Samsung’s Note20 Ultra Variable Refresh Rate Display Explained


In August 2020, Samsung launched the brand new Notice20 Extremely – an fascinating machine that now we have on our evaluation take a look at mattress. It is secure to say that over the previous few generations, there hasn’t been all that a lot thrilling in regards to the Notice line of units – the telephones usually use the brand new silicon and digital camera applied sciences that had been launched within the Galaxy S-series of the identical 12 months, and the Notice lends on its kind issue, solely bettering upon the design and software program expertise across the S-Pen. This 12 months’s Notice20 Extremely, primarily based on our testing, typically additionally follows the identical formulation, however with the essential exception: the Samsung Notice20 Extremely has, in accordance with the corporate, the primary cell variable refresh charge (VRR) display screen within the trade.

What’s Variable Refresh Price, or VRR

The refresh charge, in its broadest definition, is a property given to a show with reference to how continuously a show will replace itself with the newest knowledge equipped from the graphics processor. A regular show, both on a smartphone or on a pc monitor, usually refreshes at 60 instances per second, or at 60 Hz, with the delay between every body at 16.66 milliseconds. This 60 Hz is a static refresh charge, and stuck for the lifetime of the product. Over the past decade, show producers have constructed screens with completely different refresh charges relying on the content material:  for content material that’s static, the show may select to refresh at 33.33 milliseconds, or 30 instances per second, and save energy; for content material that’s energetic, like a online game, if the sport may be rendered shortly sufficient, the show may refresh at 13.33 milliseconds (75 Hz) or 11.11 milliseconds (90 Hz) or 8.33 milliseconds (120 Hz).

Shows may also be made with a number of completely different refresh charges. Relying on the product, akin to a easy PC monitor, then each 30 Hz or 60 Hz could be supported. Gaming units would possibly go the opposite approach, and provide modes that run at 30 Hz, 60 Hz, 90 Hz, and 120 Hz, all throughout the identical panel. These modes could be person selectable, or activate when particular functions are working. Within the gaming ecosystem, these are often known as ‘excessive refresh charge’ shows.

The place variable refresh charge shows differ is that they will usually assist a variety of body time delays on a really granular foundation. On the specification sheets for these shows, the refresh charge could be give as a spread, akin to ’60 – 90 Hz’, incidicating that the show can assist any worth between these two numbers. The higher shows try to assist bigger ranges, nevertheless with regards to the smartphone market, the time period ‘variable refresh charge’ has been a bit abused in current instances, as there are two methods to implement a variable refresh charge show.

The 2 strategies are often known as:

  • Seamless Variable Refresh Price
  • Refresh Price Mode Switching

The distinction between the 2 is essential. In a Seamless VRR show, the refresh charge is anticipated to vary on a frame-by-frame foundation as required by the system. For a ‘VRR-enabled’ however non-seamless show, it depends on altering the refresh charge mode between completely different values – the show panel will function in both a “regular” or “high-refresh-rate” mode, however the switching between the modes shouldn’t be a steady course of. For these panels, the ‘vary’ of the refresh charges supported is pretty discrete, akin to fractions of the primary refresh charge, whereas a Seamless VRR show is designed to be a steady assist from a normal refresh charge to a excessive refresh charge with all in-between.

For essentially the most half, smartphone distributors have been taking part in down which one in every of these two they’ve been utilizing, promoting each as ‘variable refresh charge’. If a cellphone vendor has claimed to assist variable refresh charge, it has been deceptive, as no machine till now has supported a ‘seamless variable refresh charge’ that switches on a per-frame foundation, which is often what we might take into account a real VRR answer to be. What these corporations are doing as a substitute is that they’re utilizing refresh charge mode switching, which is a quite essential distinction.

Samsung Notice20 Extremely: Seamless VRR

Against this, Samsung with the brand new Notice20 Extremely claims to have achieved seamless VRR, and I’ve been very curious to get my arms on a tool and at last unveiling how that is applied and if it delivers on its guarantees.

