High refresh rate monitors have traditionally been aimed at gamers, but they have a broader appeal. Device manufacturers like Apple and Samsung have started including displays with high refresh rates in their tablets and phones. So, should you get one for your office computer, as well?
What Is a High Refresh Rate Monitor?
A monitor’s refresh rate is the number of times the display updates per second, and it’s measured in hertz (Hz). Most basic displays stick to 60 Hz, 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 to do so, it might achieve frame rates higher than 60 FPS. Some competitive gamers drop the resolution and detail settings to maximize frame rates. This reduces input lag and makes for a smoother overall experience.
Doing this on a 60 Hz monitor might deliver a slight reduction in input lag, but you won’t see the benefit of those extra frames because the monitor can’t keep up. This can result in blurry motion on-screen. Monitors with high refresh rates are designed to solve this issue.
Generally, anything above 144 Hz is considered a high refresh rate monitor. However, most displays that go beyond 60 Hz count, including the 90 Hz displays in VR headsets, and the 120 Hz display in the iPad Pro.
If you’re on the market for a high refresh rate monitor, you likely want to look at 144 Hz or above. For a gamer who must have it all, 240 Hz monitors do exist. They’re especially favored by competitive multiplayer gamers because overall graphic fidelity isn’t as important as latency and response times.
One issue you might experience with a high refresh rate monitor is screen tearing. This occurs when the frame and refresh rates don’t match. It creates unsightly horizontal lines (or “tears”) as the monitor attempts to process the image.
Variable refresh rate (VRR) monitors attempt to solve this issue with technologies like NVIDIA’s proprietary G-Sync and the open-source AMD-backed FreeSync. VRR monitors reduce the refresh rate in real time to match the frame rate of the game you’re playing to eliminate screen tearing.
You Don’t Need One, But It’s Still Great
So, how does a high refresh rate monitor perform in more pedestrian tasks? Basic computing tasks, like browsing the web or managing files, don’t require a lot of power. This is why a desktop is where you can get the most out of a high refresh rate monitor.
Firstly, your computer will seem more responsive. Everything from moving the cursor and dragging windows, to launching applications will just feel better. It’s something you might have to experience yourself to gauge the benefits. You’ll definitely notice the difference if you ever return to a 60 Hz monitor.
One of the best points of reference for a higher refresh rate monitor is Apple’s iPad Pro. In 2015, Apple introduced the first 120 Hz displays in a consumer tablet. Both reviewers and customers noticed the difference immediately. We’ve had our hands on several iPad Pro models since these displays were introduced, and they feel noticeably better.
It’s also been rumored that Apple is adding 120 Hz displays to the upcoming iPhone 12, as Samsung did with the Galaxy S20. OnePlus, ASUS, OPPO, and Razer all sell smartphones with 120 Hz display modes. On a mobile device, doubling the refresh rate can impact battery life, but that’s not something you have to worry about on a desktop monitor.
No one needs a high refresh rate monitor for simple computing tasks. A monitor at 60 Hz does the job just fine. In the office or study realms, a high refresh rate monitor is like a comfortable chair or pricey mechanical keyboard—you don’t need it, but it’s nice to have.
High Refresh Rate Monitors Are Cheaper Now
High refresh rate monitors with variable refresh rates were once cutting edge. However, 144 Hz is starting to look a little stale as 240 Hz monitors arrive in droves. This also means monitors with the more modest 144 Hz refresh rate have fallen in price.
The panel type also makes a big difference in terms of price. TN panels are the oldest type of LCD on the market. They’ve improved considerably since they were first introduced. However, they still suffer from less-than-favorable color accuracy, disappointing viewing angles, and washed-out blacks.
They’re also the cheapest of all the panel types. Since LG hit the one-millisecond barrier 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 new kid on the block, TN panels are no longer in hot demand. So, you should be able to pick up a high refresh rate monitor with a TN panel at a modest price. You can find off-brand monitors with high refresh rates for around $250; add an extra $50-$100 if you want something name-brand.
High refresh rate monitors are available in all panel types. VA panels offer the best image quality at the expense of input lag. IPS panels offer a good trade-off between responsiveness and image quality. TN panels, however, are the bottom of the barrel when it comes to overall image reproduction.
Try a High Refresh Rate Monitor in Person
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all monitor out there. There are just too many things you have to keep in mind when you shop for one.
For example, in addition to standard office work, will you be gaming, or editing photos and video? A TN panel will likely suffice for basic office work. But 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 is also a major consideration for most folks. If you’re shopping for a better-than-average monitor, you might find it also includes a higher refresh rate, even though it might only be 75 or 120 Hz. You can certainly save money by opting for a more modest display that sticks to 60 Hz.
The best way to decide if a high refresh rate monitor is for you is to use one. Drag a few windows around, type at speed, 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 another 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 a broader appeal. To boost productivity, you might also want to consider upgrading to a gaming mouse, mechanical keyboard, or an SSD.
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