What is screen tearing? Easy-to-understand explanation of the basic concepts of display images

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What is Screen Tearing?

Screen tearing is a visual artifact that occurs when the display device shows a combination of two or more different frames at the same time. This phenomenon results in a horizontal line appearing on the monitor, where parts of two or more frames meet. It can be quite distracting and can negatively impact the overall viewing experience.

To understand screen tearing better, let’s delve into the basics of how display images work. In order to display moving images on a screen, the graphics processing unit (GPU) continuously sends frames to the monitor. These frames represent different moments in time and are displayed in sequence to create the illusion of motion. Ideally, each frame should smoothly transition into the next, without any visual disturbances.

However, screen tearing occurs when the monitor and the GPU are not synchronized properly. The GPU sends frames to the monitor randomly, whenever they are ready, instead of adhering to the monitor’s refresh rate. The refresh rate is the number of times the monitor updates its image per second. If the GPU sends a new frame when the monitor is still in the process of displaying a previous frame, the two frames can overlap, resulting in the visible tearing effect.

Screen tearing is more noticeable in fast-paced scenes, such as gaming or video playback, where the GPU is constantly producing new frames. It is also more prevalent when the frame rate exceeds the monitor’s refresh rate, causing the frames to be out of sync.

To mitigate screen tearing, various solutions are available. One common method is to use vertical synchronization, or VSync, which synchronizes the GPU’s frame output with the monitor’s refresh rate. This ensures that each frame is displayed in its entirety before transitioning to the next. However, VSync can introduce input lag, which can be undesirable for fast-paced applications.

Another solution is to use adaptive sync technologies, such as AMD’s FreeSync or NVIDIA’s G-SYNC. These technologies dynamically adjust the monitor’s refresh rate to match the frame rate outputted by the GPU. By synchronizing the two, screen tearing is effectively eliminated without significant input lag.

In conclusion, screen tearing is an undesirable visual artifact that occurs when the display device shows a combination of two or more frames simultaneously. It can be avoided or minimized using technologies like VSync or adaptive sync. Understanding screen tearing and the methods to mitigate it can greatly enhance the overall visual experience when using display devices.

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