Beginning off, the very first thing a person would possibly discover on the Notice20 Extremely, in comparison with an S20 machine, is that its high-refresh-rate mode is known as “Adaptive” quite than “Excessive”. The decription textual content is particular in that it now states the refresh charge will go “as much as” 120Hz as a substitute of outright stating 120Hz on the S20 sequence units. Up to now so good.

Investigating Seamless VRR

Digging into the software program, we discover some key indications on Samsung’s show mode choices.

I/DisplayManagerService: Show machine modified: 
DisplayDeviceInfo{"Constructed-in Display": uniqueId="native:19261213734341249", 
1440 x 3088, modeId 1, defaultModeId 1, 
supportedModes [
  {id=1, width=1440, top=3088, fps=60.000004},
  {id=2, width=1440, top=3088, fps=48.0},
  {id=3, width=1080, top=2316, fps=120.00001},
  {id=4, width=1080, top=2316, fps=96.00001},
  {id=5, width=1080, top=2316, fps=60.000004},
  {id=6, width=1080, top=2316, fps=48.0},
  {id=7, width=720, top=1544, fps=120.00001},
  {id=8, width=720, top=1544, fps=96.00001},
  {id=9, width=720, top=1544, fps=60.000004},
  {id=10, width=720, top=1544, fps=48.0}

From a software program perspective, you’d usually anticipate Samsung’s marketed refresh charge modes from 1Hz to 120Hz to be uncovered to the system, nevertheless this isn’t the case, and the cellphone options the identical decision and refresh charge modes that had been additionally obtainable on the S20 sequence. As from the information above, this implies 48 Hz, 60 Hz, 96 Hz, and 120 Hz.

Nonetheless, the important thing distinction between the S20 sequence and the Notice20 Extremely is that its refresh charge mode is described as working in “REFRESH_RATE_MODE_SEAMLESS”  as a substitute of “REFRESH_RATE_MODE_ALWAYS”. In that regard it does appear like issues are working appropriately.

Nonetheless one key part of variable refresh charge shows are the decrease refresh modes to assist save energy. As proven on the record above, the ‘lowest’ refresh charge marketed is 48 Hz. So I went looking out.


2020-09-07 19:42:16.764 948-948/? I/SurfaceFlinger: 
  setActiveConfig::RefreshRate: ID=2, Width=1080
2020-09-07 19:42:21.758 948-948/? I/SurfaceFlinger: 
  setActiveConfig::RefreshRate: ID=4, Width=1080


When interacting with the cellphone, it’s potential to catch when the OS switches its refresh charges. For the above log, I used to be within the Samsung browser on a webpage – a scenario I’d anticipate to be in a excessive refresh charge when scrolling, however a decrease recent charge when idle, and a clean seemless transition between the 2. Once I tapped the display screen to work together with it and scroll, the system converted to 120Hz refresh charge (represented with ID=2). 4 seconds later, it switched again to a 60Hz mode (proven as ID=4). That is really fairly odd in that this actually isn’t what you’d anticipate from a seamless VRR implementation – these would seem like preset refresh charge modes baked in into the working system and built-in with person interactions.

Maybe extra importantly from a battery life perspective, we might anticipate the change right down to the decrease refresh charge to occur virtually instantly, inside a body or two. The 4-second delay from the cellphone being within the 120Hz mode after which being positioned into the 60 Hz mode, although it’s a static display screen, isn’t what we anticipate from a VRR implementation, seamless or in any other case – it ought to occur basically instantly on the next frames of any sort of animation, interplay, or display screen motion. This wanted extra investigation.

It All Comes Down To New Panel Expertise

Researching issues additional, and diving into the show panel’s drivers, we discover a couple of additional mentions and proof of Samsung’s newer panel expertise discovered within the Notice20 Extremely. To begin with, now we have affirmation that Samsung calls the brand new panel expertise “HOP” – which we assume stands for the rumoured ‘Hybrid Oxide and Polycrystaline’ expertise that Samsung has been teasing. That is just like LTPO (Low Temperature Polycrystalline Silicon), however makes use of a brand new backplane expertise that permits for sooner switching transistors, additionally reducing energy consumption.

