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AMD’s FreeSync Is Crucial For XBOX Scorpio & PS Neo – Adaptive-Sync Over HDMI To Play A Pivotal Role In Next Gen Consoles

Khalid Moammer
Posted Jun 14, 2016
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Microsoft & Sony are launching new 4K & VR capable gaming consoles next year & why this means AMD’s FreeSync is now more important than ever
The cat is now officially out of the bag, Microsoft announced earlier today at its E3 conference Project Scorpio. A next generation gaming console with over four and a half times the performance of the company’s current XBOX One game console.

Excerpt from Microsoft’s E3 Press Release
Project Scorpio.
Coming Holiday 2017, Project Scorpio will be the most powerful console ever created, with 6 teraflops of GPU delivering a premier console gaming experience including true 4K gaming and high fidelity virtual reality. Project Scorpio will join the Xbox One family and coexist alongside Xbox One and Xbox One S and all of your Xbox One games and accessories are compatible.

With an 8 core CPU and a monstrous GPU rated at 6 TFLOPS of horsepower, the XBOX Scorpio simply eclipses the 1.23 TFLOPS XBOX ONE. Sony’s E3 conference has just concluded a couple of hours ago. Unlike its rival, the company did not spill the beans on its next generation 4K & VR ready Playstation Neo game console. However, this was expected. As the company confirmed just a few days prior to E3 that the new console is in fact in the works and that it won’t be announced or revealed at E3.

Why exactly Sony decided against talking about its new gaming device at E3 is not yet clear. Some say the company decided to postpone any and all announcements after it caught wind of Microsoft’s XBOX Scorpio’s 6 TFLOPS performance figure. Which is 50% higher than the rumored 4 TFLOPS figure for the Playstation Neo. If true it’s understandable. After all, the company wouldn’t want to play second fiddle after it maintained a competitive hardware lead with its PS4 over its rival’s XBOX ONE.

WCCFtechXBOX ScorpioPlayStation Neo
Retail PriceTBAMore Than $350
ProcessorSemi-custom 14nm FinFET AMD APUSemi-custom 14nm FinFET AMD APU
Processor Specs8 CPU Cores + 6 TFLOP GPU8 CPU Cores + 4 TFLOP GPU*
Time Of LaunchHoliday 2017Holiday 2017*
RAMTBA8GB*
Memory Bandwidth320 GB/s218 GB/s*
Gaming ResolutionUp to 4KUp to 4K
Virtual RealityFull SupportFull Support
Backwards CompatibilityAll XBOX ONE Games & AccessoriesAll PS4 Games & Accessories
Items markedwith an asteresk*are not confirmed.

XBOX Scorpio & Playstation Neo On The Horizon Mean That AMD’s FreeSync Technology Over HDMI Is Now More Important Than Ever

Now, what exactly does this have to do with AMD or FreeSync you may wonder. What’s even FreeSync you may ask. Well let me fill you in on a few crucial but seldom talked about issues here. The challenges in developing games for consoles go beyond learning and understanding the peculiarities of the hardware. Games, as many developers would attest to, are among the most complex and sophisticated pieces of software we’ve come to know. The dynamism of modern game worlds which are living breathing entities in their own rights pose a genuinely difficult challenge to developers.

One that’s compounded by the fact that it all must be molded into a fixed 30 or 60 FPS experience for the gamer. I will spare you the details that go beyond the scope of this article but in a nutshil, attempting to force the incredibly complex game worlds of today’s games to adhere to a fixed framerate is like taming a lion. It’s extraordinarily challenging and any failures or hiccups will lead to catastrophic outcomes. FreeSync, solves all of this.

Unlike V-Sync, which is the technique used to force the framerate of your game to stay in sync with your monitor’s refresh rate by capping it to a fixed 30 or 60 frames per second. FreeSync enables the display to simply run at a dynamic refresh rate and actively match the game’s variable framerate To understand why this is so crucial we have to understand why V-Sync is used in the first place. Traditional displays, including the TV you have hooked up to your game console or home theater PC right now, deliver images at a fixed rate. Be it 60 times every second, 30 times a second or even up to 144 times a second on high-end gaming displays.

As we’ve established above, games simply do not work this way. The hardware inside your gaming device be it a console or a PC works to process & deliver gameplay images “frames” as fast as it possibly can. Modern games have an incredibly wide variety of environments and scenes. Some of which are naturally far more visually and computationally intense than others. This means that the game’s framerate will always vary greatly from one moment to the other. As some frames will take more time to process and display.

