ASTC benefits

ASTC offers several advantages over existing texture compression schemes. We will look at these advantages in this section of the guide.

Adaptive compression

The first word in the acronym ASTC is adaptive, and after reading this guide it should be clear why. Each block always compresses into 128 bits of storage, but the developer can choose from a wide range of texel block sizes. The compressor gets a huge amount of latitude to determine how those 128 bits are used.

The compressor can trade off the number of bits assigned to colors and weights on a per-block basis to get the best image quality possible.

Factors that affect the number of bits assigned to colors include:

  • the number of partitions
  • the endpoint mode
  • the stored quantization level

Factors that affect the number of bits assigned to weights include:

  • the number of weights per block
  • the use of dual-plane
  • the stored quantization level

Range of supported formats

The compression scheme that ASTC uses effectively compresses arbitrary sequences of floating-point numbers, with a flexible number of channels, across any of the supported block sizes. There is no real notion of color format in the compression scheme, beyond the color endpoint mode selection. However, a sensible compressor would use some format-specific heuristics to drive an efficient state-space search.

The orthogonal encoding design allows ASTC to provide complete coverage of our desirable format matrix, across a wide range of bit rates, as shown in the Block sizes table.

This wide range of supported formats and bit rates means that content creators can use ASTC to compress almost any asset to some degree. You can make appropriate bit rate choices based on quality needs rather than format constraints.

Image quality

The high level of flexibility ASTC provides does not mean that image quality is compromised. On the contrary, an ASTC compressor is not forced to spend bits on things that do not improve image quality. This is made possible by the high packing efficiency allowed by BISE encoding, and the ability to dynamically choose where to spend encoding space on a per-block basis.

This dynamic compression efficiency results in significant improvements in image quality compared to older texture formats, despite ASTC handling a much wider range of options. Comparisons with older formats give the following results:

  • ASTC at 2 bpt outperforms PVRTC at 2 bpt by ~2.0dB.
  • ASTC at 3.56 bpt outperforms PVRTC and BC1 at 4 bpt by ~1.5dB, and ETC2 by ~0.7dB, despite a 10% bit rate disadvantage.
  • ASTC at 8 bpt for LDR formats is comparable in quality to BC7 at 8 bpt.
  • ASTC at 8 bpt for HDR formats is comparable in quality to BC6H at 8 bpt.

For more information about this data, see ASTC: The Future of Texture Compression.

Differences as small as 0.25dB are visible to the human eye. Remember that dB uses a logarithmic scale, so these results are significant image quality improvements.

3D compression

The techniques in ASTC which underpin the format generalize to compressing volumetric texture data without needing very much extra decompression hardware.

ASTC optionally supports compression of 3D textures, which is a unique feature not found in any earlier format, at the bit rates shown in the following table:

Block footprint Bits per texel
3x3x3 4.74
4x3x3 3.56
4x4x3 2.67
4x4x4 2.00
5x4x4 1.60
5x5x4 1.28
5x5x5 1.02
6x5x5 0.85
6x6x5 0.71
6x6x6 0.59
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