Thursday, January 9, 2014

[Rant] AMD FreeSync?

Nvidia-Gysnc2Couple of months ago, NVidia came up with a new technology called G-Sync to solve a problem gamers had been encountering for decades. Stuttering. What they do is they tell the display to refresh once a new frame has been finished rendering by the GPU, instead of the display refreshing at a constant interval automatically. For this, they had to modify the internals of the display. They had to replace the scalar module with their own G-Sync module. DIY lovers will be able to buy the module separately and modify their own display, if that is supported. General public will have to buy a new display with G-Sync support built in. Since this module is expensive,a G-Sync supported display will carry a price premium of $100 or so.

Thus, there are two issues with G-Sync.

  1. You need to buy a new display and that display is more expensive than a comparable display that doesn't support G-Sync
  2. You need to have a NVidia graphics card as NVidia won't be licensing this technology to AMD or anyone else in the near future.


And comes AMD's solution. AMD is not actually doing much other than releasing a driver update. You won't need a separate hardware module in the display, because it seems the VESA standard already supports controlling VBLANK intervals. (VBLANK is a “name” from the old CRT days, but is still used in LCDs as well) VBLANK interval is the time that the display waits till until the next refresh cycle starts. The problem here is that none of the displays currently available does not support this. This is just an optional feature in the VESA standard. Thus you still need to buy a new display that supports this, but nobody knows when displays that support this feature would come out. But when the display come out, they won't carry the premium of the G-Sync like module. And if it really works out well, it will be just as good as G-Sync.

The good news is that the upcoming Display Port 1.3 specification requires to have it implemented, hence the day won’t be that far away. But then again, G-Sync won’t require you to get a display with a Display Port interface. The modified scalar board (yes, that’s the G-Sync board) will take care of it.

AMD showed a preview of Free Sync at CES 2014 using a laptop. This laptop supports controlling VBLANK intervals, but not for getting rid of stuttering, but to save power by lowering refresh rate when you don’t need it – like when you are watching 24fps movies in full-screen. AMD is simply exploiting that. Most laptops don’t have it implemented either. One reason why this is available in some of the laptops is because there is no need for a scalar board because you don’t get inputs from different interfaces like DVI, D-SUB, HDMI etc. The input interface is fixed and already decided, thus it doesn’t require many of the circuitry that a normal desktop display needs to handle multiple interfaces.

Click here to read more about FreeSync at PCPerspective.

Now, that makes me wonder if there is some hope for these Korean displays (which I own one already) which don’t have a scalar board inside. They seem to have a bypass board though, but I don’t know what that does.

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