This makes the framerate of modern games inherently quite variable, while your display’s refresh rate is not. To address this disparity and to display each frame at a fixed rate, a technique we’ve already mentioned called V-Sync is used. Vertical Sync, as the name implies, syncs every frames with the vertical refresh rate of the monitor. This works by making each frame wait for the next refresh cycle to start before the frame is drawn on the display. Making sure that every frame is always in sync with the display’s refresh rate.

This solves the major problem of screen tearing. Which occurs when a frame is displayed in the middle of the display’s refresh cycle rather than the beginning as a result of the FPS and refresh rate getting out of sync. On a 60Hz monitor, going above or below 60 FPS will do that.

While V-Sync solves the tearing issue it comes at a major cost to the quality of your gaming experience. Because the TV you have hooked up to your console operates at a fixed refresh rate rather than a dynamic one, it simply has to refresh the image at very specific time intervals. This is quite problematic.  Because, for example, when you’re playing a game at 60 FPS with V-Sync enabled if your framerate dips below 60 FPS at any moment — which is an inevitably owing to the sporadic nature of games — your TV is forced to “skip” a frame, sometime more. This happens whenever it takes too long to process any given frame. The display simply can’t wait for it, it has to refresh. So it displays the previous frame once again instead of waiting for the last one to finish.

Because displaying the same frame twice essentially means that the you’re running at half the FPS, your smooth 60 suddenly becomes 30. Cutting the rate by half this rapidly produces noticeable stutter and lag that’s very detrimental to the “smoothness” of the image. Worse yet, if you’re playing a fixed 30 FPS game and it dips by a single frame to 29, it will go down to 20. That’s because the same frame has to be displayed three times in a row at 16.6ms intervals. Which is downright horrific and can completely ruin the gaming experience. Many of us can cite the numerous times we missed a shot or a critical action in a game that resulted in our character dying for no fault of our own. Something that can be unbelievably frustrating.

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FreeSync technology enables displays to operate dynamically, and display frames whenever they’re actually ready rather than doing it at a fixed rate.  simultaneously solving the issues of lag/stutter and tearing. If you’re playing at 60 FPS and the game’s framerate dips down to 59, it actually goes down to 59 not 30. No more skipped frames, input lag or awful judders. Furthermore, because game developers no longer have to adhere to the strict 30 or 60 FPS limits they can afford to be far more creative. It allows them to build more complex game worlds and simply make better games.

If you want to read more about variable refresh rate technology & how it works you can check out our in-depth editorial where we break down everything concerning AMD’s FreeSync & the comparable solution from Nvidia called G-Sync.

FreeSync Over HDMI Means Smooth Gaming For All!

Here’s the good news. FreeSync as the name implies is actually completely free. It doesn’t require any special hardware and there are no fees, licensing or otherwise, required to implement it. The AMD hardware in current game consoles is compatible with the technology. The upcoming Playstation Neo & XBOX Scorpio will undoubtedly support it as well. More good news is that FreeSync no longer requires a DisplayPort connection, AMD has brought it to HDMI late last year.

AMD FreeSync
There are now tens of HDMI & DisplayPort FreeSync monitors on the market. Bad news is HDMI doesn’t “officially” support the Adaptive Sync feature that FreeSync relies on to actually work. DisplayPort 1.2a and newer iterations on the other hand do. The current FreeSync via HDMI option is thus an ad-hoc solution, one that AMD has made a lot of effort to deliver to the market. This is why we haven’t seen nearly as many HDMI FreeSync monitors as we have seen with DisplayPort.

Bringing Adaptive Sync over to HDMI and thus to the masses of console gamers and home theater PC owners is an absolute necessity at this point. And perhaps the most important industry wide move forward in gaming and display technology in decades. It’s then clear that AMD’s efforts to bring FreeSync to HDMI were well calculated and far-sighted. Why exactly we haven’t seen HDMI pickup Adaptive Sync to date and make it officially part of the spec is a head-scratcher.

Although have no doubt, it’s simply going to be a matter of time before every console gamer and HTPC owner can enjoy this incredible technology on their TV from the comfort of their couch. 4K is exciting yes, but If we end up with a stuttering juddering mess that we can’t possibly enjoy then why bother at all. If you have ever had the opportunity to game on a variable refresh rate monitor then you know exactly how big of a deal it is. If you haven’t then I urge you to try it, it’s truly eye opening.

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