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Screen tearing during gameplay

What Is Screen Tearing and How to Fix it

Stephen Mash
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When using computer displays for visually intensive applications such as gaming or watching films, getting the best out of your monitor can positively enhance your viewing experience. However, suddenly seeing blurring or disjointed images across the screen can be annoying, particularly if you're in the middle of playing the latest triple-A release with your friends.
This article aims to explain the phenomenon of screen tearing, an issue that impacts computer displays. We'll briefly explain this effect, how to recognize it on your monitor, and offer solutions should you find you are affected.

What is screen tearing?

Screen tearing is an effect seen in moving pictures where the display suffers from distortion due to incorrect rendering of fast-changing images on the screen. Depending on the nature of the visual artifact, this may appear as a short-lived distracting glitch or a persistent distortion that can cause eye strain. In all cases, the overall effect is to disturb the visual experience and distract the viewer.

What causes screen tearing?

There are two leading causes for screen tearing effects: configuration issues between the graphics processor unit (GPU) generating images and the monitor that displays them.
A disparity between the frame rate of computer-generated images and the monitor's refresh rate that displays those images can be one cause. A significant difference between these two rates can result in image artifacts appearing when the computer-generated image frames change while the screen completes one display cycle. The difference between the two rates will determine the size and scale of the screen tearing distortion and how long it persists.
Screen tearing can also occur when there is a match between the frame rate of computer-generated images and the monitor's refresh rate that displays those images. A lack of synchronization between the computer generation of images and their display can distort a fixed point on the monitor. The phase difference between the start point of the source frame generation and the start point of the display refresh determines the position of the distortion. Any slight differences between the frame rate and refresh rate will result in the movement of the screen tearing artifacts up or down the screen.
Synchronization issues may be caused by operating a GPU beyond its standard capabilities.
For example, it cannot maintain the required frame rate or generate more frames than the connected monitor. These problems occur in image-intensive gaming applications that require a high frame rate to deliver responsiveness. In addition, issues in the performance of the GPU, or insufficient GPU memory, can create throughput bottlenecks that generate screen tearing effects.

How to spot screen tearing

A typical example of screen tearing is a horizontal line across the display screen where the picture above the line does not precisely fit with the picture below the line. As a result, the two images are horizontally offset, which can appear as a subtle blurring or, in extreme cases, a disjointed picture. In all cases, the effect is distracting and detrimental to the viewing experience.
Under some conditions, screen tearing may appear at multiple points on a screen. A vertical line on the screen will appear to have several breaks along its length where the line shifts horizontally.
The most common situation where screen tearing occurs is when the image moves horizontally, such as in games where players scan their eyes around a room. This scrolling movement amplifies the visual impact of any screen tearing effects.

How to fix screen tearing

How to Fix Screen Tearing
If you are experiencing display issues, here are a few suggestions for how to fix screen tearing.
The first step to resolving screen tearing effects is to adjust the display resolution and refresh rate to ensure they are compatible with the settings for the computer's GPU. The display resolution should match the GPU output resolution. In addition, you should set the display refresh rate to its maximum value. Adjusting the resolution and refresh rate can resolve screen tearing issues quickly and effortlessly.
The next step is to check the graphics drivers on your computer system, ensuring that the latest available drivers are installed and correctly configured. More information is available online for each specific driver. Also, if the screen tearing effects have suddenly appeared following a system update, check if the issue is due to an incompatibility with the latest version of the display driver. The simplest method of checking is to download and install an older driver version to eliminate this possibility.
For computer systems with a graphics processor connected to a display that supports the AMD® FreeSync™ function, this adaptive synchronization technology can eliminate tearing effects. If this function is enabled, but screen tearing effects are present, this may be due to compatibility issues between the processor and the display. In this case, disabling the AMD FreeSync function may resolve the issue.
For computer systems that use the popular and capable NVIDIA® technology to create graphics, adjustment of the G-SYNC™ function can help resolve screen tearing issues. NVIDIA designed G-SYNC to eliminate ghosting and tearing effects. It achieves this by dynamically managing display refresh synchronization when connected to a compatible display. Therefore, where the G-SYNC function is enabled when screen tearing effects are present, disabling the G-SYNC function may resolve the issue if the connected display is not fully compatible.
For windows-based computer systems, the smooth scrolling function can interfere with the operation of the GPU. This feature manages the graphics frame rate depending on the computer's usage. Disabling smooth scrolling can resolve these issues.
The cause of screen tearing may also be down to the gaming software generating the graphical outputs using a GPU. Where games use a frame limit function to manage GPU loading, this can unintendedly cause tearing artifacts. If you only observe screen tearing with a particular game, disabling frame limiting may be the answer if the GPU can handle the higher frame rates and loading.
The power settings used to manage battery life can affect graphical processing performance and cause screen tearing effects for mobile devices such as tablets and laptops. Ordinarily, such devices offer a high-performance setting in the power options that maximize processing performance at the expense of power usage. This setting ensures that any graphical processing is not constrained and can eliminate screen tearing from graphics processor throttling.
These solutions attempt to eliminate graphics issues, including screen tearing resulting from configuration problems in the existing equipment. If the problem is the display monitor's inability to handle your graphical demands, the only solution will be a display upgrade.

