at places Cnet.com, or the main gaming web sites/forums, or technical sites like Extremetech.com.

  4. Here’s a very recent video card buyer’s guide (for gamers, and by extension Google Earthers) by Tom’s Hardware, a reputable site that I have been reading for years:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/2006/10/31/the_best_video_cards_for_your_money/
    They break things down into price segments; under $100, ~$150, etc. all the way up to the $500+ cards! For Earthing even the lower end of those should actually be very good, and an unbelievable improvement over things like multiple-year-old ‘integrated’ graphics, which is all many budget or business class machines have. All you need to know is if your computer has an AGP slot (the standard for many years, though some really budget computers didn’t have one at all) or the newer PCI-Express slot (Only found in recent computers, maybe the last 1 year or so? Note: not the same as regular old PCI slots).
    If you already have a decent 3D video card it is much harder to tell how much improvement a newer one would give you. If you’re in that boat and know what you have, you can try the Tom’s Hardware graphics card charts, but it can be confusing, especially to compare an considerably older card to newer ones:
    http://www.tomshardware.com/site/vgacharts/index.html

  5. I really like this site. It helps me in my work as a teacher. I use GE in a lot of subjects, and my students (they are about 12 years old) love it. Thanks for good updating on GE.
    -Norwegian teacher from Bergen-

  6. Art Steinmetz says:

    Tom’s Hardware Guide has good, No-nonsense suggestions for video cards. http://www.tomshardware.com/2006/10/31/the_best_video_cards_for_your_money/

  7. A good video card for Google earth does not have to be very expensive. I turn on every feature for google earth while using a laptop based x300. This is a very simple card comparable to an extremely old ati 9250 or 9600 or an nvidia 5200. All of these cards sell for under $60.
    Another thing, when it comes to google earth, it’s not a game. Often times 10fps is more than enough to make the earth experience nice. This can be achieved with a budget card with no problems. Think about it, do you look at a globe while spinning it? No, usually you turn it every so often to get a better look at something but the rest of the time it remains in one position.

  8. Google Earth is really great project, I use Google Earth almost every day, and it’s just for fun, I spend almost 2-3 ours

  9. I have a google plus, my question when is the URL updated. I have notice that when view my house its the same as months ago. Also just zoomed in the the fires in the southern pare of California and is does not sure any of them.
    Thanks in advance, I not sure if there is something else I’m supposed to do to view a more current update view
    Bill

  10. The resolution of your monitor is the main factor determining how much video card you need. 3D apps running on wide screen monitors at 1680 x 1050 require more than twice as much power than the same app at 1024 x 768. And that’s just for rendering. The greater viewshed generally means a more work for the application as well.

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