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If you’ve ever spent hundreds of your hard earned dollars on upgrading a computer part, like a graphics card, then you know the incredible rush of putting it into your PC for the first time, booting up a game, and witnessing high-resolution gaming glory like never before.
However, what if I were to tell you that there is a component of your gaming setup that could be holding you back and you might not even realize it?
What I’m talking about is your monitor. Having the right monitor can have a huge impact on your viewing and gaming experience. There is a lot to talk about when it comes to monitors including color gamut, contrast ratio, panel type, and more but today we’re focusing on one specific specification: refresh rate.
How Do Monitors Work?
To fully understand refresh rate we’re going to start from the very beginning. In case you don’t already know, monitors work by displaying a series of images in very rapid succession to create the illusion of movement.
What you see on your screen is not actually moving smoothly, but rather, a new image is being brought up many times a second, so quickly, in fact, that to your eyes it appears as though there is movement on screen rather than a very fast slideshow of still images.
Your eyes, however, do not actually perceive things this way. Your eyes do not perceive your surroundings in discrete frames, but rather as continuous motion. This means that there is room for improvement in how smoothly or realistically movement can be portrayed on screens and monitors.
This is where monitor refresh rate comes in. The refresh rate of a given monitor is measured in hertz, or Hz, and represents how many frames that monitor can display per second. So, a 60 Hz monitor will top out at 60FPS; any faster and those extra frames are being wasted.
Typical movie and television content today is distributed in 24FPS while some, such as the well-known Hobbit movies, opt to go as high as 60FPS. Higher frame rates in movies and television often give an almost surreal hyper-realistic look to movies, and many moviegoers for The Hobbit mentioned this.
The reason for this is twofold. First, people have been consuming explicitly low frame rate content their entire lives and are simply not used to how smooth, fluid, and lifelike high refresh rate content is. Second, the higher the refresh rate, the more it can trick our brains into perceiving it as real.
While some directors, like James Cameron and Peter Jackson, have argued that high refresh rate cinematography is the future, it’s unclear that’ll be the case considering many directors don’t want that hyper-realistic look for their films. And honestly, that’s fine because films aren’t the same as games…
Refresh Rate and Gaming
Unlike in movies and television, the love affair with high frame rates has been alive and well for some time in the world of gaming. As we discussed earlier, gamers will spend their hard earned cash to upgrade their gaming rig’s GPU, RAM, CPU, and more in order to achieve ever better graphics and ever higher frame rates.
In games, having a higher refresh rate is desirable because it can make the action on screen extra smooth. While this isn’t always needed in a passive experience, like watching a movie, it can truly provide an edge when you’re in control and need to make decisions, like while gaming. This is especially true when the experience becomes competitive.
Common Refresh Rate Options
Now that we’ve discussed what refresh rate is and a little bit of the significance of it, let’s look at some of the most common options when it comes to refresh rate on the market. In addition, we’re going to give an example of a good monitor at each refresh rate, as well as compare the various refresh rate options.
Okay, we’re going to break our own rules immediately, because there aren’t any monitors we’d recommend that cap out at 30 Hz. In fact, we don’t truly recommend gaming at 30 FPS. That being said, it is worth noting that most console gaming takes place at either 30 FPS or 60 FPS. Just put a pin in that for reference further down the line.
Note: If you’ve never seen higher refresh rates in action, like 144 Hz, then it is hard to understand its benefits. Your brain can’t really just magically multiply it.
The lowest refresh rate you’ll find on most new monitors and TVs today is 60 Hz. A 60 Hz monitor offers good performance for Netflix viewing (remember basically all film is at or below 60 FPS) and is, predictably, often the most affordable of the options. For those with lower-end gaming machines that don’t tend to reach higher frame rates or those who prefer to play at higher resolutions without breaking the bank, a 60 Hz monitor is a great and often budget-friendly choice.
For example, this monitor from LG is a full HD 1080p monitor that runs at 60 Hz and it comes in at right around $100. For this price, you get tons of features including a split screen mode that lets you have multiple windows open at once and a flicker safe backlight for better eye health. Don’t think 60 Hz is only a budget category though, as most 4K monitors are limited to this refresh rate since it requires such an incredibly strong setup to push 4K past that currenlty.
Although not in the title of this article, it is worth mentioning that 120 Hz monitors are pretty common on the market today. Typically, 120 Hz monitors will also have the ability to run at 144 Hz in an “overclock” mode or at a lower resolution. It is also common to find monitors that run at either 120 Hz 1440p or 144 Hz 1080p.
