A refresh rate is the number of times a television or monitor changes screen images in a second. Every screen displays single images that, when changed out dozens of times a second, appear as a video. However, the 60hz vs. 120hz refresh rate debate is largely due to marketing. However, 120hz is quickly becoming the standard as televisions and monitors improve.
A common misconception is that a screen’s refresh rate is the same as frames per second (FPS). While the two terms are closely related, there is a difference. Frame rate refers explicitly to the number of frames a device can output, such as a game console or Bluray player. Whereas refresh rate is the number of times, a display can change pictures in a second.
60hz vs. 120hz: Side-by-Side Comparison
|Picture Quality||Blurry||Clearer picture|
|Price||Usually cheaper||More expensive|
|Ghosting Image||No “ghosting” on monitors||“Ghosting” on cheaper monitors|
|Obsolescence||slowly becoming obsolete||Future proof|
|Available On||Found on low-end screens||Found on high-end models|
|Best For||Watching television||Playing video games|
60hz vs. 120hz: What’s the Difference?
You may wonder if there is a difference between a 60hz vs. 120hz refresh rate or if it is even noticeable. This is a good question since the human eye can only process 24 images per second. However, a monitor with a higher refresh rate is very noticeable as you will see less blur in scenes with lots of movement. This is particularly true for action movies and video games with a lot of movement.
Keep in mind, though, that there is a limit to what you will notice. Many newer displays come in 144hz and even higher. However, you are unlikely to notice a significant difference between a 144hz and a 120hz display.
For decades 60hz was the standard refresh rate on nearly all televisions. Tube TVs and other CRT monitors used 60hz refresh rates partly because of power frequency. If you live in North America, your power also operates at 60hz, so matching the frequency of power going into the screen was the easiest way to deliver a picture.
This is also why screens in Europe operated at only 50hz because their power grid used 50hz. Power frequency is best described as pulses that occur at a set interval, in this case, 60hz. Having refresh rates match power frequency made early TVs easier to make and lowered the chance of noise.
The 60hz frequency worked well for many years as it was essentially future-proof from the beginning since no sources were delivering a 60hz refresh rate. However, advancements in computers and video games in the early 1990s brought about a new demand for higher refresh rates. Although these higher rates were still relatively low, coming in around 75hz.
Despite these early advancements in screen technology, it would still be many years before a modern 120hz monitor would arrive. Samsung and ViewSonic made the first 120hz LCD monitors in 2009. Today, many television and monitor manufacturers offer 120hz options on the middle and high-end models. However, 120hz remains unavailable on most low-end models, likely because of cost as well as a limited benefit to consumers.
60hz vs. 120hz: Overview
All this talk of frame rates can be a bit confusing, so let’s go over some important details. First, if a device is capable of 120hz, it does not mean that it cannot display 60hz content. Likewise, a 60hz display can still be used with content capable of higher refresh rates.
In these instances, your tv or monitor will display the best quality it is capable of. Therefore, you will be limited by its display, but you will still be able to view the content. Think of it like 4K content which is designed for a higher resolution, but a 4K Bluray player will still display the content on your lower resolution television. The only exception is if your tv features interpolation, which artificially raises the frame rate.
Devices That Support a Higher Refresh Rate
Even though you can use any screen with an input device eaches refresh rates. However, if you spend the extra money for a screen with a higher refresh rate, you will want to be sure to get the best picture possible. Likewise, if you are considering a television or monitor with a higher refresh rate, you will want to ensure you can benefit from it.
If you watch cable, then you likely won’t benefit from a refresh rate above 60hz. Unfortunately, the same can be said for most streaming services and even Bluray movies. In fact, most of the Bluray players and streaming devices on the market are not capable of outputting more than 60hz.
Higher refresh rates really come into play with video games and computers. The newest generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles are capable of outputting 120hz. Some computers are also capable of high refresh rates of 240hz. Therefore, screens with high refresh rates are best for gamers and video editors.
Just because your device does not output 120hz does not mean you cannot benefit from a screen with a higher refresh rate. But it does mean that you will need one capable of interpolation in order to see a difference.
Interpolation is a feature found on some higher-end television that can take an input and artificially increase the number of frames. Most of the time, this will involve taking a 60hz signal and upscaling it to 120hz, although it is possible with other refresh rates as well. However, interpolation is not perfect, and some people do not like the end result as it may leave some artifacts.
Variable Refresh Rate
Another factor that plays into your picture quality is variable refresh rates. Unfortunately, it is not enough to know whether a device can output a high refresh rate. In reality, frames will vary, mainly while playing video games.
While a device such as a video game console or computer may be capable of outputting 120hz or higher, it will not always be able to do so. In most cases, you will need to set your monitor or tv screen to a specific refresh rate. However, select televisions and monitors allow for a variable refresh rate which automatically changes as your output changes.
Motion Rate and Effective Refresh Rate
One term to look for when purchasing a television or monitor is “motion rate.” It is sometimes used in place of refresh rates but does not represent the screen’s actual refresh rate.
We know refresh rate refers to the number of times that a screen changes images. Motion rate, on the other hand, refers to image processing software that smoothes the image to make it look clearer when watching.
Samsung developed the term “motion rate” as a marketing gimmick to convince consumers that their televisions were better. This works because both rates are measured in hertz and line up with the numbers they expect for refresh rates. These numbers are so close because motion rates are just refresh rates doubled.
While Samsung started the trend with motion rates, many other manufacturers jumped on board and began using similar rates. Effective refresh rates, TruMotion, MotionFlow, and Dynamic Motion Rate are all terms used to describe phony refresh rates.
60hz vs. 120hz: 5 Must-Know Facts
- The refresh rate does not limit the content you can view
- Motion rate and effective refresh rate are not the same as the refresh rate
- Gamers will benefit the most from a higher refresh rate
- Interpolation can get you higher refresh rates even if your input does not support it
- Other features such as resolution and HDR are far more important than the refresh rate
- You may not see a benefit from a 60hz vs. 120hz refresh rate.
60hz vs. 120hz: Which One Should You Use?
When choosing a monitor or tv, there are so many choices that you can quickly become overwhelmed. Various features that all sound like must-haves may not be as crucial as marketing makes it seem.
The most significant factor in your buying decision is likely the price. Depending on the amount you are willing to spend, you may not be able to go up to a screen with a higher refresh rate. Also, consider if that money is better spent on other features or a bigger screen. Many buyers argue that it is better to get a bigger tv than better quality.
However, computer monitors are different since you sit close to them. Likewise, you are better off getting a higher resolution by choosing a 4K television or a 1440p monitor. These choices are far more noticeable than the 60hz vs. 120hz refresh rate. Also, check a well-researched review site like rtings to determine how comparable televisions stack up.
In the end, you probably shouldn’t spend the money just to upgrade to a higher refresh rate. But if your television or monitor is getting old and you need a new one, then it may be worth getting one that is feature-rich and has a high refresh rate.