TV Refresh Rates: Ultimate Guide

TVs have all kinds of technical specifications and features that even experts don’t fully understand. One important specification that you should know about is TV refresh rates. It can be a little tricky to figure out, and I’ll break down the most important points for you in this article.

While refresh rate is important, it’s only of several factors that contribute to the quality of the images on the screen. It also tends to be more important for specific uses such as video games, as movie-watching won’t be affected much by refresh rate.

Let’s get into it.

What is a TV Refresh Rate?

A TV’s refresh rate represents the maximum number of times the display panel can refresh in one second and it’s measured in Hertz (Hz). In the TV industry,  the term “Hz” is usually used to represent a panel’s refresh rate.

It’s not the same as the frame rate. The most common TV refresh rate is 60 (60 Hz) but new TVs can have 120 Hz and even 240 Hz.

A higher refresh rate (above 60 Hz) makes every on-screen movement feel much smoother. It’s mainly important for gamers who play competitive video games and need the smoothest animations possible. It can also be helpful to reduce the “soap opera” effect, which is essentially motion blur.

Remember, a TV must be connected to a source that can output enough frames to keep up with the refresh rate.

In other words, you won’t see any difference on a 120 Hz TV, unless it’s connected to a console or computer that can output 120 or more frames a second.

Refresh Rate vs FPS:

That’s why frame rate (FPS) and Hz are often confused with one another but they’re not the same. The refresh rate is a hardware specification on the panel, it can only show the frames that it receives up to the limit (60, 120, 240, etc).

Frame rate (FPS) is the number of frames the source can generate and send out. For games, FPS varies depending on a number of factors, such as the hardware in the gaming system, the video game, and the specific scene that is being rendered.

Quick note:

The term “Hz” is used to describe anything that occurs in cycles. It can also refer to the TV’s power cycles or even cable company’s broadcasting frequency. For instance, in the UK, TVs are often advertised as 50 Hz or 100 Hz which basically means they’re compatible with the local broadcasting frequency.

Refresh Rate vs Resolution:

Refresh rate is the number of the max number of times a TV can refresh in a second. The resolution is the number of pixels on the screen.

Refresh rate vs resolution is a debate that has been going on for a long time and the conclusion is subjective. It boils down to this:

Do you want very smooth animations in games? Or do you prefer high resolutions that deliver more details and a more immersive experience?

High Refresh Rate (60 Hz +) TVs Pros:

Generally, TVs with high refresh rates are not that important because they need to be connected to a source that can output frames to match. Previously, gaming consoles would lock games at 30 or 60 frames a second.

The only source that can output 120 frames or more would be a gaming PC but most people don’t use their TVs for PC games. However, now next-gen consoles can push out 120 frames a second, or even more.

If you have a new-gen console, you might want a higher refresh rate TV to take advantage of the extra smooth animations.

But for most TV uses (watching movies, TV shows, etc) a high refresh rate TV won’t be of much use because most media is filmed at 24 frames a second.

In my opinion, a high refresh rate TV would be good for gamers, but not so much for anyone else.

High-Resolution Pros:

High-resolution TVs deliver a higher pixel count and that means more details and life-like images. There are no jagged edges around objects, barely visible pixels, and the colours usually look vivid.

Once again, a high-resolution TV needs media to push it to the limit. It’s easier to find 4K media these days, even online platforms like YouTube and Netflix offer 4K media, although compression kills some of the quality.

Most high-resolution TVs, unless stated otherwise, have a refresh rate of 60 Hz which is pretty standard.

If you want the best of both worlds, choose a 4K TV that also has a high refresh rate.

Refresh Rate Terms & Features:

Many TV manufacturers are not making TV refresh rates easy to understand. They come up with new names for technologies to describe the refresh rate. The reason for that is mostly for marketing purposes. These technologies use a combination of hardware and software tricks to simulate a higher refresh rate.

For example, to describe their TV’s refresh rates, Samsung uses the term “Motion Rate”, Sony uses “Motion Flow XR”, and TCL uses “Clear Motion Index”.

Generally, these features are used to add more motion to a scene. For movies and TV shows, that often creates a “soap opera” effect which can cause motion sickness. Most people turn off the motion features on their TV’s.

However, for some media, such as sports matches that are mostly pan shots, turning the motion feature on can improve the experience.

One of the more common features on Samsung TVs is called Motion Rate, also known as Clear Motion Rate (CMR).

Motion Rate:

Clear Motion Rate is a Samsung feature that improves and synchronizes various technologies to create a much clearer and detail-rich animation on your screen.

It’s mostly used at higher resolutions such as 4K or higher. CMR uses advanced image processing and interpolates frames while also regulating the backlight technology to match the refresh rate.

You’ll often see the CMR rate next to new Samsung TVs. The problem is Samsung’s Clear Motion Rate is not the same as the refresh rate.

Generally, Clear Motion Rate is double the panel’s refresh rate. For example, a Samsung TV with a CMR of 120 usually means the actual refresh rate is 60 Hz. Likewise, a CMR of 240 is 120 Hz.

These numbers generally apply at 4K resolution, however, some older Samsung models have a Motion Rate of 60, which has a real refresh rate of 60 Hz (those models aren’t as common).

Long story short, if you’re looking at a Samsung TV that has a CMR rate, half that rate to find the screen’s actual refresh rate. If you want super smooth video games, a CMR of 240 would be a good choice. CMR 240 is 120 Hz, which is great for games.

Motion Flow XR:

Motion Flow XR is a Sony technology that works in a similar way as Motion Rate. Motion Flow XR combines a few factors to create a smoother experience. It uses frame insertions, backlight control, and image blur reduction. The goal is to reduce judder and create a smoother animation.

Clear Motion Index (CMI):

Clear Motion Index is TCLs term for their motion features. The number after CMI is not the refresh rate but rather the “perceived” refresh rate.

For example, a 60 Hz TV could have a 120 CMI. It basically means the TV can “look” like a 120 Hz TV if that feature is enabled. In some cases, it comes quite close, but it’s not the same.

Downsides to Motion Features:

The above motion technologies all work about the same, and they all have the same downside. The downside is the tricks like adding a black frame between images can reduce the image quality.

Most people mentioned these features lower the brightness on TVs and create a weird soap opera effect. As mentioned earlier, almost everyone turns these features off, unless they are planning to watch sports.

The Bottom Line:

To summarize, don’t let TV manufacturers confuse you with their technologies and terms. If you want a TV that has a high refresh rate, such as 120 Hz, you’ll need to look for that exact specification. If you’re a gamer, 120 Hz is great. If not, save some money and go for 60 Hz at a higher resolution. 4K at 60 Hz stills looks great.

About Tim Gagnon

Timothy Gagnon is a tech blogger and writer. When he's not dissembling computers, he's researching the latest tech gadgets and trends.

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