When G-Sync was first announced, gamers were understandably excited about the prospect of eliminating annoying tearing artifacts from their favorite FPS titles. Before, only turning on v-sync could alleviate that issue. But the trade-offs were often slow-down, stutter and input lag as the video card buffered frames and waited for the monitor’s refresh cycle to catch up.
We’ve managed to get several G-Sync-capable displays reviewed, which is great for anyone with a modern GeForce board. But it was only recently that FreeSync-equipped monitors started showing up for sale. A couple of weeks ago we covered our first such product – BenQ’s XL2730Z. We found FreeSync to work just as advertised, and just as well as G-Sync. Now Radeon fans who have certain high-end Radeon cards can enjoy the tear-free gaming that comes with frame-rate matching and no additional input lag.
BenQ’s entry slots into the high end of the market at over $700. Acer’s XG270HU, which we're reviewing today, leaves out features like motion-blur reduction, USB ports and gaming modes to get the price down significantly. As of this writing, they’re selling on the street for around $500.
As most of you know by now, FreeSync (known as Adaptive-Sync in the DisplayPort 1.2a standard) matches the display’s frame-rate to that of the video card’s output signal. Since the rate is constantly changing in games, every frame is drawn from top to bottom in a single refresh cycle, eliminating any tearing artifacts. The end result is supposed to look a lot like Nvidia's G-Sync technology, except that FreeSync is part of the DisplayPort spec and therefore requires no proprietary hardware to implement. In the case of the XG270HU, its frame rate range is 30-144Hz, which means you can benefit from FreeSync down to 30 FPS.
Aside from FreeSync, the XG270HU is a typical 27-inch gaming monitor. It sports QHD resolution through a 144Hz TN panel manufactured by AU Optronics. The backlight is a white-LED edge array and runs on constant current, which means it’s flicker-free. We’ve talked about the advantage of eliminating pulse-width modulation in past reviews. Even at a rate of over 20,000 cycles per second, some users can still perceive flicker. Using constant current eliminates that artifact for everyone.
Another feature we’re glad to see is a native 8-bit color depth. Older-generation gaming screens employed a 6-bit panel and frame rate conversion (FRC) to sync with the 8-bit signal coming from the computer. While the banding artifacts caused by this have largely been eliminated by good video processing, it’s still best to maintain the same bit-depth throughout the signal chain.
Much has been debated about IPS versus TN in the desktop monitor realm. Almost all gaming monitors still use TN parts, and that has put off some users. We’ve reviewed exactly two IPS monitors capable of running faster than 60Hz. But Acer has an example on its way to us now; the XB270HU is the first monitor from a mainstream brand to offer a 144Hz refresh rate in an IPS panel, and on top of that it’s QHD. We’re anxiously awaiting delivery of our test sample.
The XG we’re testing today sounds great on paper and it’s a decent value to boot. Hopefully Acer hasn’t cut corners on image quality in an effort to get FreeSync in users’ hands. Let’s take a look.
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