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First look: VRR gaming on PlayStation 5

27 Apr 2022 | Rasmus Larsen |

PlayStation 5 finally supports HDMI 2.1 VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) for gaming. Here are our first impressions after having spent some hours playing supported and unsupported games.

VRR does not require another system update. Restart your PS5 console and check under 'Screen and Video' settings after a few minutes. It should appear automatically. VRR must also be supported and enabled on your TV, either as an automatic setting (LG, for example) or by switching to the specific HDMI VRR mode (Sony, for example).

 Also read: List: TVs with HDMI 2.1 VRR, AMD FreeSync and Nvidia G-Sync

Spider-Man 120Hz PS5
Remember to enable Spider-Man: Miles Morales' 120 Hz Display Mode. Screenshot: FlatpanelsHD
At launch, only a handful of PS5 games officially support VRR but PS5 has an optional 'Apply to Unsupported Games' setting option. We tested with an LG GX OLED TV. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is one of the games that has been updated so we opened the game and made sure that '120 Hz Display Mode' was enabled, which is something you should do for other games, too. For our test we selected the 'Performance' graphics mode.

Gaming in VRR, up to 120Hz

As you may know, VRR makes sure that the screen and PS5 stay in real-time sync, even when the game's frame rate fluctuates. We shot a short video to demonstrate how Spider-Man: Miles Morales fluctuates between approx. 85–105Hz output on PS5 in the opening sequence of the game. Swinging through New York's concrete jungle felt very smooth and responsive with no judder or tearing – quite impressive.
Astro's Playroom is another game that engages VRR but PS5's output stays fixed to approximately 60Hz so the only benefit here would be reduced input lag (due to lower lag in VRR mode on the TV). Perhaps a subsequent update will improve VRR support in this game. PS5 still switched to HDMI 2.1 (FRL) mode in Astro's Playroom, which is interesting as it seems to confirm that games must implement a 120Hz display mode to make PS5 unlock the 60Hz+ VRR range – at least for now.

PS5 VRR

VRR on PS5. Photo: FlatpanelsHD

We enabled the 'Apply to Unsupported Games' mode and tried a handful of unsupported games. Curiously, Uncharted 4 and Horizon Zero Dawn remained in a fixed refresh mode (60Hz) despite the optional setting being enabled. So at this time you cannot use PS5's VRR feature with all games.

Uncharted 4

Uncharted 4 does not engage VRR even with 'Apply to Unsupported Games' enabled. Photo: FlatpanelsHD

WRC 9 120Hz PS5
WRC 9 has a 120Hz Performance Mode. Screenshot: FlatpanelsHD
A game that did switch to VRR mode despite not being on the official list of supported games was racing game WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship. Remember to engage the 120Hz Performance Mode, which internally runs at 1080p (upscaled to 4K output by PS5) with 120fps (frames per second). WRC 9 stayed close to 120Hz output most of the time but did occasionally drop to around 90–100 depending on the weather conditions and level design. It felt super smooth and extremely responsive, which made a very hard racing game feel a little bit easier.

WRC 9 VRR PS5

WRC 9 works with VRR on PS5 even though it's not on the official list. Photo: FlatpanelsHD

Demon's Souls engaged VRR mode but remained fixed to 60Hz output at all times. Borderlands 3 engaged VRR mode but remained fixed to 120Hz output (in performance mode, which runs 120fps at reduced internal resolution, upscaled to 4K by PS5). You can also use PS5's VRR with 'Fidelity' modes in games to enjoy the better graphics at lower frame rates; VRR will still give you improved responsiveness. One example is Spider-Man: Miles Morales.

Borderlands VRR PS5

Borderlands 3 engages VRR on PS5 but always stays close to 120Hz. Photo: FlatpanelsHD

Other observations

It is worth noting that games must run at unlocked frame rate to fully benefit from VRR. You should also be mindful of the difference between Hz and fps. For example, PS5's default output is 60Hz but that does not mean all games run at 60fps. A game may run at 30fps with frame doubling at fixed 60Hz output so be careful not to conflate fps and Hz when you use HDMI diagnostics tools like the 'green button' method on LG TVs. Enhancement systems such as LFC (Low Frame-rate Compensation) are source-dependant – i.e. not happening in the TV. PS5 supports a 48-120Hz VRR range. To improve performance of 30fps games to, say, make them run at 30-50fps in some scenes by utilizing VRR, developers could take the approach that Insomniac Games detailed with Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart where the 120Hz Display Mode allows the game to target 40fps rendering (Fidelity mode) while using a multiplier. This reduces input lag and therefore improves responsiveness, while at the same time conforming to TV's VRR frequency range that typically starts at 40 or 48Hz. We did not encounter any games that exhibited "unexpected visual effects", as Sony puts it, with 'Apply to Unsupported Games' activated. However, we have only tried a handful of games so far. As noted in our TV reviews, both LCD and OLED TVs suffer from various VRR issues today including zone dimming deactivation (much lower contrast and lower peak brightness), raised blacks and flicker. These are not related to PS5's VRR implementation so we refer to our reviews for more information. We were a little disappointed to find that PS-exclusive games such as Gran Turismo 7 are not amongst the launch titles for VRR so we hope Sony and partners are putting in the hours required to get VRR up to speed. Owners had to wait one and a half year for VRR to arrive on PS5, despite VRR being supported from day one on Xbox Series X, but overall it looks promising. We will do further examinations once more games have been updated and tested, and add a VRR section to our extensive PlayStation 5 review.