Samsung has issued firmware updates that add FreeSync over HDMI support to a number of its 4K TVs. FreeSync is a variable refresh rate technology that allows for smoother, tear-free gaming from AMD Radeon graphics cards, with a slightly different implementation available on Xbox One, One S and One X. Engadget reports that US models Q6FN, Q7FN, Q8FN and Q9FN QLED models get the upgrade along with the NU8000 (we're contacting Samsung to find out which EU/UK equivalents are supported - the firm's model names change according to region). It's a great move for living room gaming, bringing a highly desirable feature previously exclusive to PC monitors to a larger canvas for the first time.
Apparently there are a couple of compromises, however. The support only works at 1080p resolution and apparently some aspects of screen brightness may be affected. This means that PC and Xbox One X users may need to downscale their display outputs - effectively trading image quality for the FreeSync variable refresh effect. It's a good match for Xbox One and One S users though, where typically the console tops out at 1080p resolution anyway. The question of whether Xbox One X users should engage FreeSync or not is a little complex though - in our tests, the implementation on Xbox only matched the quality of the PC experience on a small number of titles, and Microsoft's implementation of the technology didn't remove screen-tearing, as it does on PC.
Given a choice between FreeSync at a downscaled 1080p or standard 4K output, we'd probably take the latter, given current results. However, with that said, the quality of the variable refresh rate experience depends very much on what is dubbed the 'FreeSync window'. Boiled down into simple terms, different screens only support the variable refresh effect at a specific frame-rate range - typically in the region of 40-60fps (though as our report says, Microsoft's implementation cleverly attempts to get results below this). Right now, it's unknown what kind of FreeSync range Samsung's TVs support, but we'll do our best to find out.
It's early days, so we should assume that there may be some teething issues - and certainly, we would hope to see Samsung support variable refresh at full 4K resolution in the fullness of time. But what's fascinating here is that a major TV manufacturer has adopted what has hitherto been a PC display standard, even though full standards-compliant HDMI VRR support is baked into the upcoming HDMI 2.1 spec.
We were aware of Samsung's plans (as hinted in our PC HDR piece last week) and with an open standard VRR implementation moving into mainstream living room displays from a key manufacturer, we did take the opportunity to ask Nvidia if support were likely from GeForce graphics cards - but it seems that the firm has no plans to offer anything beyond its carefully curated G-Sync line-up. So right now, living room VRR gaming is exclusive to Radeon GPUs and Xbox One.
Regardless, FreeSync support in 4K TVs produced by a key manufacturer is obviously a big deal and represents the latest move in making 4K TVs more friendly and useful to gamers. In the last couple of years, we've seen clear efforts from manufacturers in driving down display latency to produce more responsive displays for better gaming, along with low lag 'game mode' support for HDR. Adding FreeSync support is another big step forward and one that we'd hope to see other manufacturers add this excellent feature to their TVs.