When choosing among the best gaming monitors, it can be challenging to keep up with all the different features that add to performance. In addition to picking a display's size and resolution, you must keep track of Adaptive-Sync compatibility (Nvidia G-Sync versus AMD FreeSync) and the supported refresh rates on a given monitor. Response times are also a critical spec that display OEMs can often fudge to seem superior to the competition.
To help simplify the research/purchase process and provide more transparency for monitor buyers, the Video Electronics Standard Association (VESA) has developed Adaptive-Sync Display Compliance Test Specification (Adaptive-Sync Display CTS), which it claims is the first open standard and logo program for desktop and laptop monitors. The logo compliance boils down to two specific tiers: MediaSync Display and Adaptive-Sync Display.
"The MediaSync Display logo performance tier is designed to ensure that displays meet a high level of quality optimized for media playback," states VESA. "This logo performance tier eliminates video frame dropping, and 3:2 pull-down jitter and other sources of jitter, while meeting its mandatory flicker performance level to make the display visually flicker free.
"The AdaptiveSync logo performance tier is optimized for gaming and designed for displays that have a sufficiently large variable video frame-rate range and low latency, while also supporting high-quality media playback with a similar set of benefits as the MediaSync Display logo performance tier."
Before we hop into the specifics of Adaptive-Sync Display CTS, let's first look at what Adaptive-Sync aims to accomplish. With Adaptive-Sync (be it either G-Sync or FreeSync), the aim is to sync a monitor's refresh cycle with that of the connected graphics card.
The graphics card "sets the pace," so to speak, by controlling the refresh rate continuously and syncing it with the monitor. With this mechanism in place, a monitor can fully draw each frame prior to the graphics card sending a new one. As a result, screen tearing or artifacts that can occur when the monitor and GPU aren't in sync are eliminated.
VESA's Adaptive-Sync Display CTS is standardized across over 50 "automated display performance" tests to benchmark refresh rate, flicker, gray-to-gray response times, frame-rate jitter, and frame drops (among other variables). In addition, all monitors seeking to gain Adaptive Sync Display or MediaSync Display logo certification will be tested in their default configuration as shipped from the factory to level the playing field.
To obtain the Adaptive-Sync Display logo, the absolute minimum Adaptive-Sync refresh range is 60 Hz, while the maximum range is at least 144 Hz. On the other hand, the MediaSync logo requires an Adaptive-Sync range of 48 Hz to at least 60 Hz. Regarding the Adaptive-Sync Display certification, a performance tier denotes the maximum frame rate sustainable by a monitor. For example, you might see monitors labeled as Adaptive-Sync Display 240 or Adaptive-Sync 360 to denote 240 Hz and 360 Hz maximums, respectively.
VESA also specs less than 1ms of jitter across ten common standards for frame rate: 23.976, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 47.952, 48, 50, 59.94 and 60 Hz. Regarding response times, the gaming-centric Adaptive-Sync Display tier is spec'd for equal to or less than 5 ms (gray-to-gray). That 5 ms figure is averaged over 20 tests, so display manufacturers can't pick and choose the performance metrics that fit their narratives.
In keeping with the refresh rate standards, VESA also attempts to crack down on factory overdrive settings, which can often introduce unsightly visual artifacts when gaming. As a result, VESA's testing requires that Adaptive-Sync Display and MediaSync Display monitors adhere to less than a 20 percent overshoot and less than 15 percent undershoot across 16 tests. As a result, manufacturers that have traditionally shipped their monitors with overly aggressive overdrives will likely have to dial things back to meet VESA Adaptive-Sync Display CTS compliance.
And because temperatures while testing can significantly impact display behavior, VESA specifies that testing is performed at a room temperature between 72.5 degrees and 76 degrees. You can view all of VESA’s requirements here.
"The Adaptive-Sync Display CTS builds upon the foundation that VESA laid with the introduction of the Adaptive-Sync protocols eight years ago," said Roland Wooster, chairman of the VESA Display Performance Metrics Task Group. "It provides an open, industry-wide and brand-agnostic standard backed by a logo program that gives consumers a guarantee that the displays that they're buying for gaming or for media playback will meet a clearly defined minimum set of front-of-screen performance criteria when used with a suitable GPU. In designing the test specification and logo program, VESA explicitly set a high bar on performance criteria and testing methodology with tighter criteria than many existing specs and logo programs."
So, what does this mean for you, the consumer? In the near term, you'll likely see monitors that feature G-Sync or FreeSync logo in addition to Adaptive-Sync Display or MediaSync Display logos. However, with the stringent set of requirements needed to achieve these new certifications, we could come to a point where G-Sync and FreeSync branding is abandoned entirely in favor of Adaptive-Sync Display or MediaSync Display. The two specifications from Nvidia and AMD are already largely interchangeable, so consolidation of standards should make things more transparent for consumers.
And that's the whole point of Adaptive-Sync Display CTS and its new logo certifications. Greater transparency while laying out a set of stringent tests for monitors is good news for the industry in general. Unfortunately, only two compliant monitors have been officially announced since we're starting from the ground floor here with Adaptive-Sync Display CTS: the LG UltraGear 27GP950 and 27GP850. However, we should expect that number to grow significantly over the coming months and years.