Moreover, Samsung’s key function in attaining decrease refresh-rate appears to be dubbed “LFD” or low-frequency-drive. At first, it’s a bit complicated as LFD doesn’t actually appear to have any sort of interplay with the user-space VRR implementation. From our evaluation, LFD appears to be one thing that solely works on the panel and show driver (DDIC) stage.

Based mostly on the output proven under, the LFD working modes do showcase that it’s programmed to work with Samsung’s marketed low working frequencies, all the way in which right down to 1Hz. The low frequency driver operation additionally appears to be a sub-mode beneath the upper stage VRR working modes, with these being the precise modes that the cellphone switches between in a finer method utilizing the MIPI-DSI interface.

/* 8. Freq. (60h): frequency in picture replace case (non-LFD mode),
 HS: 24hz~120hz, NS: 30hz~60hz

 * - 48HS VRR mode:
 *     48hz  : 00 01 : div=2
 *     32hz  : 00 02 : div=3
 *     24hz  : 00 03 : div=4
 *     12hz  : 00 07 : div=8
 *      1hz  : 00 5F : div=96
 * - 48NS VRR mode: flip off LFD
 * - 60HS VRR mode:
 *     60hz  : 00 01 : div=2
 *     40hz  : 00 02 : div=3
 *     30hz  : 00 03 : div=4
 *     24hz  : 00 04 : div=5
 *     10hz  : 00 0B : div=12
 *      1hz  : 00 77 : div=120
 * - 60NS VRR mode:
 *     60hz  : 00 09 : div=1
 *     30hz  : 00 01 : div=2
 * - 96HS VRR mode:
 *     96hz  : 08 00 : div=1
 *     48hz  : 00 01 : div=2
 *     32hz  : 00 02 : div=3
 *     24hz  : 00 03 : div=4
 *     12hz  : 00 07 : div=8
 *      1hz  : 00 5F : div=96
 * - 120HS VRR mode:
 *    120hz  : 08 00 : div=1
 *     60hz  : 00 01 : div=2
 *     40hz  : 00 02 : div=3
 *     30hz  : 00 03 : div=4
 *     24hz  : 00 04 : div=5
 *     11hz  : 00 0A : div=11
 *     10hz  : 00 0B : div=12
 *      1hz  : 00 77 : div=120

The driving force feedback be aware that the Notice20 Extremely’s panel is able to “self-scanning”, and that in an effort to preserve the decrease frequency refresh charges it makes use of body insertions for non-changing content material. It appears to be like like that is primarily based on a set set of frequency multiples and dividers, so the mechanism isn’t able to arbitrary refresh charges, however has a set set of working frequencies under the utmost 120Hz. This finally places it someplace between the ‘mode switching’ and Seamless VRR definitions, nevertheless with the granularity it does provide a wider array of refresh charges for the show than virtually all (if not all) smartphones in the marketplace at present.

One downside (from our perspective) with this LFD mechanism is that it’s seemingly fully clear to user-space, so there’s no good method to confirm that it’s energetic or working – the OS merely states that you just’re both within the 120Hz or 60Hz VRR modes, nevertheless with LFD on prime the precise refresh charge may be completely different. One method to confirm this externally is just to measure the end-result that the brand new panel expertise is supposed to carry to the person: decrease energy consumption. It’s additionally right here that we encounter a number of the quirks in Samsung’s implementation.

Confirming Seamless VRR: Measuring Show Energy Consumption

At first after I bought my arms on the Notice20 Extremely, I used to be considerably disenchanted when the outcomes I obtained for energy wasn’t any completely different to the S20 sequence between the 60 and 120Hz modes. All the things appeared and measured the identical, with a big energy penalty kicking when switching over to the 120Hz mode, even on static display screen content material. This was the one situation the place the brand new VRR mechanism was speculated to carry nice advantages.

