Video games are getting more realistic, but graphics aren’t going to make them better alone, with faster syncing also a part of the formula.
The next generation of gaming might not come from consoles alone, as PCs get smaller and smaller, and video cards improve. In fact, better video cards won’t just lend themselves to more impressive graphics, but game play that doesn’t feel like it disconnects you from the action.
One way this occurs is when a game feels like it’s “tearing”, which is another way of saying the graphics load into place almost in blocks, as if the images are refreshing on the screen by tearing themselves on screen in place.
Tearing is one of those things that’s hard to avoid at the moment, and even if you have a next-gen console or a high-end PC, at one point the graphics are going to appear like this, tearing away with blocks of your gaming falling into place almost as if it’s loading piece by piece.
It’s quick, and most won’t notice it, especially if they’re already immersed in frenetic gaming, but it generally comes from a monitor not being synchronised with what’s happening on the graphics card side of things. There’s more to it than that, but synchronisation is a big issue in gaming, and you’ll even see it with sound, with some video games asking you to synchronise audio by delaying it over a period of milliseconds.
Video tearing is a little like this, and is one of the problems graphics cards and monitor makers are only beginning to solve now.
One solution is built by AMD and is called “Freesync”, which relies on a graphic card and DisplayPort to get the images talking to each other the way they should be.
Tested this week, the solution is a two part issue, with a compatible AMD graphics chip — AMD R7 and R9 graphics cards, generally — and a compatible monitor with a DisplayPort.
Both of these are necessary, as you need the graphics card to make the technology start up, and you need a compatible monitor with Freesync compatibility loaded onto the display, which will talk to the DisplayPort and allow the two devices to talk to each other and keep everything synchronised.
Once working together, however, games don’t tear and graphics are clear, with gamers abler to wander a world and play titles without their screen splitting up as the images tear into and out of place, something we saw this week when we demoed a recent Dell monitor that wasn’t Freesync enabled alongside one that was made by LG.
That monitor is a bit of a catch, and it has to not only be setup for AMD’s Freesync technology, but it must have a DisplayPort, communicating to the PC or console using DisplayPort instead of HDMI.
That means that the current “next-gen” consoles are out of action for using this technology, even though both run on the right sort of AMD graphics, and that’s because the Microsoft Xbox One and the Sony PlayStation 4 use HDMI ports, not DisplayPort ports.
PCs, on the other hand, can get around this, provided there’s a DisplayPort available. Big computers with replaceable graphics cards can certainly work with this, and if you have a home theatre PC that you service yourself, you definitely qualify, as does Gigabyte’s tiny “Brix” series of computers.
But the TV is the big problem, since so few televisions carry a DisplayPort connection.
For instance, if you take a look at any of the new TVs from Samsung or LG, there are quite a few HDMI ports, but not a single DisplayPort.
On the other hand, Panasonic may well be leading this charge.
Last year’s 4K Viera TV from Panasonic included the DisplayPort technology, meaning you could not only run 4K at a higher refresh rate than the HDMI 1.4 standard (limited to the eye-watering 30Hz), but in theory might also be able to play games without the tearing you see over HDMI, provided you had the right video card plugged into the TV.
For this to work, we’d need the Viera to work with AMD Freesync, something we’re not sure Panasonic has even accounted for, though we’re checking with its people on this. According to those we spoke to for AMD, technically a TV could be compatible with Freesync provided the manufacturer rolled out a patch for the TV that allowed the television to talk to Freesync graphics cards.
In the next couple of weeks, Panasonic Australia is expected to launch its 2015 TVs, and you can expect that this will be one of the first things we’ll be asking them, as it will not only give Ultra High Definition televisions something else to play, but it could even make the video gaming even more seamless for people with compatible technologies.
We don’t foresee the current crop of consoles supporting this for a while, that said, because even though they could probably do it on the graphics level, they would need a new console to do it, with slightly different hardware including the DisplayPort.
Once DisplayPort exists in more devices, consoles included, we could see the tearing subside as more companies embrace a faster synchronisation, and when it comes to consoles, it’ll be big news.
Until then, if you find you’re after a clearer gaming experience, you’ll probably want a Freesync-friendly graphics card and monitor, and gaming on PC.