As time has passed, the various console generations have become more similar, both to each other and to PCs. It’s become common for games to launch on multiple platforms simultaneously and the SoCs inside the Xbox One and PS4 are both built by AMD. Now, Microsoft has announced that the Xbox One S and Xbox One X (See on Amazon) will pick up a major PC feature — support for AMD’s FreeSync standard.
FreeSync (AMD), G-Sync (Nvidia) and Adaptive Sync (the overarching VESA standard) are three names for technologies that do the same thing: Synchronize the refresh rate timing of the display to the frame rate of the GPU.
With both FreeSync and G-Sync in-market, monitor manufacturers have tended to bake in FreeSync support more often than G-Sync, possibly because Nvidia’s version of this feature uses a proprietary ASIC on the desktop and because of reported licensing costs. While the exact details on the latter aren’t known, there are more FreeSync panels in market and at much lower price points.
One of the major reasons to be excited about seeing a feature like FreeSync launch for consoles is because consoles typically target lower frame rates than PC titles. Synchronizing the output between the GPU and the display has a larger impact the lower the frame rate. It’s easier to see the impact of FreeSync at 60fps than at a hypothetical 120fps, and it’s easier still to see it at 30fps compared with 60fps.
Microsoft has already stated it is adding 1440p support to the Xbox One X and S, so adding FreeSync is a further boost to overall image quality and the experience of gaming on a console. The upcoming update will also allow the console to detect when a TV has an Auto Low Latency mode and to switch the panel into that configuration before gaming, then to switch it back thereafter.
At this point, a similar Sony announcement seems likely. It’d be more interesting if Sony didn’t go this route, but that seems extremely unlikely. Sony enjoys a comfortable lead position in the console wars this cycle, with current sales estimated at 36.3M for Xbox One, 75.9M for Sony, and 14.9M for the Nintendo Switch. So far, the Xbox’s biggest rival hasn’t shown any inclination to give Team Xbox an easy win, and I doubt they’ll do so here, either. Don’t be surprised if we see an announcement from Sony that they’ll be rolling out similar features.
If they do, the move could farther dampen market support for Nvidia’s G-Sync standard. Intel has previously made comments about supporting FreeSync on its GPUs, and its Radeon-equipped Core i7 chips will also offer the capability. If major TV vendors start rolling it out in response to demand from gamers, it’ll further isolate G-Sync and Nvidia as the odd company out that refuses to release drivers that would make its GPUs compatible with the universal solution everyone else is using.
To be clear on that point: There’s no known reason why existing Nvidia GPUs can’t support FreeSync, save that Nvidia created its own proprietary solution and wishes to continue using that proprietary solution. Nvidia mobile GPUs do not require the same monitor ASIC that the desktop chips required when G-Sync first debuted. There may be some specific monitor timing requirements and specifications that Nvidia wants to ensure are supported on monitors it classifies as G-Sync displays, but NV GPUs already contain the hardware they need to synchronize frame output to monitor refresh rate.
Hopefully in a few more years we’ll see Adaptive Sync support folded into everything, regardless of branding, with high levels of console support. We’d like to see gamers of all sorts benefit from the feature.
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