I had reached out to Samsung Show in regards to the matter, beneath the belief that maybe Samsung Cellular had not applied the VRR as marketed. Initially I obtained again some questions asking me in regards to the take a look at circumstances, amongst which additionally they requested in regards to the ambient brightness, which I discovered bizarre factor to ask.

Certain sufficient, altering the ambient brightness in my workplace / the brightness stage that the cellphone’s gentle sensor picks up, does dramatically change the facility behaviour of the cellphone. Here’s a video displaying the impact of the ambient brightness adjusting the facility utilized by the show, the place I cowl the sunshine sensor with a block.

When displaying a pure black static picture within the cellphone’s Gallery app, I noticed a drastic change in energy consumption between when the cellphone is in a brighter surroundings in comparison with while you cowl up the highest a part of the machine and the sunshine sensor.  

Trying into extra element by means of the cellphone’s OS logs, the machine does look to actively observe the sunshine sensor values on a regular basis, even when in guide brightness, and enters a particular mode when it senses a darker surroundings:

Particularly, it appears to be like like at any time when the cellphone senses an ambient brightness stage under 40 lux, it is going to drive the cellphone to solely function in its 120Hz modes, with a further flag that additionally units the minimal refresh charge to 120Hz. Against this, in the next brightness setting, the “regular” working mode has what appears to be like to be a minimal of 48Hz.

The ability behaviour measured on the cellphone now seemingly makes much more sense, and in just a little “D’oh” second I additionally realised that after I first measured the machine the cellphone had this low brightness flag on a regular basis because it was measuring under 40 lux in my workplace. It seems that the time of day you’re employed in, and the brightness of whereever you’re employed, will now have an effect on the facility consumption of the show in your cellphone.

Measuring the bottom energy consumption of the telephones once more, beneath completely different lighting circumstances, we see the primary factual proof of Samsung’s new VRR/LFD advantages:

Device-On Black Screen Power Consumption (Airplane Mode)

When in a darkish surroundings, and compelled into the 120Hz mode, the Notice20 Extremely’s energy consumption isn’t all that completely different from the S20 sequence (I’m nonetheless unsure why the Snapdragon S20U right here fares so badly). This implies that there’s a massive ~180mW energy penalty that’s current always, even on a black static display screen, due to 120 Hz. That penalty comes from the measured energy, with 640 mW and 465 mW within the respective 120 and 60Hz modes.

When beneath just a little brighter ambient circumstances, the panel is lastly allowed to showcase its expertise benefits, and energy consumption drops drastically. Within the 120Hz mode however with the minimal refresh charge now within the common ’48 Hz’ setting, the facility determine drops from 640mW to 428mW, which is a large 220mW drop.

The 60Hz mode additionally appears to see an influence profit as nicely. In our checks, the facility consumption drops from 465 to 406 mW. This could point out that certainly LFD is working within the background and lowering the panel’s refresh charge to under 60Hz – though now we have no method to precisely measure precisely how low it goes.

It Additionally Relies upon On The Content material

As famous, having the cellphone working beneath darkish circumstances does look to disable the ‘seamless’ variable refresh charge show, and consequently the operation that permits the cellphone to enter decrease frequency modes.

However that’s not precisely appropriate in all circumstances.

Within the above video snippet, we see that the machine nonetheless kicks again in right into a low refresh charge so long as the on-screen content material and brightness exceeds a sure stage, even when the sunshine sensor measures 0lux.

The issue is that this isn’t primarily based on the particular display screen brightness stage that the person would possibly choose, or the auto-brightness would possibly select. It really depends on the display screen content material too, which impacts the display screen brightness, because the cellphone may also soar between switching again into low-frequency mode or staying at a extra energy hungry high-frequency mode. In that occasion, the the refresh charge mechanism relies on the common image stage (APL) as nicely.

