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60Hz vs 120Hz Refresh Rate – Decoding the Key Differences for Displays

If you‘ve shopped for a television or computer monitor in recent years, you‘ve likely come across technical terms like "refresh rate" and been confused by jargon like 60Hz vs 120Hz. With manufacturers pushing higher numbers as better, it can be tricky to cut through the marketing hype and understand what refresh rate really means and whether higher rates actually make a visible difference.

In this comprehensive guide, I‘ll decode refresh rates for you, explain how 60Hz and 120Hz compare, and offer recommendations on when stepping up to higher rates is worthwhile.

What is Refresh Rate?

Refresh rate refers to how many times per second a display updates the image on screen. It‘s measured in hertz (Hz). Standard televisions historically operated at 60 Hz, meaning the screen refreshed 60 times per second. Newer displays are pushing rates as high as 240 Hz.

This is not to be confused with frame rate, which refers to how many unique consecutive images are sent each second from a video source, like a game console or video file. Frame rate sets the upper limit for how smooth motion can look, while refresh rate sets how smoothly the screen can display that motion.

The 60Hz Standard for Early TVs

For most of the history of television, going back to early CRT tube sets, a 60 Hz refresh rate was the standard across the board. This was chosen largely because it matched the 60 Hz frequency of mains power in North America and parts of Asia. Keeping the TV refresh cycle in sync with the alternating current supply minimized flickering and interference issues in early, more primitive displays.

As such, for many decades, essentially all consumer televisions refreshed at 60 Hz, and content was produced to match that rate. Movies shot for film standardized 24 frames per second, television programs standardized 30 fps, and video games often targeted 60 fps. So a 60 Hz screen was adequate to keep up with media and inputs designed around its capabilities.

The Move to 120Hz Displays

It wasn’t until around the late 1990s and early 2000s that consumer displays began to experiment with higher refresh rates. Computer monitors in particular, especially those focused on gameplay, offered early support for 75 Hz or 85 Hz rates. This allowed them to display frames from video cards faster than 60 fps game outputs.

The push beyond 100+ Hz refresh rates arrived in force in the late 2000s. Around 2009, manufacturers like Samsung and Asus introduced some of the first 120 Hz LCD televisions and monitors. And by the early 2010s, 120 Hz was fast becoming a new standard for mid-range and high-end displays.

Today, the majority of new TV and monitor releases support native 120 Hz refresh rates, with 240 Hz displays now emerging for cutting edge computer setups. However, even budget-friendly 60 Hz screens remain commonplace for more casual viewers.

60Hz vs 120Hz – Key Differences

So what changes when stepping up display refresh rates from 60 Hz to 120 Hz? Here are some of the key points of comparison:

Picture Quality: A higher refresh rate display can result in clearer motion and less noticeable blur during fast on-screen movement. This is especially beneficial for gaming, sports, and action films.

Price: Achieving faster refresh rates requires more advanced display components, resulting in 120 Hz screens typically costing $100+ more than equivalent 60 Hz models.

"Ghosting" Effects: Some cheaper 120 Hz monitors can exhibit image artifacts from struggling to keep up with high refresh demands.

Obsolescence: As content delivery moves to 4K/120 fps and 8K standards, 60 Hz displays lose some future-proofing.

Overall, while the human eye and brain technically maxes out perceiving motion at under 24 fps, faster refresh rates still have visual benefits in the right usage cases like gaming and video playback. And as speeds continue to increase on devices outputting content, 60 Hz displays lose some resiliency to continue keeping up.

Panel Technology Impacts High Refresh Performance

Achieving those high refresh rates relies on more than just the connections and processors. The physical display panel technology also plays a major role in enabling clear rendering of fast motion up to 120 frames per second.

IPS Panels: IPS (In-Plane Switching) screens are the most common affordable panels today. While fine for 60Hz, at 120Hz+ some IPS displays exhibit noticeable smearing and blurred trails behind moving objects.

VA Panels: Vertical alignment panels offer better native contrast than IPS but also produce obvious dark level smearing in motion causing loss of detail.

OLED Displays: Only OLED screens with individually-lit pixels can keep up with 120Hz refresh rates across the entire grayscale without motion artifacts. Their near instantaneous response time maintains crisp clarity as refresh rates rise.

So when evaluating displays for 120Hz gaming or video playback, panel types are just as crucial as checking ports and specs to guarantee excellent performance without distraction motion flaws.

Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) Smooths Gameplay

Supporting higher frame rates is only part of the equation for excellent gaming experiences. You also need adaptive refresh rate capabilities using VRR (variable refresh rate) technologies to dynamically sync the display to the real-time graphics card output.

When screen refresh is fixed but game frame rates fluctuate, visual artifacts like stutter and tearing can occur. VRR enables the monitor to adjust its refresh rate on the fly to precisely match the frames being rendered.

Both Nvidia‘s G-Sync and AMD‘s FreeSync are common VRR standards supported across everything from high-end gaming monitors to new consoles and TVs. Used in conjunction with higher peak refresh rates, VRR keeps motion seamless despite volatile frame pacing. It’s an essential feature for serious players.

HDMI 2.1 Enables 4K Console Gaming at 120 FPS

Console and PC gaming have different connectivity considerations when aiming for 120Hz performance targets. The latest generation PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S consoles support up to 4K 120Hz video output for titles built to handle high frame rates.

But you need an HDMI 2.1 cable and port on both console and television to achieve those combinations of high resolution, faster refresh, and clearing colour subsampling. HDMI 2.1 has enough 48Gbps bandwidth to transmit uncompressed quality 4K video at 120Hz with HDR depth, ideal for showcasing newest titles.

Many 2022 model 4K televisions add HDMI 2.1 inputs to specifically accommodate these next-gen consoles. Some also support variable refresh rate (VRR) over HDMI for perfectly smooth visuals. When shopping for a display to match your PS5 or Xbox Series X console, make HDMI 2.1 capabilities a priority.

DisplayPort 1.4 Powers Higher Refresh Gaming Monitors

On PC monitors, where players sit close enough to benefit from very fast refresh, standards like DisplayPort 1.4 push rates even beyond what HDMI can currently handle. DisplayPort 1.4 offers enough throughput to drive 1440p resolution at up to 240Hz refresh rates. This enables incredibly responsive experiences for esports and other twitch-focused titles.

monitors designed for PC gaming tournaments now regularly offer refresh rates of 144Hz, 165Hz, 200Hz, or 240Hz+ optimized specifically through DisplayPort. The best balance of visual fidelity and fluid speed currently lands at 1440p resolution with at least 144Hz refresh. This tier sees accessible pricing while preparing for higher resolution upgrades that HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort 2.0 will soon bring to market at matching frame rates.

Top Monitors for High Refresh PC Gaming

For PC gamers chasing those buttery smooth high frame rates in their favorite titles, monitors with the right combinations of resolution, size, and refresh capabilities provide incredibly immersive performances. Here are some of my top current picks across various budget ranges:

  • Budget: ASUS TUF Gaming VG259QM 24.5” 280Hz IPS Monitor
  • Value: LG UltraGear 27GP850 27” Nano IPS 165Hz G-Sync Monitor
  • High-End: Alienware AW3423DW QD-OLED 34” Curved 175Hz G-Sync Monitor

That ASUS TUF model provides one of the cheapest current options for achieving 280Hz refresh rates. The LG Nano IPS screen balances great motion clarity with gorgeous 1440p image quality at a reasonable price point. And the Alienware shows off beautiful OLED contrast married to 175Hz via an ultra-wide form factor. All provide stellar PC gaming experiences in different packages.

Best TVs for Next-Gen Console Gaming at 120FPS

On the console side playing your PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, achieving 4K 120Hz gameplay requires a supporting television. Here are some top-rated options with HDMI 2.1 inputs across varying prices:

  • Budget: Hisense U7H 55" QLED 4K TV
  • Mid-Range: Sony X90K 65” Full Array LED 4K TV
  • High-End: LG C2 42” OLED Evo 4K TV

The Hisense packs great gaming features like VRR and 120Hz modes at reasonable pricing. Sony’s excellent image processor helps motion stay clean at higher frame rates. And the stunning LG C2 OLED produces perfect blacks and pixel response for buttery smooth gameplay. Plus smaller sizes under 50” for desks make great monitors substitutes. Prioritize proper HDMI 2.1 ports for fully enjoying newest consoles.

When to Consider Paying More for 120Hz

For many years, 60 Hz remained not just the norm for televisions but also perfectly adequate for most viewers and content types. As such, the choice between a 60 Hz vs 120 Hz display still primarily comes down to your budget and needs.

Here are some of the main situations where stepping up to 120+ Hz refresh rates is advisable and worth the added expense:

PC/Console Gaming: Fast refresh delivers noticeably smoother gameplay, especially for esports titles. Both new consoles and many GPUs now enable 120 fps.

