Refresh Rate vs. Frame rate

Estimated Reading Time: 2 Minutes and 30 Seconds

In my post about the Samsung Galaxy Note 10, I mentioned that the all-new smartphone lacked a high refresh rate display, instead of using a standard 60Hz display. At the same time, other phones, such as the OnePlus 7 Pro and the Razer Phone have higher refresh rates (90Hz and 120Hz respectively). So what even is refresh rate and how does it differ from frame rate, or frames per second (FPS)?

Let’s begin with the frame rate. Frame rate, measured in frames per second, it essentially a measure of how much motion or change, so to speak, can be shown within the time span of one second in a video or game. As you may know, a frame is one still image, and a video consists of numerous frames being played in rapid succession. If your camera films a video at 60 FPS, there are 60 of those still images being shown in one second. 60 FPS is decently smooth for a video, especially in a world where many video games run at 30 FPS – however, 144 FPS and even 240 FPS have become increasingly popular in the gaming world, largely due to the competitive advantage it offers players who use this technology to be able to detect and track motion more easily, although it is important to know that because substantially more frames are being generated, higher frame rates in games require much more powerful computers to generate.

Now, for refresh rate. While frame rate has to do with the power of the computer itself, the refresh rate has more to do with the monitor or screen that’s hooked up to a said computer. Once again, in order for a monitor to be able to display a video, it needs to be able to display different frames, one after the other. A monitor’s refresh rate is how quickly a monitor is able to cycle or switch between frames, and this is measured in hertz(Hz), or cycles per second. Most new monitors and laptop screens operate on 60Hz, although some newer gaming-oriented computers(such as the Razer Blade 15 Advanced pictured above), have more capable 144Hz or 240Hz screens.

So… what’s the difference? To put it simply, aside from the two different devices these concepts operate on (the computer vs. the screen), refresh rate essentially sets a limit on the frames per second a particular computer can push. If a given monitor can only cycle through 60 frames in one second, even if a computer could run a game at 144 FPS, the monitor wouldn’t be able to show it. The monitor itself is just not physically able to show that level of smoothness in a video or video game. For now, 60Hz is the norm, although eventually, I have no doubt that prices for higher refresh rate monitors and laptops will begin to fall and this technology will find a home in more and more homes around the world.

-Allen Parayil

Author at STEMTalksNC


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