Radeon Graphics Cards Will Support HDR Displays And FreeSync Over HDMI In 2016

We recently had the chance to attend a summit with the Radeon Technologies Group leadership to discuss the group’s plans for the upcoming year. There will be a series of announcements made in the coming weeks, but today we can share some FreeSync-related updates as well as some news regarding HDR displays and new display-related technologies.

On the FreeSync front, the Radeon Technologies Group announced a few things: FreeSync support over HDMI, the first FreeSync compatible notebook, and a slew of new FreeSync displays.

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FreeSync over HDMI support will be coming to all Radeons that currently support FreeSync. FreeSync over HDMI, however, will require new displays. The HDMI specification doesn’t currently have support for variable refresh rates, but it does allow for vendor specific extensions. Radeon Technologies Group is using these vendor specific extensions to enable the technology, but also pointed out that it’ll fully support the addition of any standardized VRR tech in a future HDMI specification, and that the current implementation ensures compatibility with future Radeon graphics chips.

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A slew of FreeSync over HDMI compatible displays are slated to arrive early next year from a number of companies, including LG, Acer, and Samsung. The panel types of the new displays weren’t disclosed just yet, but the model numbers, native resolutions, and screens sizes of are all listed here.

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The first notebook with FreeSync has also launched. The latest Lenovo Y700 gaming notebook is the first with a validated, FreeSync-compatible panel. The notebook features an AMD FX-8800P “Carrizo” APU, Radeon R9 M380 graphics, and a 15:6” IPS-panel with a 1080p resolution. The Lenovo Y700 configuration with FreeSync is currently available at Best Buy for $899.

While we’re on the subject of notebooks, we should also point out that FreeSync support over HDMI will work with notebooks as well, provided the notebook is packing a compatible GPU, and that the discrete GPU is connected to the HDMI output.

HDR slide 1

The Radeon Technologies Group also announced that support for DisplayPort 1.3, HDMI 2.0a and HDR displays was coming down the pipeline. The chart above shows the level of HDR support coming to existing and upcoming Radeon graphics processors. Current Radeon R9 300 series parts, which support HDMI 1.4b and DP 1.2 will support HDR displays when gaming and showing photos, but next generation Radeons due to be released next year – which will support HDMI 2.0a and DisplayPort 1.3 -- will work with HDR displays when showing photos and gaming.

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The Radeon Technologies Group is moving to enable HDR on PC displays in an effort to improve the quality of the pixels, and ultimately the visual experience, presented to end users. As it stands today with the 8-bit panels that dominate the market, in addition to the post production and mastering techniques used for most content, the range of colors, contrast, and brightness presented to users is only a fraction of what exists in the real-world and that the human eye can see.

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Multiple examples of the potential quality differences between SDR and HDR were shown at the summit. The one presented here is a somewhat extreme example that shows a dramatic difference, but the point is that when the source material is properly mapped to an HDR display, colors are more accurately displayed and more closely mimic what the human eye would see in the real world.

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The RTG believes HDR is the next big thing in displays, and it is not only working to enable HDR support on existing and upcoming Radeons, but to support its display partners and help them ramp up the ecosystem. The RTG expects mass market support for HDR displays in the second half of next year.

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To pump all of the additional data to future displays at ultra-high resolutions and refresh rates with minimal compromises, new display output technologies are also required. Display Port 1.3 HBR3 support is coming with next generation Radeons, which provides up to 32.4Gbps of bandwidth. That’s an 80%+ increase over HDMI 2.0. We should also note that DP 1.3 will work with existing cables and connectors, though certified cables shorter than 2m are recommended for the optimal experience.

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Upcoming Radeons with DP 1.3 support will enable 4:4:4 4K displays at up to 120Hz. And the RTG notes that it expects FreeSync compatible 4K displays that support 120Hz by Q4 2016. Single-cable 5K displays will also be possible with DP 1.3, but it’s not just about higher resolutions. 1080p displays will scale up to 240Hz with both HDR and SDR content. 1440p displays will also hit 240GHz with SDR content, though it’ll be limited to 170Hz with HDR. 4K, 5K, and other displays should also be arriving with higher refresh rates than what’s available today.

We will have more news from the Radeon Technologies Group to talk about soon. Today’s announcements deal with a number of visual and display technologies in the works, but new hardware and software disclosures are coming too. Stay tuned to HotHardware for more RTG news in the coming weeks.