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FreeSync or G-Sync? VESA may soon solve that dilemma

The Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) has announced the launch of the AdaptiveSync and MediaSync standards for monitors, which are aimed at streamlining the process of choosing a new display.

As they become more widely adopted, it could make shopping for a new monitor much easier and rid customers of dilemmas such as “FreeSync versus G-Sync.

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Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Picking a new monitor is often not a very intuitive process, and that’s largely due to the number of specifications you have to consider when making your choice. Starting with the standard question of whether to buy a monitor optimized for AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync, you then have to wonder about refresh rates, response time, size, resolution, panel types, and more. VESA’s new standard has the chance to cut at least some of those dilemmas out of the equation.

Both FreeSync and G-Sync aim to accomplish a similar thing: A stutter-free user experience. The technologies sync the monitor’s refresh rate to your graphics card. This limits screen tearing and usually offers much smoother gameplay, which is exactly what VESA also seems to be aiming for with AdaptiveSync.

VESA has developed a new standard, called the AdaptiveSync Display Compliance Test Specification (AdaptiveSync CTS for short). According to VESA, this is the first open standard and logo program for monitors, including both stand-alone and laptop versions. In a way, it seems like the Intel Evo of monitors, with manufacturers being able to obtain certification and logo for their products if they meet all of VESA’s requirements — and those are not at all lax.

The standard is split into two tiers: The higher-end AdaptiveSync Display and the less demanding MediaSync Display. According to VESA, the MediaSync Display tier was made to ensure that the monitor meets the requirements for media playback at a high level. It focuses on removing frame rate drops and 3:2 pulldown jitter (and other kinds of jitter), and offering stable, flicker-free performance.

The AdaptiveSync Display tier is going to be found on some of the best gaming monitors. The displays that receive the logo will have a large variable video frame rate, low latency, and will be able to offer both gaming and media playback at a high quality.

A player drives in Forza using Monoprice's pro racing wheel on three monitors.

In order for a display to be officially AdaptiveSync Display certified, the screen will have to meet the requirements of over 50 automated display performance tests. These benchmarks put a lot of the monitor’s specifications to the test, including flicker, gray-to-gray response times, jitter, refresh rate, and frame rate drops. Every monitor will be tested with its default configuration prior to any adjustments.

AdaptiveSync Display CTS covers refresh rates ranging from 60Hz at the very least up to at least 144Hz, but of course, monitors that can do more will also be considered. Those screens (upon passing the other tests) will also be labeled as AdaptiveSync Display 240 or 360, referring to their maximum refresh rate. Obtaining MediaSync certification requires an AdaptiveSync range of at least 48Hz to 60Hz.

VESA is also introducing a number of other tests, including rigorous standards for jitter across the most common frame rates, response times of less than 5ms across over 20 tests, factory overdrive settings, and display temperatures.

All in all, this set of specs should make it much easier to pick a worthwhile monitor when shopping, as the certification will guarantee a certain level of performance when paired with a matching graphics card. VESA’s new standard will enforce greater transparency from monitor manufacturers, which can only be beneficial to customers.

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Frame synchronization is something that PC gamers have contended with for years, with V-Sync being the classic option for preventing the tearing that often occurs when the frames per second your graphics card is able to pump out doesn't match the refresh rate of your display. G-Sync and FreeSync are more modern alternatives with far less of a performance overhead and as support grows on consoles and TVs, more gamers than ever can reap the benefits.

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Nvidia confirmed that it feels "confident" that desktop monitors based on its G-Sync HDR reference design will be made available in April. The monitors were originally slated to arrive by the end of 2017 but faced a delay that pushed them back until the first quarter of 2018. Now it appears that they won't see the light of day until the second calendar quarter based on Nvidia's comment this week during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.
Nvidia originally introduced its monitor reference design in January 2017 packing a 4K resolution, high dynamic range, G-Sync technology, and a refresh rate of 144Hz. They rely on the M270QAN02.2 AHVA panel supplied by AU Optronics that's designed specifically for PC gaming. Other bells and whistles include Quantum Dot technology and 384-zone backlighting that only illuminates the screen where needed.
"We have applied a Quantum Dot Enhancement Film (QDEF) to create deep saturated reds and greens out of the blue light produced by the 384 controllable LED backlight zones," Nvidia said at the time. "The QDEF film is coated with nano-sized dots that emit light of a very specific color depending on the size of the dot, producing bright, saturated, and vibrant colors through the whole spectrum, from deep greens and reds, to intense blues. This enables a far larger set of colors to be displayed."
At the time, Asus was the first manufacturer to showcase a monitor based on Nvidia's reference design: the ROG Swift PG27UQ. Acer followed with the introduction of its Predator X27 monitor in April 2017. Mass production of the AU Optronics panel wouldn't start until July, so both monitors were on track to hit store shelves by the 2017 holiday season.
But that release never happened, and the two monitors were pushed back into the first quarter of 2018. Neither company provided a reason for the delay although AU Optronics may have delayed production of its panel, halting the projected 2017 launch. Another theory is that Nvidia further tweaked its reference design to get better performance out of the resulting displays.
Either way, Nvidia G-Sync HDR technology won't be in the hands of gamers until April at the very least. Nvidia noted during its Game Developers Conference comment that the referenced release window is the company's first fiscal quarter of 2019, which ends on April 29, 2018. Of course, the company didn't actually confirm a release date, but only showed its confidence that the monitors should be available by that date.
"Like G-Sync, expect G-Sync HDR to evolve over time. In 2013 G-SYNC began with one 24-inch 144Hz 1,920 x 1,080 TN-panel monitor, and today we now have 240Hz monitors, 144Hz 4K monitors, 21:9 UltraWide monitors, curved monitors, IPS monitors, VA monitors, monitors with integrated Tobii eye-tracking, and massive 35-inch monitors," Nvidia says.
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