Sports Viewing: High motion sports see improved clarity on faster refresh rate screens.

Future-Proofing: As 8K content emerges under new standards supporting 120 fps, higher refresh displays will remain relevant.

If you mainly watch conventional cable and streaming movies/shows, you likely don’t need higher than 60 Hz. But gamers and home theater enthusiasts investing in premium setups can benefit from refresh rates matching up to their max frame rate output sources.

Adoption of Higher Refresh Rates Accelerating

While 120Hz-capable displays entered the market over 10 years ago, adoption has rapidly accelerated in recent years. According to statistics from analysts like TrendForce, 120Hz refresh rate televisions made up just 8.5% of all global TV shipments in 2019. But in 2022, over 50% of TVs shipped support native 120Hz or higher rates.

Similarly, IDC estimates 75% of all gaming monitors sold in 2022 achieve refresh rates of 100Hz or higher. 25% of gaming monitors ship with blistering 300Hz refresh as esports demand continues growing. Compare this to 2014 when 120Hz PC monitors cost over $600 and made up less than 3% of market share. In under a decade, Ultra HD resolution screens and high refresh rates have gone from exotic to expected by home consumers.

The demand curves clearly show that high action video games and live sports broadcasts benefit tremendously from 120Hz playback. And market shipment data proves that the display industry has responded with adoption of far faster refresh rate screen technologies across the board to meet this thriving usage trend.

Pricing Differences Between 60Hz and 120Hz Displays

With increased manufacturing scale, the extra costs to produce 120Hz displays compared to 60Hz have dropped substantially from the early days. However buyers can still expect a pricing premium to enable the faster refresh capabilities even as high refresh moves into the mainstream.

Checking historical PC monitor sales data shows how additional refresh rate performance clearly commanded higher asking prices. In 2015 a 24” 1080p 60Hz monitor retailed around $180. But stepping up to 1080p with 144Hz refresh instead cost closer to $280, a $100+ difference. In 2022, those differences have narrowed but are still present. A 27” 1440p 175Hz monitor now sells for around $300. An equivalent 27” 60Hz monitor can retail for under $230.

The same refresh rate price gaps exist in the television market but are less consistent across brands, sizes, and feature sets. In general, expect to pay 10-25% more for the same sized television at 120Hz vs 60Hz. The premium 4K resolution itself carries a higher cost, so a secondary jump to add 120Hz on top comes at a smaller relative increment thanks to large 4K adoption.

Understanding Refresh Rate Terminology

With display specifications advancing rapidly, marketing teams have also gotten creative pitching new features in ways that intentionally or unintentionally confuse buyers. Here’s help cutting through some of the questionable jargon around refresh rates:

Motion Rate/TruMotion: Many manufacturers promote made up numbers like “Motion Rate 960” or “TruMotion 240”. These aren’t real refresh rates but instead combine software frame processing with refresh to sound doubly impressive. Always check the native refresh rate spec instead.

Effective Refresh Rate: Similarly, promoted effective refresh rates just describe how higher internal processing makes motion appear smoother. This isn’t the actual panel refresh that guarantees full frame display support.

Variable Refresh Rate (VRR): Legitimately, today’s best displays support variable refresh rate, meaning they can dynamically adjust their refresh on the fly to match outputs rather than needing to lock to fixed rates. This prevents screen tearing artifacts.

By digging into the monitor or television specs and not just sales copy, you can make sure you understand the true, tested refresh rate capabilities.

The Best Displays Balance Refresh and Other Features

When shopping for new screens, refresh rate is just one consideration on top of size, resolution, brightness, color performance, smart software, and connectivity. Generally the following principles apply:

Resolution First: Prioritize 4K over 1080p first, as pixel density matters more than refresh rates for image clarity.

Size for TVs: A larger screen often outweighs higher refresh rates for larger viewing distances typical of living room television setups.

Balance for Monitors: For desktop PC monitors where you sit close, aim for solid 1440p or 4K resolutions now easily achievable at 120+ Hz rates.

Review sites like Rtings break down exact performance data for the latest display models to help find your ideal balance. And remember new standards like HDMI 2.1 and DisplayPort 1.4 also enable higher video and refresh combinations.

The bottom linerecommendation is don‘t get too hung up strictly over 60 Hz vs 120 Hz refresh rates alone. Weighrefresh capabilities in the context of your budget, viewing habits, and total build. When in doubt, bigger, higher resolution screens still bring more tangible day-to-day enjoyment for most than just refresh specs.