Consumer electronics such as 120Hz TVs televisions and phones are often sold with new technology buzzwords that are easy to stick to the outside of the box. This is why you see icons with words like “4K“, “HDR” and other technological sound bites that adorn your marketing materials.
120 Hz is Important for TVs
Now “120Hz” has joined the list of sold features for both of these product types. What does it mean? “120Hz TV” refers to the “refresh rate” of a TV screen, which needs a little explanation.
What does “refresh rate” mean?
The refresh rate determines how often your screen can fully refresh the displayed image. So a 120Hz TV screen can display 120 unique fresh images every second! This is a simple concept, but it has a significant impact on how the image looks.
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Refresh rate is related to the “frame rate” of the content being viewed. That is, how many unique still frames are there in each second of the video duration. The more frames appear every second, the smoother the motion will be. If the content has a frame rate higher than the screen refresh rate, you won’t see any benefit from the extra motion detail.
Refresh rate vs. Precision
You are probably already familiar with the concept of “resolution” when it comes to modern screens. This is the number of pixels that make up the image. The higher the resolution, the finer the image details. It is assumed that you are displaying an image that contains enough detail to match what the screen can display!
120Hz TVs/Televisions and phones
The refresh rate is somewhat similar to the resolution. In fact, this is sometimes referred to as a “temporary” resolution. It is the amount of motion detail that can be displayed over time, as opposed to the total amount of detail that can be shown in a single frame.
120Hz displays do not need to have a specific resolution. For TVs with a 120Hz refresh rate, most devices will offer 4K picture resolution, but you can find examples that offer this refresh rate at lower resolutions. So don’t forget to evaluate these two features separately.
It’s also important to make sure the connection settings on your TV support 120Hz at the desired resolution. HDMI 2.1 TV supports 120Hz @ 4K resolution. Anything below does not officially support this resolution/refresh rate combination.
Why 120 Hz is Important for TVs
Almost every TV in homes and on shelves today supports at least 60Hz. At the moment, on platforms like YouTube, you won’t find video content that runs at a higher refresh rate. For cinematic content, 24fps is the norm, experimenting with higher frame rates from time to time, such as the Hobbit movies that were offered at 48fps. Most of the TV content is 30 frames per second. So, as you can see, there is nothing special to watch above 60 Hz.
It’s very different when we switch to computers or game consoles. The latest generation of game consoles is capable of delivering frame rates up to 120 Hz, depending on the name. Therefore, in games that can run at this speed, you will feel incredibly smooth and responsive.
Why is 120 Hz important for phones and tablets?
While the 120Hz casing on TV provides the ultimate in fluidity, there is an extra dimension on phones and tablets. This is because, on a smartphone, the screen is not only what you look at. It’s a tactile interface.
The 120Hz smoothness improves the touch experience. Typically, touch detection on such phones is also set to sample touch input at 120Hz, making the phone fast and intuitive to use. Many people who have used 120Hz smartphones find that 60Hz interfaces now seem sluggish, no matter how fast the internal processors are.
However, 120Hz phones have trade-offs. Typically a phone needs to run at a slightly lower resolution than its screen allows, resulting in a slightly less sharp image. 120Hz phones are also more power-hungry, although they do offer power-saving options such as lowering refresh rates in battery saver mode.
Other display features to consider
The screen refresh rate is just one component that affects the overall picture quality. As we mentioned earlier, in some cases, the 120Hz mode requires a reduction in image resolution. A 120Hz TV that lacks features like HDR or good black levels may be a worse overall choice than a 60Hz model that has these features.
Therefore, you should never let one marketing number, like “120 Hz”, influence you in any way. Rather, take a holistic view of the device and consider it in terms of the content you are actually going to consume and the options for using it.
Be aware of 120 Hz “fake” TVs!
Many TVs indicate an “effective” frequency of 120Hz or some other high refresh rate. In reality, however, these TVs use techniques such as black frame insertion or frame interpolation to make the movement appear smoother.
However, you don’t actually see more than 60 frames of video per second as the fake frames do not contain new information. Always look for a native 120Hz refresh rate (or higher) if you want the real deal!
Is 120 Hz for you?
This is where we get to the point. Should you upgrade your current TV or phone to a 120Hz TV?
When it comes to TV, the only people who really need to consider switching to 120Hz in the short term are gamers. The new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S and X consoles can offer game content at up to 120 frames per second. This is a significant update. If you have a powerful gaming computer, there are monitors that support up to 240Hz because the video card can output data at frame rates higher than 120.
If you’re thinking of purchasing one of these new consoles, the 120Hz 4K TV is worth getting. For other types of content, there is no rush. In fact, when it comes to movies and TV shows, most people don’t like the look of high frame rate videos.
As far as 120Hz phones go, gaming is also better. Assuming the phone in question can run the game at those speeds. However, the true value of 120 Hz manifests itself in tactile interaction with the user. Mobile devices at 120Hz seem to be much faster and more reactive. This is a usability revolution that almost everyone will appreciate. While that’s not a reason to ditch your smartphone right away, most people buy phones with a much shorter replacement cycle than TVs.
We recommend that when that time comes – look for a phone that offers 120Hz input and display. The subjective improvement in responsiveness and feel is so impressive that we can safely say that a 120Hz display should be the bare minimum for mobile phones and tablets.
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