What Does a 120-Hz Refresh Rate Mean, Anyway?

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several of Our favorite TVs and monitors today boast displays with high refresh rates that promise better action and sharper pictures on the screen. The latest iPhone 13 Pro models can reach a refresh rate of 120Hz, as can many phones running Google’s Android OS.

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High refresh rates are also talked about in gaming, where fast response and instant on-screen updates can mean the difference between a win and a failure.

What is a refresh rate?

All of the content in your display is made up of individual still frames (a single photo), which are shown in sequence at a much higher or faster rate. The refresh rate is measured in hertz (Hz), and determines the number of times a frame can change. The 120 Hz refresh rate allows a new frame to be displayed up to 120 times every second. A 60 Hz display can refresh the screen only 60 times per second. And you can get an idea of ​​how often a 90Hz screen can refresh.

And what about frame rate?

It’s important to note that the potential benefit of a higher screen refresh rate is limited by the frame rate of whatever is on the screen. With video or video game graphics, this is expressed as frames per second (fps). Movies typically run at 24 frames per second as this is a theatrical standard, while many games can run at up to 120 fps.

tactile response rate?

Just to confuse you more, manufacturers sometimes list the touch response rate (or touch sampling rate) for touchscreen displays, which is also measured in Hertz (Hz). This number is related to how often the touchscreen scans for touches with your finger. The higher the tactile response rate, the faster she will respond to your touch.

How refresh rate affects your phone
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A higher refresh rate allows a phone’s display to keep up with gaming action and reduce motion blur on videos, but it also feels more responsive than navigating around the interface compared to a display with a lower refresh rate. could. Games look less snappy during frantic action, video footage of fast-paced sports action appears smoother, and any jittery scrolling a long web page is reduced. To get the full benefit of the high refresh rate, you also need a high frame rate, and ideally, the two match.

Google via Simon Hill

The cost is often your battery life. More battery power is required to refresh the image on the display more times per second. Running graphics at high frame rates also requires processing power. The processor has improved a lot, but the battery life of the smartphone is still limited. For this reason, most phones with high refresh rates don’t run at the highest rate all the time. This includes some of the newer iPhone Pro 13 models, which have an “adaptive” 120Hz refresh rate, which increases at select times, possibly when you can notice.

Higher refresh rates came first in smartphones with the gaming-focused Razer Phone, but manufacturers like Samsung, OnePlus and Google have adopted them into flagship devices like the Galaxy S21 series and Pixel 5.

The Razer Phone 2 is focused on gaming and has a fast refresh rate.


What about TVs and monitors?

The benefits of a higher refresh rate for a TV or monitor are the same as for a smartphone. On-screen action should appear smooth, and the image may appear sharp. The frame rate of the content is important here too. There are times when the frame rate doesn’t match the refresh rate and this can cause TV shows and movies to look bad.

The ‘Soap Opera Effect’ Explained

Some TVs and monitors are better than others at dealing with the difference between frame rate and refresh rate. Many people reduce their refresh rate to match the frame rate, but displays with a fixed refresh rate have to find other ways to deal with this discrepancy.

For example, when a movie is playing at 24 frames per second but the refresh rate is high, the TV may insert additional frames to fill the gap. This can be relatively simple when the refresh rate is divisible by the frame rate, as the TV can show multiples of the same frame. For example, a 120 Hz refresh rate showing 24 FPS content can display each frame five times. But with a 60Hz refresh rate and 24fps of footage, you end up showing an uneven number of frames, which can create a decisive, unsteady effect for some viewers.

Some TVs use motion smoothing (or frame interpolation). They generate and insert new frames by processing and combining surrounding frames. Some manufacturers are better than others at doing this, but it can also lead to something called the “soap opera effect,” which many people think looks unnaturally sleek.

At least with movies, the frame rate is fixed. With games, frame rates can fluctuate wildly. For example, if you move from an enclosed tunnel to a wide vista, or there is an explosion, the frame rate can easily go from 60 fps to 20 fps as your hardware struggles to cope with the high processing burden. . Complications occur when the frame rate doesn’t match the refresh rate, and the picture can have stutter and burst effects as a result.

Multiple monitors use variable refresh rate
Windows via Simon Hill

This solution to the difference between frame rate and refresh rate has been around in PC gaming for many years. The most popular formats are tied to the big graphics card manufacturers, so you have AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia’s G-Sync, but also generic Variable Refresh Rate (VRR). This is a must for console gamers playing on TV. VRR is supported by the HDMI 2.1 standard, which is one reason you’ll see people discussing whether or not a TV has an HDMI 2.1 port (it also brings support for 4K at 120Hz and Auto Low Latency mode).

Some of the latest smartphone and tablet displays support some sort of VRR. For example, Apple’s Promotion brought a 120Hz refresh rate to the 2017 iPad Pro, but it automatically adjusts to match the content. Changing the refresh rate this way reduces the risk of stuttering or other unwanted effects, and can also reduce power consumption. When you use the Apple Pencil or play a game, the refresh rate can increase to 120 Hz, but drops much less when the screen is still on a menu or webpage.

Should I even worry about refresh rates?

Some pick up on higher refresh rates than others. You may have to look at the display with different refresh rates side by side to see the difference. Fast-paced gamers will benefit the most, but anyone can enjoy the upgrade. A high refresh rate reduces motion blur and makes action feel smoother, can make photos appear sharper, and make smartphones feel more responsive and sharp. Then again, they can already feel pretty comfortable, and if you don’t pay attention, don’t sweat it.

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