Screen tearing is ugly and distracting, and with the latest screens and TVs it can be completely avoided. If you are looking to buy a new gaming monitor, you must understand what screen tearing is, how it occurs and how you can get rid of it.
Screen tearing, frame rate and refresh rate
Screen flickering is the name given to unsightly visual artifacts that often occur in video games, but can occur anywhere there is a mismatch between the actual frame rate and the screen’s refresh rate.
The screen refresh rate determines the number of times updates are shown each second. This starts at around 60Hz for most older TVs and office monitors, with higher refresh rate 120Hz TVs and 144Hz and 240Hz high refresh rate monitors becoming more common.
On a 60Hz screen, the screen predicts a new frame every 16.667 milliseconds. The tearing occurs when the computer or console driving the screen cannot prepare a full frame at that time. This is usually a result of low frame rates as the GPU is under load and frame times exceed the maximum of 16.667ms.
Instead of sending a full frame, the GPU sends an incomplete frame and because the monitor expects a new frame every 16.667 milliseconds, the incomplete frame is displayed on top of the old frame. This results in a “tear” on the screen as the old and new frames are displayed simultaneously. If you’re not sure if you’ve seen this on your own screen, the Neon Cipher YouTube channel showed what a screen tear looks like in a short video.
Variable refresh rate eliminates stuttering
Gamers have used vertical sync, or VSync, for years to lock the game’s frame rate to the screen’s refresh rate. This works but is potentially a performance waste and is of no use if you can’t maintain a frame rate that matches or exceeds your monitor’s refresh rate.
Enter the variable refresh rate or VRR. This technology has a few different names depending on the brand you choose, including FreeSync (AMD), G-SYNC (NVIDIA), and HDMI Forum VRR, but they all work in much the same way.
VRR adjusts the screen refresh rate on the fly to match the frame rate of the GPU. This limits screen tearing by ensuring that the screen waits for the next full frame before forcing an update. Not only does tearing get eliminated, but the feature can also be used to compensate for lower frame rates by repeating frames when necessary.
To get the most out of VRR, you’ll want to make sure you purchase a TV or monitor that supports the feature (and that your computer’s graphics card or console is compatible as well).
Most new TVs and monitors now support VRR
Most new monitors and TVs support at least some form of VRR, whether it’s AMD’s free FreeSync software or the HDMI Forum VRR that was introduced as part of the upgrade to HDMI 2.1.
Xbox Series X and S both support VRR technology, and Sony is said to be bringing the feature to PlayStation 5 in a later update. If you are buying a gaming monitor, be sure not to overlook this essential feature. That’s why all your favorite gaming monitors and recommended gaming TVs support VRR in one form or another.