Our top pick for this refresh rate is the Dell Alienware AW3418DW. This 120 Hz monitor sports a curved screen, 1440p resolution, RGB lighting, and just about every other feature a gamer needs.
Arguably the most common refresh rate you’ll see while shopping– at least for gaming oriented monitors– is 144 Hz. This is a very popular refresh rate that offers amazingly smooth gameplay, especially if you are not used to using a high refresh rate monitor while gaming.
Our pick for a 144 Hz monitor is the ASUS VG278Q. This 144 Hz monitor offers G-sync to prevent screen tearing, ASUS eye care to help with long gaming sessions in the dark, and excellent color production.
Finally, the top dog of the refresh rate food chain: 240 Hz. This is generally the highest refresh rate you’ll find on the market when it comes to monitors and it offers incredibly smooth gameplay and produces essentially no motion blur.
If you’re looking for a 240 Hz monitor then we recommend the ASUS ROG Strix XG258Q. This monitor not only boasts an incredible 240 Hz refresh rate but also features a highly adjustable stand for more ergonomic positioning and even FreeSync and G-sync versions available.
A Note on VRR Technology
Before we compare some of the most common refresh rates, I think it’s worth mentioning VRR (Variable Refresh Rate) technology. Basically, if your FPS is too far below your refresh rate, then you will start to see screen tears, which is when you are seeing half of one frame on the top portion of the screen and half of another frame on the bottom. VRR technologies help to fix this.
If you are using a high refresh rate monitor, VRR can be extra useful since it can help make up for you being unable to reach that threshold on more demanding titles.
There are 2 main implementations of VRR to be aware of when buying a monitor, one from each of the major GPU manufacturers:
- G-Sync– Monitor must have G-Sync technology built in. Only compatible with Nvidia GPUs. Generally more expensive due to higher royalties and licensing costs on the technology.
- FreeSync– Monitor must have FreeSync technology built in. Compatible with both Nvidia and AMD GPUs. These are generally more affordable.
60 Hz vs 144 Hz
For starters, let’s compare the two most common refresh rates head to head. Most people can tell the difference between 60 Hz and 144 Hz almost instantly when gaming or watching something like an action sequence that has lots of fast movement.
Movement is much smoother and more clear on the 144 Hz monitor, and each frame has much less blur than on the 60 Hz monitor. This reduction in blur leads to a sharper picture which can help you make out much greater levels of detail in videos or games when things are moving quickly.
This is especially true for things like text. Scrolling or dragging windows around feels much smoother on the higher refresh rate monitor, and the text in the window will remain clear and readable even while being moved, something you don’t realize isn’t possible on 60 Hz monitors.
If you’re curious about the 60 Hz vs 120 Hz debate, then just take all of the points above except make them slightly less extreme; only slightly, though.
144 Hz vs 240 Hz
Next up is the heavyweight bout, 144 Hz facing off against 240 Hz. As we discussed, the difference between 60 Hz and 144 Hz is significant and can be instantly spotted by almost any user. However, when comparing 144 Hz to 240 Hz the differences are much more nuanced despite there technically being a larger difference.
There is definitely a point of diminishing returns when it comes to frame rates and the 240 Hz monitor might be getting close to that point. Don’t get us wrong, under close inspection scenes with a lot of quick movement do look much better on the higher refresh rate.
That being said, it is not nearly as big of a difference as the jump from 60 Hz to 144 Hz. For now, 240 Hz seems to be reserved for those who want the absolute best and are willing to spend the extra cash to get there. Needless to say, you will also need a powerful gaming PC to push so many frames in order to take advantage of such a high refresh rate monitor.
120 Hz vs 144 Hz
Finally, the last thing we wanted to touch on was the two closest together frame rates: 120 Hz and 144 Hz. Since these two frame rates are so close together, many people struggle to decide which one would be better for their needs.
Despite being relatively close together, there is a noticeable difference between these two refresh rates. 144 Hz monitors are smoother and more fluid looking with less motion blur than 120 Hz monitors. In fact, 120 Hz is becoming increasingly rare these days, and most 120 Hz monitors currently being made are either for higher resolutions or have an overclock feature that allows them to use the 144 Hz refresh rate.
If you’ve ever asked yourself, “Is a 144 Hz monitor worth it?” then the answer is probably yes. The smoother motion and generally more modern feature set of the 144 Hz option will be surely worth the minor extra investment.