A true 8-bit display can output 16.7 million colors whereas a true 10-bit monitor can display 1.07 billion colors. If so, where do these 8-bit + FRC monitors or (so-called) 10-bit monitors come in? An 8-bit + FRC monitor is not a true 10-bit monitor but uses a technique to cheat the eye to see colors outside the 8-bit gamut. Let’s compare true 8-bit vs 8-bit + FRC monitors and understand the terms and differences.
Before we move on to the comparison, we need no know what is “bit” first! In computing, a bit is the smallest unit of information that contains either 0 or 1 (a.k.a. On or Off). Here is an example of how we calculate bit depth:
1 bit = 2
2-bit = 2 x 2 = 4
3-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 = 8
4-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 16
5-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 32
6-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 64
7-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 128
8-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 256
9-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 = 512
10-bit = 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2 x 2= 1,024
In monitors, we measure bit depth per channel (Red, Green, Blue). So, from the example above, we can say that an 8-bit monitor holds 256 values per channel. In other words, an 8-bit monitor can display 256 colors per channel. Similarly, a 10-bit monitor can display 1024 shades of colors per channel.
True 8-bit Monitors
Now that we know that an 8-bit monitor can hold 256 colors per channel (RGB), let’s find out how many colors it can produce overall. The calculation is pretty simple here. Just multiply all three channels and you’ll get the overall color output.
Red Channel: 256
Green Channel: 256
Blue Channel: 256
256 x 256 x 256 = 16777216 (16.7 million) colors.
Now we know, how 8-bit monitors are able to produce 16.7M color. But what’s the deal with 8-Bit+FRC?
Frame Rate Control or FRC
We’ll try to keep it simple here, an 8-bit + FRC monitor will automatically flash two adjacent colors nearby the original color that is out of the monitor gamut and thus faking our eyes into seeing the original color. This way, the monitor will fake the original color without actually having a true 10-bit display. In effect, an 8-bit + FRC monitor can display 1.07 billion colors, on par with a true 10-bit monitor. Keep in mind that a true 10-bit monitor offers better color accuracy than an 8-bit + FRC monitor. However, when it comes to 8-bit vs 8-bit + FRC comparison, the monitor supporting 8-bit+FRC color depth per channel will offer better results.
Long story short, 8-bit + FRC monitors cannot display the wide range of extra colors in the 10-bit channel, so they use the Frame Rate Control technique to display a color not present in their color gamut.
True 8-bit vs 8-bit + FRC Monitors
It is crucial to understand what true 8-bit and 8-bit + FRC monitors are before you make a purchase. From the above discussions, it is understood that why 8-bit + FRC is not actually a true 10-bit monitor but offers colors similar to a 10-bit monitor. Let’s discuss some more things before you choose an 8-bit or 8-bit FRC monitor.
Selecting one display over another
The most significant drawback in viewing 10-bit content in an 8-bit display is banding. Banding can cause a very uncomfortable viewing experience especially when there is color grading in the scene, like a sunset, or sunrise. Dithering comes to the rescue in such situations by introducing noise to a scene where banding is prominent. This way, the noise cancels out the effects of banding and provides a viewable experience. Similarly, the FRC technique improves viewing quality without causing banding. Banding is most visible while playing games or any scene that has color grading. FRC could be really helpful in those times.
Are you a Casual User?
If yes, and you use your monitor for watching movies, or maybe gaming sometimes, but nothing serious. You won’t have any trouble going with a true 8-bit monitor.
Or a Professional?
If you’re a professional photo or video editor, you need a monitor that can display more than just 16.7M colors. Consider going for an 8-bit + FRC monitor as a minimum in that case. 8-bit+FRC monitors offer a wider color gamut than 8-bit monitors and display up to 1.07B colors.
If your budget allows, definitely go for a true 10-bit monitor, for eg: ASUS ProArt Display PA32UCX-PK. This monitor features an amazing level of color accuracy and checks all of the marks a photo or a video editor needs.
To learn about the differences between an 8-bit + FRC monitor and a true 10-bit monitor, read this article: True 10-bit vs 8-bit + FRC monitors.