What is Variable Refresh Rate on PS5 Explained

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What is VRR? 3
Credit: Sony

PlayStation 5 has been here for a while alongside Xbox Series X, but the Xbox has had VRR, or variable refresh rate, support for a while. It's been rumored to be coming to the PS5 for a long time, but now the feature has been officially announced to be coming in a future PS5 update. In this article, we'll explain everything you need to know about VRR on PS5.

What is VRR?

What is VRR?
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Credit: Sony

VRR, or variable refresh rate, is a kind of display technology. Traditionally, monitors and TVs have refresh rates, and historically, this has been 60Hz. This means that every second the display will refresh 60 times. So, when gaming on such a display, ideally the game will be able to output a new frame 60 times every second to cleanly sync up with the display's refresh rate.

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Capping a game's framerate such that it matches the refresh rate of the display it's being played on is called vertical sync, or vsync for short. This is often done to keep a game feeling smooth and consistent without any of the erratic stutter or judder associated with a fluctuating framerate.

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VRR, as a technology, allows a display to dynamically change its refresh rate to match the number of frames a game outputs in a given second. So, if a game manages to output a full 60 frames in a second on a 60Hz display, VRR will have no effect. However, it's a rare game that never drops a frame.

This is where VRR becomes useful. When a game doesn't manage to produce those full 60 frames in a given second and instead only manages to do, say, 50 frames, for the duration of that second the refresh rate of your display will get adjusted down to 50Hz. The game will still feel as if it's at 50FPS, but you won't get the jarring stutter you normally get from playing at 60FPS and suddenly dropping down to 50FPS.

VRR can't make low framerates feel like high framerates, but VRR takes the stuttery inconsistency out of games. With VRR enabled, a game could run anywhere between 45FPS and 60FPS, like Elden Ring can across platforms, and it would feel smooth the whole time as you fluctuated between different framerates.

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This kind of technology is ultimately not necessary if a game's locked to a certain framerate, but most games are not like this, and big picture, if a game during a certain section drops a few FPS, it's not a big deal, and with VRR, you may never even notice the fluctuations at all.

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Why is VRR Important on PS5?

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The PS5 is much more powerful than the PS4, but games on PS5 tend to also target much higher resolutions, framerates, and graphical settings as compared to PS4. Plus, PS5 games are only going to get more advanced and graphically demanding as time goes on. Suffice it to say that there are going to be frame drops across games for the foreseeable future.

Yes, games will get patched, but inevitably, these issues will arise, and VRR may not be able to solve them in the sense that it increases framerates, but it can turn a stuttery, inconsistent mess into something completely playable, if not perfect. This is, right now, the case with Elden Ring on console.

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Unfortunately, the game has stutter problems, but with VRR, while these issues may not be completely solved, the experience is far smoother and the stutter is much easier to deal with. This is a great option to have during the wait for FromSoftware to patch the game. And even when they do patch the game, there's no guarantee they'll be able to completely fix the issue either, so VRR could always be an important feature for playing that particular game.

Plus, VRR displays are only getting cheaper and cheaper. FreeSync and G-SYNC (AMD's and NVIDIA's versions of VRR) are pretty commonly found on monitors and even TVs alike nowadays. And these features aren't exclusive to high-end devices, either. They may not be the most popular features in the market right now, but more than anything else, this is because most people simply haven't used VRR tech before and don't realize how useful it can be.

Many performance problems in games across titles can be solved or significantly improved with VRR, and all of this is down with monitor technology and has very little to do with the actual game engine. Developers can optimize their games to work better with VRR, but Sony plans to offer the feature as a toggleable setting on any game.

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It's possible using VRR could cause unforeseen bugs or glitches in certain games, this is the case with the tech on PC, but if that's happening, you'll simply be able to turn the feature off for that particular game. And as more games come out, they'll be ready on day one for VRR, with devs taking the time to make sure it works with their game.

VRR is only more useful when it comes to 120FPS games on PS5, too. Most 120FPS games have some rather significant fluctuations in framerate depending on what's happening on screen. Naturally, this isn't as bad as fluctuations at 60FPS because with more FPS comes smoother gameplay, but these fluctuations can still make games feel stuttery, and when targeting high framerates, fluctuations can be severe.

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Ultimately, while PS5 is a powerful console, it's not powerful enough to games at completely locked framerates that never ever drop frames or experience slowdown from time to time, so VRR will remain an important way, for many years to come, for the PS5 to offer gamers the best experience possible.

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VRR may not be able to fix a Cyberpunk-esque debacle, but Elden Ring tier issues with a game can be significantly lessened with VRR, and that's no small feat. In general, games on console and PC, with access to VRR, can be more stable and offer up a smoother experience/