When you look at your screen, what do you see? A text document here. A VALORANT Agent there. Colors and shapes resolve themselves into words, windows, and images on our monitors. Pictures are easy to grasp — a snapshot of a moment in time. Intellectually, we come to understand that videos (and by extension, real-time media like videogames) are simply collections of still images shown to us in rapid succession. Like a flipbook. How does 60Hz vs. 144Hz vs. 240Hz impact that flipbook? We take a closer look below.
Perhaps you’ve seen monitors compared by “refresh rate.” In other words, by the speed of their virtual flipbook. How fast can a monitor show you the sequential images of your game or movie? Sixty times per second (60Hz)? Maybe more like 144Hz or even 240Hz? The speed of your frag flipbook matters more than you might think. If your opponent sees a snapshot of your character coming around a corner while you’re still looking at a wall from milliseconds ago, it’s easy to see how that will end in defeat — for you, at least.
Join me as we evaluate the most popular refresh rates in 2020, and how a faster refresh rate can make you a winner.
Brace Yourself: This is Gonna Hertz
When measuring something in “hertz,” the measurement is actually a rate: how often does this action occur per second. Like miles per hour, but rather than distance over time, it simply measures instances of an action over time.
We’re already familiar with “frames per second” in gaming. So perhaps it’s easiest to consider the refresh rate of your monitor equivalent to the number of “frames per second” that it can display. This is an oversimplification for several reasons, but let’s hang on to it.
The more images your monitor can display per second, the smoother motion will be, and the more opportunities you’ll have to perceive that motion and react to it. As we mentioned earlier, milliseconds matter. Not as much as skill, of course. But skill and quality equipment have a symbiotic relationship.
60Hz vs. 120Hz vs. 240Hz Refresh Rates
The obvious connection here is that you want a monitor with a refresh rate that matches the framerate of your game. Otherwise, frames are wasted — right? Not necessarily. While it’s true that you don’t want the monitor to be the bottleneck in the system, remember that we mentioned you couldn’t make a straight comparison between refresh rates and framerates. Games process a lot of logic behind the scenes, from physics and networking to audio and AI. Some of these computations occur on a “per-frame” basis. For certain games, especially shooters, it behooves the player to have the highest framerate possible for the most accurate virtual simulation.
The conclusion? For best results, your in-game framerate should never be below the refresh rate of your monitor. And your monitor should have the highest refresh rate possible given the average framerates in your games. This can take some serious graphical firepower, so make sure your rig is up to the task before springing for the latest and greatest monitor. Or else your graphics card may not be able to keep up, and you’ll still be stuck in the sub-sixty images per second realm.
So now that you feel the hertz, let’s compare and contrast the most common values: 60Hz, 144Hz, and 240Hz.
60Hz Refresh Rate
Almost every modern (and not-so-modern) LCD or LED monitor supports the 60Hz refresh rate. It’s the baseline by which all others shall be compared. And for most purposes, it’s just — well, fine. Perfectly acceptable and nothing more.
Watch YouTube or Twitch? Their video streams can be played back at either 30 or, if supported, 60 frames per second. With a 60Hz monitor, you can catch all of that action. Play games like Skyrim or Cities: Skylines? The humble 60Hz should fit the bill. Especially if your game is capped at 60 fps, like The Witcher 3. And even mid-range graphics cards should be capable of reaching a 60fps average on most games. Just about every modern video standard — be it HDMI, DisplayPort, DVI, or otherwise — supports 60Hz as well.
But if you want to get competitive, you’ll need to reach a little further. You must ferret out every bottleneck to secure victory, and a middling refresh rate simply won’t do.
- Universally supported
- Always available as a fallback when troubleshooting
- Easy for even modest gaming rigs to reach 60fps average
- Limiting for competitive gaming
- Many contemporary gaming rigs can reach higher average framerates
- Running monitors with differing refresh rates (e.g. 60Hz and 144Hz) can introduce issues
144Hz Refresh Rate
Ready to get competitive? 144Hz is what this reviewer submits as the minimum required to put up consistent results in the online arenas of the world. Many monitors these days support it, though not every video standard does.
Now’s the time to check whether your graphics card and monitor are up to snuff. DVI and DisplayPort are primed and ready out-of-the-box to provide 1080p video at 144hz. But if you find yourself favoring HDMI for one reason or another, you need to ensure that BOTH the monitor and graphics card support at least HDMI version 1.3. It’s quite likely to be supported as long as your rig isn’t nearing a decade old.
For the true e-competitor, 144Hz is the threshold — once you cross it, there’s no going back. Not when you’ve seen how smooth and crisp your frags can look. And what’s worse, you’ll have one less excuse in your back pocket for rough matches. It’s true what they say: sometimes you simply can’t go home again. And once you’ve seen the view from the 144Hz summit, you won’t be able to settle for 60Hz ever again.
But while this is a summit, it isn’t the peak. Prepare yourself for the final leg of our journey; the true summit awaits.
- Most video standards support it
- Great balance of quality and price
- Smooth visuals even with lots of action on screen
- More expensive to fully support
- Requires both a compatible monitor AND video standard
- Low to mid-range gaming rigs may not be able to maintain 144fps for the maximum benefit
240Hz Refresh Rate
This is it. The big one. And hold your horses — I’ve heard about 360Hz too. Let me explain why I think this is the true summit on the refresh rate mountain, at least for now.
Like I mentioned before, your in-game framerate has to meet or exceed your monitor’s refresh rate for it to make a difference to your eyes. Perhaps the game’s logic is grinding away at a faster clip, but not the images you’re seeing. And unless you’re dropping thousands of dollars, your rig isn’t likely to exceed 240 frames per second on most games. Especially competitive shooters.
So this is the mountaintop for the time being. And the view from here is wonderfully vivid, smooth as silk, and crisp as a carrot.
- Minimal motion blur and visual artifacts
- Gives you an advantage not many other players have
- Feels like you’re looking through a window on the action
- Very performance heavy
- Such fluid visuals can be disorienting, and some don’t like it
- Without a bleeding edge rig, you won’t be able to maintain the framerate necessary for maximum benefit
At Any Rate…
It was once said that people couldn’t perceive more than 60 frames per second, or higher image quality than 1080p. Yet I can offer a first-hand account that both are clearly perceptible. Is anything higher than 240Hz going to make a real, practical difference? Possibly. The first 360Hz monitors are out in the wild, if you want to check for yourself.
As for me, I think I’ll camp on this summit here. It’s the best bang for your buck in the near term, and with all this VALORANT I could be playing, I’ll leave upgrading to a 360Hz capable rig for next year.