Screen tearing is glitchy artifacts that form on display devices, especially on monitors and TVs during high frame rate gaming. This occurs when the frame rate on the GPU on a computer or a gaming console is out of sync with the refresh rate on the screen forming horizontal or diagonal split/tear glitches.
Essentially multiple frames are formed on your screen at a go where there should be one frame being displayed.
Screen tearing can negatively impact your gaming experience.
However, in some instances, screen tearing may go unnoticed if it does not keep recurring which should not be as annoying.
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What causes screen tears?
The major cause of screen tearing is buffer switch synchronization issues between the video processor (which is also known as the GPU or graphics card) and the frame rate on your display unit.
In most cases, the processor will process the video from the source at a high FPS that is significantly higher than the refresh rate on your screen.
As the screen tries to display the already rendered frames at a speed higher than its refresh rate, one frame or more starts displaying on the already displayed frame causing phase issues and tearing.
The frames can also tear if the video card does not render the frames fast enough to keep up with the refresh cycles on a said display device. An example of this would be a GPU rendering a game at 60 frames a second.
This is more common and more noticeable on entry-level monitors that are made of cheap panels but becomes less noticeable at higher frame rates.
The reason screen tearing reduces or rather becomes less of an issue when gaming at higher frame cycles is because the frame artifacts are replaced at higher rates which means that you will not have a continuous tear. The tear will be on the screen for significantly fewer milliseconds.
So, how can you fix a “tearing” screen? Well, that is what we are going to look at next.
How to stop screen tearing on your monitor or TV
The most common things used by GPU and monitor/TV manufacturers to fix sync issues is by using a combination of triple buffer and synchronization technologies.
Triple buffering is used as computer programs to ensure that 3 frames are always drawn from the source before being read and rendered by the video card at any given moment. So, when a frame is being displayed there are 2 more consecutive frames ready to replace the already read and displayed frame.
Video cards and the multi buffering programs run independently of each other which reduces the strain on the cards as they can operate at their own rates which also helps minimize lag during gaming.
There is also quad buffering and this can go to up to 6 buffers in high-end devices.
Multiple buffering technologies paired with synchronization technologies have been able to give us things such as;
- Fast Sync
- Enhanced Sync
These technologies can be used to get rid of screen tearing or at least minimize it to a negligible level improving the gaming experience.
You should not confuse these technologies with vertical synchronization technologies such as V-sync, G-Sync, and free Sync which only works to synchronize the frame rate with the refresh rate on your display.
But to eliminate any confusion that may arise with the use of these sync terms we should look at each of them and talk about how they can work to eliminate or reduce screen tearing.
V-sync, G-sync, and Free sync explained
V-Sync or Vertical Synchronization is a sync technology that can be used to solve screen tear issues and is one of the earliest solutions to this problem.
It does this by synchronizing the FPS on your GPU to the refresh rate on your gaming display. V-Sync caps the rendering output on your video card to what your monitor or TV can handle depending on its frame rate.
The display is thus prevented from showing more frames than it can draw per second.
V-Sync can also be used together with multiple buffering (double or triple buffering) to minimize screen tear artifacts even further thus effectively making the gameplay better.
However, V-Sync can only limit the FPS at fixed rates such as 30 FPS, 60 FPS, and 120 FPS.
What this means is that if you are gaming at 119 frames per second and your display only has a refresh rate of 120 Hz then the frame rate will be capped at 60 FPS. This in turn introduces stuttering and significant latency which is manifested as input lag.
For some gamers, the move from screen tearing to the input lag can be detrimental when playing competitive games such as CS: GO, Overwatch, and the likes.
But there is an improved version of V-sync by Nvidia known as Adaptative V-Sync.
Essentially, what Adaptive V-Sync does is only limit the frame rate (similar to V-Sync) If your frame rate is equal to or slightly higher than the refresh rate on your display. If the refresh rate is higher than the FPS, V-Sync is not turned on.
G-Sync by Nvidia and Free-Sync by AMD
G-Sync works in an almost similar manner to V-Sync but is a variable refresh rate or dynamic technology.
This technology can be found on high-end Nvidia GPUs, monitors, and some TVs such as the LG c9 OLED TV.
G-Sync dynamically changes the refresh rate to match the variable refresh rate on your gaming display.
For example, if you are getting 75 frames per second and are using a display with a variable refresh rate of 60 to 144 HZ, the display will draw the frames at 75 Hz as it is within the VRR.
AMD’s free-sync work similar to G-Sync but can be found on AMD GPUs and more TVs and monitors since it is a free technology.
However, the downside to G-Sync and Free-Sync is that both your video card and display need to have these technologies to use them.
But since we are talking about variable refresh rates, it is also worth talking about HDMI 2.1 Forum VRR.
HDMI Variable Refresh Rate (VRR)
HDMI Forum VRR is a Variable Refresh Rate feature that comes with devices that can support HDMI 2.1.
This feature can also be used to reduce screen tearing by dynamically changing the FPS on your video card to match with the VRR on your HDMI 2.1 display.
If your GPU, TV, or monitor has HDMI 2.1, you should check the user manual to confirm if it can support VRR over HDMI and how you can turn it on.
Enhanced Sync by AMD and Fast Sync by Nvidia
Fast Sync and Enhanced Sync do essentially the same things as they combine triple buffering and vertical synchronization technologies to eliminate screen tearing without capping the FPS on compatible GPUs.
These technologies eliminate or at least reduce screen tearing by overriding the frame that has already been drawn on your display instead of displaying sequentially.
What this means is that if you already have a frame displayed, the next completely rendered frame is taken to replace the existing frame and the other frames are discarded thus only one frame is drawn on your display at a time.
No limit is placed on the number of frames that can be displayed per second meaning that the time between frames can vary.
However, Fast-Sync and Enhanced Sync introduce input lag and slight stutters but not as much as V-Sync does. Therefore, your gaming may not be as smooth as it would without them turned on but you will not experience tear artifacts.
What to use to reduce screen tearing
If you have compatible devices and are not too concerned with a bit of input lag, Fast-Sync or Enhanced Sync would be great for you. However, these technologies will work best if the frame rate on your game is higher (double or triple) than the refresh rate on your gaming display.
The other option would be the use of G-Sync or Free-Sync on supported devices as they minimize screen tear without introducing latency. But G-Sync compatible devices are significantly expensive compared to Free-Sync devices of the same quality.
I would not recommend the use of V-Sync with double buffering due to the high input lag and annoying stuttering.
Myth-busting screen tearing beliefs
As we have seen, screen tearing has a lot to do with synchronization issues between frame rates and refresh rates which have little relationship to resolution apart from power consumption.
The second belief is that HDMI cables can cause screen tearing. This is also untrue because HDMI cables are high bitrate cables which essentially means that they are high-speed cables.
Although speeds between different HDMI versions can vary, this cannot cause screen tearing.
The only issues that can be experienced over HDMI are artifacts such as sparkles (stars on the screen) which are caused by faulty HDMI cables but are uncommon.