Lots Our favorite TVs and monitors today boast displays with high refresh rates that promise on-screen action and a sharp picture. The latest iPhone 13 Pro model can reach a refresh rate of 120 Hz, as are several phones running Google’s Android operating system.
There’s also a lot to talk about in high refresh rate gaming, where quick responses and instant on-screen updates can tell the difference between victory and failure.
What is the refresh rate?
All content on your display consists of individual still frames (a photo) shown in sequence at very high or fast speeds. The refresh rate is measured in hertz (Hz) and indicates how often the frame can change. A refresh rate of 120 Hz allows a new frame to display up to 120 times per second. A 60 Hz display can only refresh the screen 60 times per second. And you can estimate how many times the 90 Hz screen can refresh.
And what about the frame rate?
It is important to note that the potential benefit of a higher screen refresh rate is limited by the frame rate of what is on the screen. It is expressed as frames per second (FPS) with video or video game graphics. Movies typically run at 24 frames per second because this is a theatrical standard, while many games can run up to 120 fps.
Touch response rate?
Just to confuse you further, manufacturers sometimes list touch response rates (or touch sample rates) for touchscreen displays, which are also measured in hertz (Hz). This number is related to how many times the touchscreen is scanned for the touch of your finger. The higher the touch response rate, the faster it responds to your touch.
How the refresh rate affects your phone
Higher refresh rates allow a phone’s display to be compatible with gaming action and reduce motion blur in video, but navigating around the interface may seem more responsive than low refresh rate displays. Games look less glamorous during crazy action, video footage of fast-paced sports action appears smoother, and any jolts scrolled over long web pages are reduced. To get the full benefit of a high refresh rate, you also need a high frame rate, and ideally, two matches.
Cost often your battery life. You need to get more battery to refresh the image every second. Processing power is also required to run graphics at higher frame rates. Processors have greatly improved, but battery life is still limited to smartphones. For this reason, most phones with high refresh rates do not always run at the highest rate. This includes some new iPhone Pro 13 models, which have an “adaptive” 120 Hz refresh rate, which scales at selected times, perhaps when you notice.
Higher refresh rates for smartphones come first with gaming-centric razor phones, but manufacturers like Samsung, OnePlus and Google embrace their Galaxy S21 series and flagship devices like the Pixel 5.
What about TVs and monitors?
The benefits of high refresh rates for TVs or monitors are the same as for smartphones. On-screen action should be smooth, and the image can be more intense. Here, too, the frame rate of the content is important. There are times when the frame rate does not match the refresh rate and this can make TV shows and movies worse.
The ‘soap opera effect’ has been explained
Some TVs and monitors are better than others at dealing with the difference between frame rate and refresh rate. Many lower their refresh rate to match the frame rate, but displays with a fixed refresh rate need to find other ways to deal with this inconsistency.
When a movie is playing at 24 frames per second, for example, but the refresh rate is high, the TV can add extra frames to fill the gap. This can be relatively easy when the refresh rate is divisible by the frame rate, because the TV can show multiples of the same frame. A 120 Hz refresh rate shows 24 FPS content, for example, each frame can display five times. But with 60 Hz refresh rate and 24 FPS footage you show an unequal number of frames, which can be a judging, shaky effect for some viewers.