Refresh rate is the frequency at which the screen updates with new images each second, measured in hertz (cycles per second). The content may look steady on the display, but what the viewer can’t see is how fast the content is changing — up to 360 times a second. The higher the refresh rate, the smoother the visual quality.
Super high monitor refresh rates aren’t all that important for office workers focused on lighter computing like word processing, spreadsheets and emails. But in more visual professions like creative production and game development, a high refresh rate for monitors is invaluable.
The standard refresh rate for desktop monitors is 60Hz. But in recent years, more specialized, high performing monitors have been developed that support 120Hz, 144Hz and even 240Hz refresh rates, which ensure ultra-smooth content viewing, even for the most demanding visual processing needs.
Just buying a high refreshing rate monitor doesn’t mean the display quality will magically improve. The monitor’s refreshing rate reflects the maximum rate at which the display can change the visuals. What happens on the screen depends on the frame rate of the output — the number of video frames that are sent to the display each second.
To the human eye, film and video seem to play as one continuous recording. But in actuality, cameras record pictures of multiple images, called frames. These frames are played back at such a fast rate that they appear to be in fluid motion. Frame rate is the measurement of how quickly a number of frames appears within a second, which is why it’s also called FPS (frames per second).
Motion pictures, TV broadcasts, streaming video content, and even smartphones use the standard frame rate of 24fps. This speed accounts for a phenomenon called motion blur, an optical effect that makes moving objects look out of focus due to quick movement.
“If you were at a baseball game and someone hit a ball, you would see a little bit of a motion blur,” director Margaret Kurniawan explains. “You don’t see things totally clearly. So at 24 frames per second, it shows that there’s a little bit of motion blur, but most things are clear enough that it makes logical sense in your mind.”
The majority of Movies, for example, are shot and produced at 24 frames per second (fps), so a 60Hz monitor will easily offer smooth playback. But having a 120Hz monitor (or even faster) won’t provide any visible benefit to playback quality.
Refresh rate is a measure of how many frames a monitor can refresh every second. FPS, however, is a measure of the ability of the graphics card to draw a number of frames on the display each second. While both are a measure of different things, they are directly related and affect each other.