VESA Standards Group Adds 'Adaptive-Sync’ DisplayPort Video Standard

Over the past nine months, we've seen the beginnings of a revolution in how video games are displayed. First, Nvidia demoed G-Sync, its proprietary technology for ensuring smooth frame delivery. Then AMD demoed its own free standard, dubbed FreeSync, that showed a similar technology. Now, VESA (Video Electronics Standard Association) has announced support for "Adaptive Sync," as an addition to DisplayPort. The new capability will debut with DisplayPort 1.2a -- we're going to walk you through what this means, and how it relates to both Nvidia's and AMD's plans for the market.

G-Sync, FreeSync, and Adaptive Sync: How The Pieces Fit Together

In order to understand how these technologies fit together we need to revisit what G-Sync and Free-Sync are designed to do. The goal of these technologies is to synchronize output from the GPU and the display to ensure smooth output. When this doesn't happen, the display will either stutter due to a mismatch of frames (if V-Sync is enabled) or may visibly tear if V-Sync is disabled. Stuttering is generally less annoying than tearing, but neither is ideal.

When Nvidia launched G-Sync, it demonstrated that it could resolve this problem with a custom ASIC built directly into the monitor. This ASIC added some significant cost (~$150), but was vital -- desktop displays don't include ASICs that can perform the kind OF variable V-Sync adjustments on the fly that G-Sync required. Then AMD demoed FreeSync, which they said was part of a free standard, baked into their Catalyst drivers, and only required a compatible panel.

The reason FreeSync works is because mobile panels don't have separate ASICS the way that standalone desktop monitors do. So Nvidia was telling the truth about needing a specialized ASIC to drive G-Sync capability on desktop monitors, and AMD was telling the truth about being able to implement this capability in-driver as a GCN feature with a compatible mobile display.

So how does this new Adaptive Sync VESA standard fit into the equation?

Adaptive Sync is the capability that will allow a DisplayPort 1.2a-compatible monitor and video card to perform  FreeSync without needing the expensive ASIC that characterizes G-Sync. You'll still need a DP1.2a cable, monitor, and video card (DP1.2a monitors are expected to come to market by the end of the year).  Unlike G-Sync, a DP1.2a monitor shouldn't cost any additional money -- the updated ASICs being developed by various vendors will bake the capability in by default.

Does G-Sync Have a Future?

This is a situation in which being first to market and popularizing a feature may not turn into a major profit center. Make no mistake, Nvidia needed to build a custom ASIC to bring G-Sync to monitors already on the market, but once that capability is folded into mainstream displays, the value of the custom hardware disappears. We already know that Nvidia GPUs can support DisplayPort 1.2a -- if they couldn't output the necessary information, G-Sync itself wouldn't work. Remember, this is a collaborative effort between the GPU and the monitor, not just one or the other.

Nvidia may counter this move by working to build new features into G-Sync, but if the tech continues ramping, we should see broad monitor support across the industry within 12-18 months.