While Sony has been dominating console sales, Microsoft has been steadily adding notable new features with tangible benefits to its consoles, bringing both current and future functionality to its ecosystem. The latest feature to join the ranks is the addition of AMD’s FreeSync 2 technology, a variable refresh rate tech that promises to make just about any game on the console look smoother if you have a display that works with it.
Here’s how it works: the displays we game on have refresh rates. Most displays start at 60 Hz, and gaming monitors can go north of 144 Hz. That refresh rate determines how many images the screen can display in a second. The magic 60 frames-per-second number we see games trying to hit is about matching that maximum 60 Hz refresh rate to make the most of the display and get the smoothest possible picture.
However, games don’t always hold that 60 FPS rate (or the 30 FPS rate) steady, with various game elements sometimes forcing the framerates to dip. When that happens, you’ll see screen tearing as the TV tries to display the uneven information your game console or computer is trying to send to it.
Traditionally, we’ve solved this by turning on a setting called Vertical Sync that forces the game to display images at a rate matching the television. this can cause input latency, though, meaning that crucial button-presses are off and tense multiplayer matches are lost.
AMD FreeSync 2, like NVIDIA’s G-Sync, is a Variable Refresh Rate technology. Instead of trying to force the game to display at the TV’s rate, FreeSync can dynamically adjust the display’s framerate to match that of your game. The result is that games look noticeably smoother and feel more responsive.
Like HDR, this is a tough piece of technology to show on video, as it’s the video itself that is being improved. This demo of NVIDIA’s competing tech, G-Sync, does a fairly good job of simulating it:
The primary difference between G-Sync and FreeSync – at least as it matters to us – is that FreeSync is an open technology that uses the computer or game console sending the signal to regulate the sync between the framerate and refresh rate, while G-Sync requires the display to have a specific NVIDIA chip.
This technology isn’t very common right now but – again, like HDR – it’s a growing one can make a tangible difference in the gameplay experience. Alongside the upcoming addition of support for 1440p resolution, it’s clear Microsoft is encouraging gamers to use gaming-quality monitors as well as televisions to play Xbox consoles. It’s a feature that not many of us can use, but it’s a nod to PC gamers and to the future when adaptive-sync tech is more common.
As GameSpot notes, it’s not a surprise that FreeSync is coming to Xbox One X. Microsoft made that information public back at E3 2017 when it published the spec sheet for the One X. But its arrival on the Xbox One S is a bit more of a surprise, and a pleasant one. Both systems (as well as the PlayStation 4) use AMD-based graphics chips, so it makes sense to integrate this technology even if it’s not going to see wide use.
If you’re one of the few with a FreeSync 2-compatible display, look for this to hit your Xbox in the near future. If you’re one of the many more of us without, keep an eye on this as the next big improvement in gaming visuals.