What is Dynamic Refresh-Rate Technology?

[Skill Level: Noobs Will Cope]

Before making an attempt to understand the process of dynamic refresh-rate technology, let’s cover the basics first.

What It Is A Refresh-Rate?
A refresh-rate is defined by the number of still images continuously flashed on a display in order to simulate a moving image. This is measured in Hertz or Hz. Modern televisions are able to deliver refresh-rates in intervals of 24Hz/30Hz and 60Hz. This essentially means that within a 30Hz refresh interval 30 still images will be displayed every second. And for 60Hz, 60 images are displayed. This is also known as the frame-rate or frames-per-second, which is where the common terminology of 60fps or 120fps is derived from. 60 Frames of an image.

High Vs Low
As higher refresh-rates provide a smoother and drastically more fluid simulation of movement, many PC gamers will strive for the highest refresh-rate possible, with displays-specifically built to provide higher refresh-rates than to that of a standard television. Not only does a higher refresh-rate provide a superior moving image, but more detail is also resolved from the image due to the higher amount of processing taking place As the human-eye does not see in refresh-rates, those of a lower metric such as 30Hz and below will often break the sense of illusion.

Additional detail & less blurring resulting from higher refresh-rates.

This also leads to slower moving images which start to resemble a slide-show, along with extreme levels of motion blur and input-lag from the player’s input device. It should be noted however, that non-interactive experiences such as film and television shows are acceptable at lower refresh-rates. This is due to the fact that these do not require any input from the player, where they might be involved to dictate the movement of the image.

Requirements
As refresh-rates are highly dependent upon CPU clock speed, playing the same game at 30Hz then attempting to do so at 60Hz will require exactly x2 the amount of processing power. This requirement can somewhat be mitigated by adjusting image quality settings but this will be dependent upon the game in question and how it allocates specific in-game effects to the CPU and GPU. Modern-generation game consoles often target 30Hz for their gameplay experiences, this is because of their incredibly slow clock speeds sitting around 1.6GHz2.3GHz, where as even the most basic of modern-day CPUs are clocked at 3.00GHz by default.

Battlefield 4 (PS4 & Xbox One) Note the fluctuating frame-rates. 60FPS target. Source: Eurogamer

Static & Variable
While a display will produce images at set intervals of 24Hz/30Hz or 60Hz in order to ensure consistency, whether it be console or PC, the hardware of each player’s specific configuration will often remain variable – meaning frame-rates can fluctuate and display images at time different intervals which are not standard to the display. How well a given configuration will produce a consistent moving image at a given frame-rate will be dependent on the performance level of its hardware, as well as how visually demanding the in-game scene will be to render.

An in-game sequence consisting of one or two characters walking through an empty hallway will be nowhere near as demanding as a scene that’s rendering harsh weather simulations with explosions and destructible objects, this can lead to frame-rates producing visual stutter, slow-downs and screen-tearing, as they do not synchronize with the intervals of the display. Playing it safe, console games will often target lower refresh-rates, PC on the other-hand will provide options to the player within the game’s options menu, such as frame-rate caps and Vertical-Synchronization (V-Sync).

Screen-Tearing

Frame-rate caps will allow the user to cap the frame-rate of the game to 30 or 60 – as long as the hardware is powerful enough to do so at their desired image quality settings. V-Sync will place a a stall on the GPU, meaning it will not allow for a frame-rate to be displayed which exceeds the refresh-rate of the TV or monitor itself (Essentially throwing away spare frames). The downside to this technique can be a stuttering image as it is still not in synchronization with the display.

Let’s Fix It
Dynamic Refresh-Rate Technology works by providing direct communication between the hardware with a processor built into the display. Where traditional Televisions and monitors will produce moving images at fixed intervals, Dynamic Refresh-Rate Technology allows for variable yet synchronized intervals which allow the monitor to display the images as and when they’ve been processed by the PC – without the intrusion of stutter or screen-tearing. This means a moving image that’s constantly scaling from 40FPS to 60FPS or 70FPS to 80FPS will always remain visually smooth and free from stutter, as neither frame will be required to match a specific interval.

Battlefield 4 (PC) 124FPS. Note the frame-rate monitor in the top left corner – FRAPS

What Are The Options?
Available exclusively to owners of Nvidia GeForce GTX graphics cards, Nvidia has developed an in-house technology known as Nvidia G-Sync. While owners of High-End GPUs may not find much use for it given the performance level of the current GeForce GTX 1070 and 1080 class of graphics cards, those on Mid-range or Low-End GPUs such as the GTX 1050 or 1050Ti will find it to be useful when low refresh-rates intervene on gameplay. AMD graphics card owners can utilize AMD FreeSync Technology. Also providing the same benefits as those covered by Nvidia’s G-Sync.

G-Sync Technology

As G-Sync is exclusive to GeForce GTX GPUs while AMD FreeSync is free for display manufacturers to implement as they see viable – also universally compatible with any model of graphics card, it’s up to Nvidia to allow FreeSync support on their GPUs. The reason Nvidia chooses to avoid development with FreeSync technology is down to the amount of control and improvements already made so far within G-Sync technology.

FreeSync Technology

Now available on a majority of gaming displays with high refresh-rates at 120Hz and above, Dynamic Refresh-Rate Technology adds an entirely new experience to gaming.
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