The Impact on Battery Life

Based mostly on every part we have realized up to now, it involves go that there are actually 4 corners to the battery life on the brand new S20 Extremely:

  • Set at 120 Hz in person choices, low ambient brightness (low lux)
  • Set at 120 Hz in person choices, excessive ambient brightness (excessive lux)
  • Set at 60 Hz in person choices low ambient brightness (low lux)
  • Set at 60 Hz in person choices, excessive ambient brightness (excessive lux)

Every variant, because of Samsung’s seamless VRR implementation (which is barely seamless in excessive brightness and/or brilliant content material), will give a special stage of battery life. Be certain that to ask your favourite smartphone reviewer which one they’re utilizing.

When it comes to our battery life checks, in an effort to showcase the variations within the outcomes for the Notice20 Extremely, I first fell again to PCMark. Right here we see some combined outcomes.

When it comes to absolute figures, the cellphone doesn’t get nice outcomes – it comes under the S20 sequence units. It’s value nothing that the Notice20 Extremely has a 10% smaller battery than the S20 Extremely, in addition to a special processor – the brand new Snapdragon 865+ within the Notice20 Extremely is extra energy hungry and fewer environment friendly than the common Snapdragon 865 within the S20 Extremely, however each of those facets are one thing to be coated within the full evaluation.

PCMark Work 2.0 - Battery Life

In relation to the distinction within the battery runtimes between working the cellphone in a darkish or a brilliant surroundings, we do see variations, albeit they’re considerably small. Within the 60Hz most refresh mode, VRR/LFD positive aspects the cellphone a further 4% of battery life. Within the 120Hz mode, we see a bigger 8.5% soar in runtime.

Trying on the energy draw graph in PCMark within the 120Hz modes, we do see a drop in energy from a median of 1.937W to 1.796W at 200cd/m² display screen brightness. The one factor to notice right here is that there’s no materials distinction through the video enhancing part of PCMark, with the facility outcomes been the 2 modes falling inside 21mW. What this factors out to is that in additional common non-video content material the battery life positive aspects could possibly be bigger than what’s skilled right here on this battery take a look at.

First Impressions

General, I feel Samsung’s new show applied sciences, such because the VRR and LFD on the Notice20 Extremely, make for an enormous leap by way of the capabilities of high-refresh charge smartphones at present. Nonetheless there are quirks, and the largest destructive right here is the truth that beneath a sure ambient brightness, Samsung disables its VRR. 

At a 40 lux ambient brightness, which remains to be comparatively brilliant for indoor use-cases, we are able to see the VRR disabled. Customers can obtain a lux meter app proper now for his or her present smartphones and take a look at it across the surroundings to see which eventualities apply and which don’t. Personally it is a bit disappointing, as the largest benefit of an VRR implementation was to eliminate the mounted massive energy penalty of the 120Hz mode – a penalty which in absolute phrases represented an even bigger energy draw proportion throughout decrease brightness utilization of a tool. That is in comparison with excessive on-screen brightness circumstances, the place energy draw is dominated by luminance energy, the place the 120Hz penalty represented a smaller proportion of whole energy, and thus represents a smaller achieve because of VRR.

The excellent news is that Samsung launched a expertise that’s, from our perspective, software program agnostic. There are some interactions between the upper stage VRR on the OS facet and the lower-level LFD expertise on the panel facet that we want there was extra perception to on the person stage, nevertheless it’s a pleasant technological leap which manages to slender the facility penalty of upper refresh shows, and in flip ought to additional popularise the function.

So the ultimate query is as to why Samsung has this VRR limitation in low ambient gentle circumstances? I’ve reached out to Samsung Show to search out out why this limitation exists, however I haven’t heard again but. I ought to be aware that ‘faking’ a brilliant surroundings through shining a light-weight onto the sunshine sensor didn’t end in any noticeable image high quality variations at any brightness – however I’m certain there’s some nook case on the market which does end in some degradation as in any other case I can’t clarify the limitation’s existence.

We will probably be following up with a full Notice20 Extremely (Snapdragon S865+) evaluation quickly.

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