VRR – what is adaptive frame rate sync?

Gamers are different: the plot is important for some, while the graphics remain in the background, others are ready to give everything in order to squeeze out of the computer as many cherished frames per second as possible. But, no matter how actively and often they improve the gaming system for this, visually not everything turns out to be smooth: whatever one may say, there are gaps in the image in games. Manufacturers have figured out how to fix this – with adaptive frame synchronization technologies like VRR. Let’s figure out what it is and how it differs from other technologies.

Let’s imagine that the monitor turns on and off six times per second, that is, it operates at a frequency of 6 Hz. During this time, the video card manages to prepare six frames. They work synchronously: each frame is displayed exactly at the moment the display is turned on, so all information is shown on the screen without changes. If the video card is able to prepare not six, but seven frames in the same period of time, then a monitor with a scanning frequency of 6 Hz will not be able to display all the rendered frames in the correct order, but it will somehow try to do it. Since one frame is always superfluous, at some point the display will be an image composed of two frames superimposed on each other.

This phenomenon is known as tearing. It manifests itself regardless of the power of the processor, video card, as well as the “coolness” of the TV and monitor. As a result of the constant “attachment” of extra frames to those that hit the address when the monitor was turned on, shifts and gaps occur in the continuous gameplay. To fix this and bring the gameplay back smoothly, manufacturers have come up with frame rate synchronization technologies. Among the already known methods, which we discussed in a separate article , there are also completely new ones – for example, VRR.

V-Sync is a software way to synchronize frames. The technology is supported at the software level, so it can be included in any game and any project. The principle of operation is maddeningly simple: the driver reads the monitor’s refresh rate and limits the number of frames produced by the video card to this value. For example, with a monitor refresh rate of 60 Hz, Vsync will limit the frame graph to 60 fps. For most gaming tasks, this is enough: the gaps disappear, the picture becomes smooth.

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The flawless operation of this function continues exactly as long as the video card is capable of processing the required number of frames per second. If the graphics accelerator drops the frequency to at least 59 fps, then V-Sync will automatically set the limit to a multiple of two. Then the screen will display not 59 or 60 frames, but exactly 30 – so that the monitor again works synchronously with each frame. This is the main disadvantage of vertical synchronization, which can be circumvented with the help of new technologies.
G-Sync is NVIDIA’s proprietary frame sync technology, which is significantly different from the software method. In this case, not the frames are adjusted to the monitor frequency, but the monitor frequency is set dynamically so that each monitor turn on corresponds to one ready frame. Naturally, the technology has limitations: synchronization can work within the range from 30 fps to 240 fps. And as long as the tandem does not go beyond these limits, everything looks perfect. As soon as the video card fakes and drops the frame rate below the minimum, the magic “jisync” turns into ordinary vertical sync.

This method depends on the hardware capabilities of the monitor and video card. To activate G-Sync, the user must make friends with a compatible display with a “green” accelerator no older than 10th generation. The limitations are due to the proprietary technology: NVIDIA allows its developments to be used only within the framework of a license, while monitor manufacturers pass the costs of purchasing it onto buyers. They also include the cost of an additional module – something like a separate computer in the monitor case, which is responsible for the synchronization. Hence the inflated cost of monitors that support this feature.

F reeSync is AMD’s frame sync technology. By tradition, the manufacturer turns complex things into simple ones and makes expensive magic available to everyone. Therefore, the “red” technology works as well as G-Sync, but does not require the installation of an additional computer in the monitor, and is also being developed openly – without licenses and “overpayments”.

The second version of FreeSync supports an extended frequency range from 9 Hz to 240 Hz. At the same time, to activate frame synchronization, not only a proprietary accelerator is suitable, but also any NVIDIA video cards not older than the 10th generation. Thus, to use this technology, it is enough to have a suitable monitor or TV.

VRR (Variable refresh rate) is a relatively recent adaptive synchronization technology. In fact, this is the collective name for all synchronization algorithms. Therefore, for the technology referred to in the material, it is better to use the name HDMI Forum VRR.

The prefix “HDMI” in the decoding of the abbreviation means that VRR is part of the data transmission standard of the same name. And this is not the first attempt at a connector-bound technology. Previously, a function called VESA Adaptive Sync was received by the DisplayPort standard – the same “frames”, only in profile.

With the new version of HDMI, TVs and transmitters have learned to understand high refresh rates in 4K resolution, automatically recognize content and adjust the TV for games, and also adjust the screen refresh rate dynamically, like gaming monitors with G-Sync and FreeSync support. Accordingly, VRR works in the same way as the technologies listed above, but has several advantages.

VRR can work not only on HDMI 2.1 devices, but also over HDMI 2.0 . Even in this mode, the user gets a smooth picture effect. The only difference is in the maximum resolution and scanning frequency . While HDMI 2.1 can handle up to 120 fps in 4K resolution, HDMI 2.0 is limited to 60 Hz.

With the advent of VRR, game console manufacturers no longer need to use additional firmware in firmware to enable FreeSync or G-Sync to work. Everything has long been provided for in HDMI, which they, in any case, implement in their systems. Moreover, TV manufacturers can also take a deep breath and get rid of the worries of implementing proprietary frequency synchronization technologies.

When a PC or console is connected to a FreeSync – enabled TV , HDR Dolby Vision is disabled. AMD sync technology is a separate feature and takes up a fraction of the HDMI bandwidth, so some useful add-ons are disabled. This won’t happen with VRR. For this adaptive frequency technology, its own channel is allocated, using which, the function does not interfere with the operation of other signals and streams.

What does it work for
Even at the initial stage of the distribution of the function, most video cards and modern TVs turn out to be compatible with VRR. The technology is tied to the data transmission standard and cannot be “cut” by the manufacturer of the TV or graphics accelerator. Therefore, it is supported not only by new devices , but even by last year’s video cards such as NVIDIA RTX 2000 or AMD Radeon RX 5000 series. Rumor has it that in the future, even devices with integrated Intel graphics will receive support for the new technology.

VRR has been actively integrated into LG TVs starting in 2020, as well as Samsung’s Q80 and Q90 series and newer. Support for the technology is also announced by the manufacturers of game consoles : Xbox One, Xbox Series and PlayStation 5. Prior to the software update, previous Microsoft consoles worked only with Freesync, and past Sony devices are still satisfied with the usual vertical sync.
How to turn on
To activate VRR, not only hardware compatibility of components is required , but also software support from the operating system. VRR appeared in Windows 10 after updating to version 1903, where the feature exists as an add-on to G-Sync and FreeSync, rather than a separate technology in its own right.

The developers declare that enabling the option does not affect the operation of other synchronization technologies, but only complements them in those projects where there is no support for other algorithms. For example, in games with DirectX 11, as well as in cases where the G-Sync mode does not cover the user’s tasks: there is not enough range of supported frequencies, or support for G-Sync and FreeSync is simply absent in the monitor.

To enable Adaptive Frequency Sync in Windows 10, you need to:

Install a monitor with support for G-Sync or FreeSync technologies;
Install a video card not older than NVIDIA GeForce GTX 10xx or AMD Radeon RX 5xx;
Update Windows to May 1903;
Check the HDMI cable version: it must not be lower than HDMI 2.0.