High refresh rate monitors are traditionally aimed at gamers, but they have a broader appeal. Device makers like Apple and Samsung have started adding displays with high refresh rates to their tablets and phones. So should you get one for your office computer too?
What is a high refresh rate monitor?
A monitor’s refresh rate is the number of times the display refreshes per second and is measured in Hertz (Hz). Most basic displays stay at 60Hz, which means the maximum frame rate you can perceive on these displays is 60 frames per second (FPS).
If you play a lot of games and have invested in a powerful computer, frame rates of more than 60 FPS can be achieved. Some competing gamers drop the resolution and detail settings to maximize frame rates. This reduces input lag and provides a smoother overall experience.
If you do this on a 60Hz monitor, the input lag can be reduced slightly, but you won’t see the benefit of those extra frames as the monitor can’t keep up. This can result in blurry movement on the screen. Monitors with high refresh rates are designed to solve this problem.
In general, anything above 144Hz is considered a high refresh rate monitor. However, most displays that go beyond 60Hz count, including the 90Hz displays in VR headsets and the 120Hz display in the iPad Pro.
If you’re in the market for a high refresh rate monitor, you should probably be looking at 144Hz or higher. For a gamer who needs it all, there are 240 Hz monitors. They are particularly favored by competitive multiplayer gamers, as overall visual fidelity isn’t as important as latency and response times.
One problem that can occur with a high refresh rate monitor is screen tearing. This occurs when the frame and refresh rates do not match. Unsightly horizontal lines (or “tears”) appear as the monitor tries to process the image.
Variable refresh rate (VRR) monitors try to solve this problem with technologies like NVIDIA’s proprietary G-Sync and AMD-backed open-source FreeSync. VRR monitors reduce the refresh rate in real time to match the frame rate of the game you are playing to avoid screen tearing.
You don’t need one, but it’s still great
So how does a high refresh rate monitor fare on tasks with more pedestrians? Basic computing tasks, like surfing the web or managing files, don’t require much power. For this reason, a desktop is where you can get the most out of a high refresh rate monitor.
First, your computer seems more responsive. Everything from moving the cursor and dragging windows to launching applications will just feel better. It’s something you may have to experience for yourself to appreciate the benefits. You’ll definitely notice the difference if you ever go back to a 60Hz monitor.
One of the best reference points for a higher refresh rate monitor is Apple’s iPad Pro. In 2015, Apple introduced the first 120Hz displays in a consumer tablet. Both reviewers and customers noticed the difference immediately. We’ve held several iPad Pro models since the introduction of these displays and they feel noticeably better.
Apple has added 120Hz displays to the iPhone 13 Pro as part of the “ProMotion” feature. Samsung also went 120Hz on the Galaxy S20. OnePlus, ASUS, OPPO and Razer all sell Android smartphones with 120Hz display modes. On a mobile device, doubling the refresh rate can affect battery life, but you don’t have to worry about that on a desktop monitor. (That’s why the iPhone’s ProMotion uses variable refresh rates, so it can go below 120Hz when there’s no motion on the screen.)
Nobody needs a monitor with a high refresh rate for simple computing tasks. A 60Hz monitor does the job just fine. In the office or study area, a monitor with a high refresh rate is popular a comfortable chair or an expensive mechanical keyboard – you don’t need them, but they’re nice to have.
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High refresh rate monitors are now cheaper
High refresh rate and variable refresh rate monitors were once groundbreaking. However, 144Hz is starting to look a bit dated as 240Hz monitors are showing up in droves. It also means that monitors with the more modest 144Hz refresh rate have come down in price.
The panel type also makes a big difference in price. TN panels are the oldest type of LCD on the market. They have improved significantly since their introduction. However, they still suffer from less than favorable color accuracy, disappointing viewing angles, and washed-out blacks.
They are also the cheapest of all panel types. Since LG has reached the one-millisecond limit in its UltraGear IPS monitor in 2019, TN panels are no longer the only choice for competitive gamers. You can now get better blacks, color accuracy and viewing angles in an IPS panel, complete with low latency and high refresh rates.
With this newcomer on the block, TN panels are no longer hotly sought after. So you should be able to pick up a high refresh rate monitor with a TN panel for a modest price. You can find non-brand monitors with high refresh rates for around $250; Add an extra $50-$100 if you want something branded.
High refresh rate monitors are available in all panel types. VA panels offer the best picture quality at the cost of input lag. IPS panels offer a good compromise between responsiveness and image quality. However, TN panels are the low end of the spectrum when it comes to overall image reproduction.
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Personally try a high refresh rate monitor
There’s no one-size-fits-all monitor out there. There are just too many things to consider when making a purchase.
For example, alongside normal office work, will you be playing games or editing photos and videos? A TN panel should be sufficient for simple office work. However, if you want color accuracy for video or photo editing, a VA panel is ideal.
The size and resolution of the display are also important. If you want to make the jump to 4K, a high refresh rate monitor is going to be expensive. Would you trade pixel density for smoothness and ease of use?
Price also plays a big role for most people. If you’re looking for a better than average monitor, you might find that it also packs a higher refresh rate, although that might be as low as 75 or 120Hz. You can certainly save money by opting for a more modest display that stays at 60Hz.
The best way to decide if a high refresh rate monitor is right for you is to use a monitor. Drag some windows around, type fast, use your favorite apps, or play a game or two.
For some people, the difference will be eye-opening, while others would rather invest the extra money in a different feature. Try a high refresh monitor and find out which camp you fall into!
High refresh rate monitors aren’t the only products aimed at gamers that have broader appeal. To increase productivity, you might also want to consider upgrading to a gaming mouse, mechanical keyboard, or SSD.
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