PS5 VRR Update – Performance Review

Variable Rate Refresh has been one of the most requested features on the PlayStation 5 since it launched almost two years ago. Sony has now solved that and finally rolled out VRR on PS5 consoles, allowing gamers with a compatible TV or monitor to enable the feature in potentially any PS5 game. There’s a short list of games that will receive a patch enabling VRR support in the coming weeks, but you can also enable it for unsupported games – just know that games without official support may not perform perfectly achieve.

What is VRR and how does it work?

VRR is a relatively new technology (2013) that is changing a long-standing limitation of how computers and consoles are viewed. Before VRR (aka Free-Sync/G-Sync), your TV or monitor would set the rate at which games could update their images each frame based on the rate at which the screen could update its display by a to draw a new picture. Most popular TVs tended towards 60Hz, which is why 60fps has long been the goal for gaming performance. That means the fastest a PC or console could send a new image every 16ms giving us 60 new frames after 1 second.

The next rate down is 30 fps or 33 ms, which splits evenly into 60 fps. That meant game engines had to lock all of their functions, loops and inputs into that fixed drumbeat dictated by the screen, called V-Sync, and means both console and TV are at the same 16 or 33 ms -Align point time we get a new frame every time. The problem here, or at least one of a few, is that this can result in high performance hits, affecting console and PC alike. Because of this, disabling v-sync can sometimes improve performance because the system can ignore this fixed wait time for the screen.

The downside of disabling v-sync is that it can result in a torn image where the screen only has part of the new frame at the bottom still being rendered by the PC/console and part of the old at the top . So far, the dilemma has been this: choose cleaner image quality at the expense of performance headroom, or better performance at the expense of visual issues.

Enter VRR. This technology allows the console or PC to “play the drum” instead, telling the screen when to refresh for a new frame (within a defined range) when it’s ready. That means we can almost get the best of both worlds: the frame time can change per frame and the TV will adjust its cycle within that defined window. The net result is that the system can oscillate between the 8 ms ceiling of 120 fps and as high as 20.9 ms or 48 fps. In other words, removing that 30 or 60fps cap while eliminating screen tearing. At first glance, this sounds perfect, but the solution offered here comes with a few caveats.

VRR on PS5

Insomniac has jumped feet first into the VRR ring with not one but three updates adding VRR to all three current modes, greatly aided by the single engine powering them all.

Starting with Spider-Man Remastered, the game has been updated with a 120Hz mode – similar to the one we got in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart last year – that boosts the 4K playback mode from 30fps to 40fps as it is a divisible rate of the 8ms frame time that requires 120Hz. Having VRR enabled can go beyond that, effectively unlocking the framerate to potentially hit that 120fps ceiling. In 4K Fidelity mode, enabling VRR results in performance gains of 12-13% and in some cases up to 25% over the old 40fps limit. Those gains are respectable, but Fidelity mode is actually the least impressive here, compounded by the fact that it’s mostly outside of VRR’s useful range here. Insomniac appears to use low framerate compensation, similar to 2:3 pulldown used in 24fps cinematic modes on TVs. That is, if it falls in the 40s, it duplicates the frame 3x with the 8ms update. This helps reduce judder when outside of the VRR active range.

The other two modes see much bigger jumps – and that’s true across all three games (Spider-Man, Miles Morales, and Rift Apart). The performance ray tracing mode’s old 60fps limit is now doubled in the best scenarios, although I only briefly saw such a dramatic improvement when swinging around town. In a variety of sections tested, performance increased by more than 50%, meaning frame times were halved and input response improved — one of the biggest benefits of 120 fps or faster frame rates. The jump is significant and really hammers home the extra work the team has put in here to maximize the engine and take advantage of the gains that are possible when v-sync is no longer set at such a (relatively) low rate is. Additionally, all three games now have increased resolution targets across all modes, meaning dynamic scaling levels have been increased. This is a great behind-the-scenes look at what headroom is available in these fixed console games that we rarely get to see, unlike PC.

