What is refresh rate?

Image of two black controllers in front of black monitor featuring a robot on the display.
Credit: LG

Image of two black controllers in front of black monitor featuring a robot on the display.
Credit: LG

What is refresh rate? It’s something that’s listed on a lot of monitors and TVs as a good thing, but should you be aiming for a high one, a low one, or one that changes? It’s one of those things that a salesperson might try and explain to you, or tout as being really important, and it is to an extent, but only for specific use cases.

To make sure you gain a full understanding of what a refresh rate is on a monitor or a TV, we’ll walk you through the technicalities step-by-step. We’re going to discuss some of the most common questions around refresh rates and make sure you leave here feeling confident about the whole thing. After all, every day is a school day, and statistically, you’re reading this on at least one day of the week, so let’s get started.

What is a refresh rate?

When looking to get your hands on the best monitor or best TV for your setup and needs, refresh rates are something you’re going to come across. In short, the refresh rate of a TV or monitor is how many times per second the image on the screen is refreshed. It’s measured in Hertz, for some reason, but basically, a higher number means you get more images per second. In fact, a screen with a 60Hz refresh rate will show you 60 images a second, and one with a 144Hz refresh rate will show you 144 images a second.

Understanding a good refresh rate

A dark grey and light grey monitor in front of a smokey orange background featuring 144Hz on the display.
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Credit: BenQ

So, from what we know about refresh rates so far, a higher one must be better, right? Yes, but, it really depends on what you’re using to display images on the TV or monitor. The most integral part of all of this is finding a way to keep everything in line. This makes more sense when talking about PCs and gaming, so let’s chat about that quickly.

Let’s say you’ve got a GPU and CPU that are capable of spitting out a frame rate of 3fps. Running that through a monitor with a 144Hz refresh rate means you’ll still be seeing 30fps, even though your monitor is capable of far more than that. Likewise, if your GPU and CPU can hit 144fps comfortably, but your monitor only has a 60Hz refresh rate, then you’re not going to be able to actually see all of the frames your (probably) expensive PC is trying to show you. Ideally, you want to marry however many frames your setup can produce with a monitor with the same refresh rate, but getting close is often better than not trying at all.

What Is Adaptive Sync?

Graphic image of a black monitor comparing Adaptive Sync on and off.
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Credit: ViewSonic

If this all seems just too much hassle, then looking at something like Adaptive Sync or VSync can help substantially. Adaptive Sync is actually in a lot of recent models of TVs and monitors, and it basically allows the device to have a casual chat with your PC to make sure the refresh rate of the monitor meets what your PC is putting out. That’s true even if the frame rate wobbles a bit too, which makes it especially important for gaming setups, because even the best games can have their frame rates go south, so it’s good to have things in place for that.

VSync, or Vertical Sync, is a feature that a lot of games have that helps get rid of some of the issues that a mismatched refresh rate and frame rate can result in, which is why you’ll see it all over the place, and also why it’s a complex thing because sometimes turning it off can help performance, which can help things run smoother anyway. Isn’t technology great?

How to choose the right monitor?

Image of a video game character firing a gun which is expanding out of a monitor with 240Hz in the centre.
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Credit: BenQ

First up, in the event you’re looking at a monitor but there’s not a refresh rate listed, a lot of them tend to be 60Hz as standard, so keep that in mind. Outside of that, finding the best monitor for you should go way beyond just a refresh rate, because while that’s important to make sure your games look good in motion, it’s not the only thing that matters. It’s definitely an important part of the puzzle for sure, but it’s also one that might not be the most important part for you personally, depending on what kind of work or play you’ll be using the monitor or TV for.

Along with refresh rates, it’s also important to consider things like screen size, resolution, aspect ratio, and even less interesting things like ergonomic capabilities too. The ideal scenario is to find a monitor that either meets all of your requirements in every possible category or meets enough of them that you’ll be satisfied overall.

Different people will want different things too. For someone who’s going to mostly be doing image editing or watching TV shows, a good resolution is likely more important than anything else. But, for gamers, a high refresh rate is often essential, which is why most of the best gaming monitors come with ultra-high refresh rates.

Ergonomic things like monitor tilt or adjustable heights might be just about the least sexy combination of words imaginable, but they’re also something that everyone who spends any long amount of time at their PC should consider too, because otherwise injuries happen, and things like RSI suck.

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