Overdrive initialized

We confirm if BenQ fixed overdrive on this first round FreeSync display.

We have been tracking the differences between AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync for some time now. The launch of FreeSync-capable displays started out a bit shaky, as some features we took for granted went missing. The first round of FreeSync displays we reviewed came with non-functional overdrive when the display / GPU pipeline was operating in FreeSync mode.

Comparison of overdrive response in first round FreeSync displays. Images should look like the ROG Swift (left), which was correctly applying overdrive.

While AMD apparently fixed a portion of this problem in a subsequent driver update, getting overdrive to function in these early displays would require a firmware update. Unlike what you may be used to with a motherboard or SSD firmware, displays are not typically end-user upgradeable. This meant that even if manufacturers produced a fix, owners would have to send in their display to be updated (and be without it for several weeks).

The only manufacturer to step forward and retroactively support overdrive in their first gen FreeSync panel was BenQ. In a statement issued via TFTCentral:

BenQ have confirmed that the FreeSync/AMA issue which affected their XL2730Z display has now been fixed. This issue caused the overdrive (AMA) feature to not function when the screen was connected to a FreeSync capable system. As a result, users could not make use of the AMA feature and benefit from the improved response times that the 'normal' AMA mode offered, as compared with AMA Off. See our review for more information.

A driver update from AMD is already available and should be downloaded from their website. In addition BenQ will be releasing a firmware update for the monitor itself to fix this issue. Current stocks in distribution are being recalled and updated with retailers so future purchases should already carry this new firmware. This is expected to apply for stock purchased AFTER 1st July, as V002 firmware screens should be shipped by BenQ to distributors in late June.

For those who already have an XL2730Z if you want to, you can return it to BenQ for them to carry out the firmware update for you. This only applies if the user is experiencing issues with the performance of the screen. There is no simple way for the end user to update the firmware themselves and it is not encouraged. Users should contact BenQ support through their relevant country website for more information on how to return their screen for the update.

The catch with the above is that the statement came from BenQ PR for Europe, and we nor TFTCentral have been able to confirm any equivalent upgrade process in place for the USA. We did note in various online reviews that those receiving their BenQ XL2730Z in the last week of June confirmed having the new V002 firmware.

If you have one of these panels, verifying your firmware is simple. Hold down the menu button while powering up the display (you will have to hold the power button for a few seconds before you hear a beep).

The display will power up and appear as normal, except that now pressing the menu button again will bring up the above service menu. Those with the update will have “V002” as the starting text of the ‘F/W Version’ result.

Overdrive functioning on the ASUS MG279Q IPS FreeSync display, showing an odd simultaneous ‘negative ghost’ outline of a slightly ghosted image.

We have been eager to retest the BenQ since hearing of this updated firmware revision. While we have seen overdrive functioning in the recent ASUS MG279Q, it was not a perfect implementation, and we were curious to know if BenQ’s implementation fared any better.

We just recently got in a BenQ XL2730Z on the V002 firmware and did some quick tests. To clarify, while overdrive does reduce blur, that is *not* the function of the ‘Blur Reduction’ –  a BenQ specific feature that is incompatible with FreeSync. Enabling that option will kick the display chain out of FreeSync mode completely. As such, we do not recommend using that setting.

The overdrive setting for the BenQ is actually called AMA, with settings of off, high (default), and premium. Here are the observed effects of those settings on the same demo used for previous comparisons:

AMA Off (45 FPS):

This is identical to the result seen with any AMA setting on a display with V001 firmware.

AMA High (45 FPS):

Here we see a very good overdrive implementation. This is actually the best we have seen a FreeSync display overdrive so far, as the ASUS IPS FreeSync panel showed the odd artifacts shown earlier.

AMA High (60 FPS):

Another thing we tested was to see if the adaptive sync scalers are implementing overdrive in a variable manner. When switching to 60 FPS, we did note more of a negative ghost trailing the windmill blade.

This difference between the 45 and 60 FPS results indicates that variable overdrive is not at play here. It’s not particularly bad, but not as refined as G-Sync.

AMA Premium (45 FPS):

With AMA set to its high(est) value, we see negative ghosting even at 45 FPS. The default ‘high’ setting appears to be the sweet spot where BenQ optimally tuned their AMA settings.

So we can now say there are two FreeSync displays with confirmed functional overdrive – the BenQ XL2730Z and the ASUS MG279Q. It appears that BenQ has the more visually appealing solution at present, but remember that having better overdrive may not overcome the other advantages brought by the ASUS IPS display. It really just boils down to what feature the buyer is the most critical of. If you want perfect overdrive and no lower FPS limit, G-Sync is still the way to go (provided you have an Nvidia GPU). If you're on AMD, the BenQ XL2730Z and ASUS MG279Q displays offer their own distinct advantages and disadvantages, but the common bonus is the fact that FreeSync displays come in at $100-$200 cheaper than a similarly spec'd G-Sync display. We're just happy to see that overdrive part of the equation now functional in one more FreeSync display.

Ryan's Note: It is great to see a second monitor with FreeSync technology properly implement support for overdrive to improve the overall visual experience compared to NVIDIA's current crop of G-Sync monitors. I am disappointed that BenQ in the US is not being more proactive with information on RMAs, recalls or firmware updates for existing users, but hopefully gamers affected will be able to contact the company and get the necessary swap made. 

Pitting the BenQ XL2730Z against the ASUS MG279Q is now an interesting debate – one display combines a 90 Hz maximum variable refresh with an IPS screen while the other (BenQ) goes up to 144 Hz but uses a lower quality TN panel. Both are priced identically ($599 on Amazon.com today) and though my preference would lean towards the ASUS implementation, consumers should be glad to see more options popping up to make this market competitive. And I am damn sure that AMD is glad to see it.