The story so far: Google is said to be testing support for variable refresh rates (VRR) in the Chrome OS 101 Dev Channel, according to a report by About Chromebooks. The feature could improve gaming experience on Chromebooks. Several other device makers have used a form of the VRR in their products to provide superior experience, particularly in gaming.
What is VRR?
Refresh rate is the number of times a display is capable of refreshing in a second. It is measured in hertz (Hz). So, a 30 Hz or a 60 Hz display can refresh 30 or 60 times per second, respectively. The higher the refresh rate, the better the quality of viewing experience. Displays with over 120 Hz can deliver a smoother and more comfortable viewing experience. This is necessary while playing video games or watching videos.
VRR supports a wide range of refresh rates, allowing its refresh rate to change in real-time based on the frames-per-second (FPS) rate coming from a source device such as a gaming console. For example, displays that support refresh rates from 10 Hz to 120 Hz, or 1Hz to 120 Hz, can adjust to different content styles for a seamless entertainment or gaming experience.
How does the technology work?
VRR, which is also termed as dynamic refresh rate or adaptive refresh rate by different device makers, is designed to eliminate syncing issues that arise when the refresh rate of a display does not match with the FPS of the content from a source device. Issues such as screen-tearing, judder (wobbling effect) and lag are common when refresh rate and FPS are not synchronised.
This screen technology enables a monitor or a TV to communicate with a gaming console or a media streaming device much more effectively. Consequently, when the source device sends video frames as fast as it can, the display is able to adapt its own refresh rate continuously and seamlessly within its specific range to match that of the source.
VRR is provided by AMD’s FreeSync, Nvidia’s G-Sync, HDMI 2.1, Apple’s ProMotion, and Qualcomm’s Q-Sync to name a few. Among these, AMD and Nvidia’s VRR have been used in PCs for a number of years, and also in PlayStation and Xbox gaming consoles.
Can it improve gaming experience?
Yes. It can improve gaming experience in both console and PC-based gaming. Once the console is connected to a monitor that supports one of the VRR solutions, it can eliminate judder and artefacts caused by mismatches in FPS. This in turn significantly improves image quality in games and videos. The higher the FPS the smoother the experience for gamers.
The makers of the latest gaming consoles offer a growing number of video games that play at 120 FPS and have optimised many popular older games to play at 120 FPS as well. Using a display that supports VRR technology, players can expect smooth and lag-free visuals in fast-paced games, giving them a greater advantage in first-person shooters, racing, or real-time strategy titles.
Besides, the screen technology can give players an important edge, especially in competitive multi-player games where split-second decisions are crucial for victory. Casual gamers will also be able to appreciate extra responsiveness in gameplay. One of the common problems gamers experience is screen-tearing when the FPS output from a source is higher than the refresh rate a display can handle, which results in the display showing two or more frames in its top and bottom halves. This syncing issue can be fixed with one of the VRR solutions.
Is it available in mobile devices?
Premium smartphones offer a kind of VRR solution. Samsung first introduced VRR technology in its Galaxy Note 20 Ultra and later in the subsequent iterations of its flagship devices.
The latest Galaxy S22 and S22+ feature adaptive refresh rate from 48 Hz to 120 Hz, whereas the more premium S22 Ultra offers adaptive refresh rate from 1 Hz to 120 Hz.
Apple’s ProMotion has an adaptive refresh rate of up to 120 Hz on its new iPad Pro (10.5-inch) and iPad Pro 2nd generation (12.9-inch). Its latest iPhone 13 Pro models also feature an adaptive refresh rate from 10 Hz to 120 Hz.
In mobile devices, a VRR solution can not only improve the gaming experience of users by keeping up with intense gameplay but also save battery power on them as the adaptive refresh rate does not run at the highest rate all the time and switches to a lower refresh rate during less graphic-intensive tasks.
What does it mean for Chromebooks?
Earlier this month, Google said that it is working with Valve to bring Steam to Chrome OS. “We are very excited to share that we’ll be landing an early, alpha-quality version of Steam on Chrome OS in the Dev channel for a small set of Chromebooks coming soon,” it noted on a support page. Additionally, the search giant may introduce gaming-focused Chrome OS devices, with at least one of those devices featuring a full RGB keyboard, according to a report by 9to5Google.
Google’s development of new devices for the gaming market, testing of the VRR technology, and collaboration with Valve can be looked at as positive indicators for Chromebooks.