Next up is Spider-Man: Miles Morales, which has shown the same updates and similar results as above, but the performance mode delivers even better results. Ray tracing is no longer active, but the resolution scale can still go higher, as can the framerate. This often means another 17% improvement over Performance RT mode, with framerates reaching into the 90s and even 100 fps in movie, fight, and traversal segments. Significant for such an early and great looking cross-gen game, these boosts do an excellent job of selling the best that VRR has to offer.

Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart is the next big hit and again we’re seeing significant performance gains across all modes. Now, Performance RT mode shines even brighter with framerates often north of 80fps and above, while the drops back into the 60s still feel silky smooth since it’s in VRR’s sweet spot. It has to be said that Insomniac continues to impress as its big three games really show the potential of the PS5 and Variable Rate Refresh itself.

Another example is Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. In 120fps mode, turning on VRR results in nearly identical performance, but the tearing when VRR is off and the ripples in the 8ms frame time are now cleaned up to deliver the fast and fluid controls that the the series is known, and at the same time achieve stable picture quality.

Other games also benefit from advantages such as: B. Dirt 5 and its 120fps racing mode, which now eliminates screen tearing while maintaining the same fast and fluid input times.

What about games without official VRR support?

As mentioned earlier, the PS5 VRR update also allows you to enable the feature for games that haven’t received an official VRR patch yet. Dying Light 2, which we covered when it released earlier this year, has an adaptive V-Sync feature, which meant it was more GPU-limited in sections, such as Performance mode. The game has yet to receive a developer-side VRR patch, but it still benefits from the technology’s activation, albeit to a lesser extent. Enabling VRR at the PS5 system level eliminates the aforementioned screen tearing, but the game is still capped at 60fps in performance mode (unlike the Series X version, which can run into the 90s). I suspect that Techland will release an update soon so that the PS5 can also free itself from this artificial limit.

Cyberpunk 2077 is another game that benefits from VRR with no developer input. It’s only a 60fps game, meaning the window that VRR has to operate in is the smallest yet, but the PS5 version stays above the 48fps minimum most of the time, meaning the small dips that can still occur are more difficult to deal with. Note, while reducing stuttering and eliminating screen tearing by enabling VRR is much more significant.

A major limitation of Variable Rate Refresh is that 30fps games are outside of the range needed for VRR improvement. In the demanding Matrix demo with Unreal Engine 5, the game confirms that VRR is active, even without a patch. Frame time can now dip at 8ms, but still runs at the same 24fps or 30fps capped levels, depending on the segment, and can still tear across the screen with frame drops at times. This proves that while the engine knows VRR is available, Epic would have to release a patch to take advantage of it. So the OS’s choice of being able to turn VRR on or off is welcome, as some games, like this one, might not work at all.

In addition, backward compatibility games, even advanced ones, do not recognize VRR. Testing Bloodborne, a game that would benefit greatly from longer frame times and smoother frame delivery, we see that nothing has changed. The same inconsistent frame delivery issues still persist and the same 30fps limit remains. This shows the limitations that VRR has, which is that it can’t do anything for 30fps titles as that’s outside of its window of operation. VRR cannot increase framerates past the target, which means a 30, 60, or other target framerate limit will remain in place in any case, unless a developer updates the game. Backing this up is Batman: Arkham Knight, which is capped at 30fps and would have some tearing on PS4. This hasn’t changed since the update as the screen doesn’t enable VRR and the game shows no change in output rate or input latency.

Overall, the Variable Refresh Rate is a welcome addition to the PlayStation 5, although it’s arriving a little later than expected – especially considering Xbox had VRR up and running before the launch of the X and S Series consoles. It’s a welcome addition to the console’s toolkit, though, and gives developers and gamers alike a choice. The fact that an OS option is enabled to force games to use it whenever possible is excellent, although as mentioned not all games will be able to benefit from it. As a solution for ripping and improving both performance and input latency, VRR is a win, but don’t expect it to be a silver bullet for performance issues across the board. Anyhow, I look forward to seeing what the future holds as more developers release patches to expand VRR support in their games. PS5 VRR Update – Performance Review

Fry Electronics Team

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