Best HP gaming monitors to avoid screen tearing

Plenty of high-performance gaming monitors can cope with the high refresh rates required by today's immersive gaming and ultra-high-definition imagery.
Below are some suggestions from the HP website.

HP X27 FHD IPS Gaming Monitor: Best entry-level HP monitor

HP X27 FHD Gaming Monitor
The HP X27 (27 in) FHD IPS Gaming Monitor is an excellent example of an entry-level gaming monitor. It features a 68.6 cm (27 in) diagonal screen that offers Full High Definition (FHD) images with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 165 Hz refresh rate. In addition, it displays 82 pixels per inch (ppi) with a horizontal display scan frequency of 30-210 kHz and a vertical display scan frequency of 60-165 Hz.
This monitor offers users a comfortable visual experience over more prolonged periods thanks to its smooth movement and HP Eye Ease with Eyesafe® certification. In addition, HP's In-Plane Switching (IPS) offers enhanced image quality.

OMEN 25i Gaming FHD Gaming Monitor: Best advanced HP monitor

OMEN 25i Gaming FHD Monitor
The OMEN 25i (24.5 in) FHD Gaming Monitor is an excellent example of an advanced gaming monitor. It features a 62.23 cm (24.5 in) diagonal screen that offers FHD images with a 1920 x 1080 resolution and a 165 Hz refresh rate. In addition, it displays 90 ppi with a horizontal display scan frequency of 31-192 kHz and a vertical display scan frequency of 60-165 Hz.
This monitor has a built-in Adaptive Sync function compatible with AMD FreeSync and NVIDIA G-SYNC designed for esports and a lightning-fast refresh rate.

OMEN 27i QHD IPS Gaming Monitor: Best high-end HP monitor

OMEN 27i Monitor
The OMEN 27i (27 in) QHD IPS Gaming Monitor is an excellent example of a high-end gaming monitor. It features a 68.6 cm (27 in) diagonal screen that offers Quad High Definition (QHD) images with a 2560 x 1440 resolution and a 165 Hz refresh rate. In addition, it displays 109 ppi with a horizontal display scan frequency of 80-250 kHz and a vertical display scan frequency of 48-144 Hz.
This monitor combines high picture quality with high performance for the ultimate gaming experience that NVIDIA validates as G-SYNC Compatible. In addition, HP's IPS offers enhanced image quality.

Summary

Screen tearing is an unwanted effect often seen when using high-performance gaming software on systems that cannot handle the high frame rates needed to offer the ultimate immersive gaming experience.
This article suggests steps to resolve screen tearing issues should you be unlucky enough to experience their effects. If these suggestions don't work, maybe it's time to invest in a high-performance gaming monitor that can handle everything the latest GPUs can throw at them. Monitor quality is a critical factor if you're looking for the best gaming experience.

About the Author

Stephen Mash is a contributing writer for HP Tech Takes. Stephen is a UK-based freelance technology writer with a background in cybersecurity and risk management.

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