Adaptive Sync – Will You Adapt?

If you’ve listened to our technobabble podcast, you’ve probably heard me defend the virtues of NVIDIA G-Sync with reckless abandon.

 

Well today, on a grey, snowy Monday at the RBG Lair, I’d like to pull up a chair around the gas fireplace with a hot, watered down cup of whatever was left in the coffee maker and have an honest chat about adaptive sync technology.

 

For those of you that aren’t quite sure what that is, I’ll give you a quick synopsis to the (admittedly underwhelming) extent of my knowledge. Refresh rate is the rate at which your monitor refreshes its image, usually measured per second (Hz). Adaptive sync technology such as NVIDIA G-Sync or the Team Red alternative FreeSync allows your monitor to adjust its refresh rate to match the frame rate being put out by your video card. This prevents the common screen tearing that can happen when your monitor refresh rate and your frame rate are not synchronized, and a new frame is rendered mid refresh (or vice versa).

 

 

As far as Red vs Green goes, NVIDIA G-Sync uses a module inside the monitor itself to control the refresh rate

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Whereas AMD uses the Adaptive-Sync component originally developed for the DisplayPort 1.2a standard.

 

 

This means that NVIDIA’s solution is proprietary, and involves actual modifications to monitors as opposed to AMD’s use of a free to use solution, resulting in a rather high price premium for G-Sync enabled devices.

 

 

While some will argue NVIDIA’s use of a hardware controller should theoretically give them the advantage, actual comparisons have been inconclusive at best. In addition, AMD announced FreeSync 2 back in January, the next generation of the technology which reportedly improves the minimums (currently, adaptive sync has trouble below 30 FPS) while having support for HDR. At this point, I have a hard time not giving Team Red the victory here. Their only true disadvantage at this point is a lack of modern GPUs at the higher end of the spectrum, while NVIDIA is churning out monsters like the GTX 1080, 1080 Ti, and Titan X.

 

 

 

The real question is: who is this technology for?

 

 

In my opinion, everyone!

 

In addition to smooth, tearing-free games, adaptive sync can have other advantages such as improving battery life in laptops due to making the display work only as hard as it has to. It has also been cited as an advantage for stutter-free video playback.

 

Adaptive sync has another potential advantage for games in that it can theoretically increase the effective life of a graphics card. As modern games see a dip in frame rate, adaptive sync’s smoothing effect will make it more tolerable. Capping your frame rate around where you average is will prevent spikes, and adaptive sync will keep your refresh rate from causing more tearing.

 

 

So what’s holding us back? Well, at the moment, there aren’t that many G-Sync and FreeSync enabled monitors at reasonable prices. That number has been growing, so we have hope for the future.

 

Price is another big factor, especially on NVIDIA’s side of the fence. As it becomes more common, I’m hoping we see prices even out. Heck, I hope it becomes a standard for all displays.

 

 

All that said, I find it very hard to recommend G-Sync monitors at this time, even as someone who owns one and loves it. The price premiums are excessive in my mind, but if you want the best experience regardless, G-Sync is for you…just so long as you weren’t planning on switching teams any time soon. For my Radeon users out there, I wholeheartedly recommend picking up a FreeSync enabled monitor if you’ve got the cash for an upgrade.

 

 

What do you think about adaptive sync? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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