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The Journey to Pixel Perfect Smooth Gaming

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[Originally posted on 01/03/17.]

Radeon FreeSync™ technology has tremendous momentum in the market today. With over 100 FreeSync-enabled monitors to choose from currently, gamers love the smooth, tear-, and stutter-free PC gaming they enable. I’m a proud owner of a FreeSync display myself, and quite frankly whenever I sit down in front of a rig that doesn’t support variable refresh rate, I immediately notice that something is off.

I can’t go back to non-FreeSync gaming. It’s one of those events that changed my experience so fundamentally that I can’t go back to the way it was, like discovering DVD quality after years of VHS or seeing 1080p for the first time.

Another such revolution is upon us in content quality. You’ve probably heard the term HDR, or High Dynamic Range many times before. There are two definitions of HDR* formats today that are most popular (HDR10 and Dolby Vision), and both use similar specifications. They represent a gigantic leap forward in image quality, defined by brightness, contrast and color volume.

HDR today is primarily driven by TV manufacturers, first and foremost for movies. Today’s televisions are shipping with crazy-high luminance, contrast ratio, and fairly good color gamut support. They are very well suited to display movie content in HDR. The HDR movie-playback pipeline is pretty simple: the content is encoded in an HDR10 or Dolby Vision container, and the TVs process it. Why is this important?

The mentioned formats follow strict specifications for luminance, contrast ratio and color space. Though today’s HDR TVs are very capable, they’re nowhere near the theoretical maximum of HDR10/Dolby Vision. These TVs are also not all the same; some may have higher or lower capabilities for brightness, contrast and color than others, and the content can’t account for all these variations. Some conversion has to be done by the TV’s system-on-chip, where it maps the content to the TV’s actual capabilities. This process is called tone mapping.

So what’s the situation with HDR gaming? It’s not anything new for game developers. Their engines are already capable of increasing brightness, contrast, and to some degree, widen the color space as well to some of the new specifications defined by the SMPTE. There are games, in fact, available for today’s game consoles that support HDR.


What about PC gaming, then? With Radeon FreeSync™ 2 technology, we want smooth gaming and HDR content to go hand-in-hand. So why not use the already existing methods to do so?

One key criterion for PC gamers is to have low latency. We can’t tolerate lag while gaming. Unfortunately, the mentioned tone mapping process in displays can cause a delay —sometimes as high as 100 miliseconds. This is not acceptable for PC gaming. FreeSync™ 2 technology circumvents this issue by taking the burden of tone mapping off the display and moving it to our powerful GPUs. This allows the game engine to map content directly to the display’s target brightness, contrast and color values.


HDR10 vs FreeSync 2 pipeline

FreeSync™ 2 technology will enable an ecosystem of games and displays that bring smooth and brilliant gaming to life. We’re working with game developers to take advantage of our FreeSync™ 2 extension into their games which render in HDR. We’re also collaborating with most major PC display vendors to bring this capability to their products. And, we’re defining a high bar for monitors to qualify for FreeSync™ 2—they will have to have a certain minimum in brightness, contrast and colorspace, and all this at very low latency.

HDR games are the next frontier for PC gamers. FreeSync™ 2 technology is an excellent foundation for an ecosystem of HDR content—and the path to pixel perfect smooth gaming.

Antal Tungler, Sr. Technical Marketing Manager for the Radeon Technologies Group at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD’s positions, strategies, or opinions. Links to third party sites and references to third party trademarks are provided for convenience and illustrative purposes only. Unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such links, and no third party endorsement of AMD or any of its products is implied.

*: HDR content requires that the system be configured with a fully HDR-ready content chain, including: graphics card, monitor/TV, graphics driver and application. Video content must be graded in HDR and viewed with an HDR-ready player. Windowed mode content requires operating system support.