Last year we saw the rise of high refresh rate displays in smartphones. These ‘smooth as butter’ displays have now become mainstay features for flagship smartphones. 2020 has even seen the 90Hz spec bumped up to 120Hz as the standard. The user experience provided by these displays can be addictive. Once you have had a taste of high refresh rate screens, there is no turning back!
Samsung display has now announced a new generation of display panels that sport a variable refresh rate technology. VRR looks to solve one of the biggest problems posed by high refresh rate displays in smartphones.
Like with all steps forwards in the smartphone world, there are caveats to the high refresh technology. Full-screen displays had to face the notch while foldable phones had moving parts. High refresh displays face the challenge of battery drain.
It turns out that refreshing the screen up to 90 or 120 (even 144) frames per second takes a massive hit of battery life. High refresh panels with high resolutions like FHD or UHD take an even higher percentage of power consumption.
Smartphone manufacturers have tried to tackle the power efficiency problems through two workarounds. They have offered a high refresh rate for 1080p displays, which would drain less power due to fewer pixels pushed out. Another method was to provide a variable refresh mode that would switch to 60Hz when the application did not need or support higher refresh rates.
But the variable refresh modes that manufacturers offered still stuck to either 60, 90, 120Hz, or 144Hz depending on the smartphone. Even when the screen content did not need 60Hz, that was the lowest value for the display’s frame rates.
Samsung’s variable refresh rate (VRR) technology changes the dependence on fixed refresh rates. Through VRR, display panels can adjust the refresh rates in more than three steps. Apart from 60, 90, or 120Hz, the VRR displays can do gown to 30 and 10Hz dynamically. The lower refresh rates will allow for power saving when the content on the screen does not require higher refresh rates.
Usually, when the display panel automatically calibrates the refresh rate, there would be a noticeable flickering of the screen due to differences in luminance at lower fresh rates. Samsung Display claims that a new backplane technology eliminates flickering. Higher switching performance to 10 and 30Hz frame rates reduce the luminance difference. The LPTO backplane technology also aids in lower power consumption by seamlessly switching to lower refresh rates when possible.
Samsung’s latest Galaxy Note 20 Ultra is the first smartphone to feature the VRR technology. By their calculations, the adaptive frequency technology reduces display consumption by 22% in the phone. The 10Hz mode further saves up to 60% battery. It isn’t clear which benchmark, 60Hz or 120Hz, served as the baseline. The Note 20 Ultra comes with a 120Hz high refresh capability.
Another caveat of VRR is that Android does not support the technology as of now. So even if the display is capable of adaptive frequencies, the software may not be able to take full advantage of the technology.
Samsung Galaxy Note 20 Ultra will be the first real-world usage example of the technology in smartphones. Despite the speculation, VRR surely seems like the way to even more efficient battery life for next-gen smartphones.