As technology continues to evolve, the rate at which your PC and display can render visuals is becoming more important.
Understanding your monitor’s refresh rate can make your experience not only easier but better as well, especially when media is a priority. A stable and properly set refresh rate for your monitor is critical for any visually intensive task, and it can become a serious issue when it’s not.
You may not need complete immersion for every task you perform on your PC, but it can definitely impact your comfort level and efficiency with both work and play.
In this article, we’ll talk about how to navigate your monitor’s refresh rate - what it is, how to keep tabs on it, and how to change it when you need to.
There are few things more frustrating than trying to bring your technology and projects together only to hit a snag because your settings aren’t properly synced. This can be a minor annoyance that turns into a major disruption when you’re in the middle of a project, particularly if you don’t have extra time to troubleshoot.
What is your monitor refresh rate?
While a display’s refresh rate can be a main selling point, simply seeing the numerical value isn’t meaningful if you don’t know what it describes about your hardware.
For anyone sensitive to visual performance or if you plan to use your PC for a range of media applications, the refresh rate is important to keep in mind.
Technically speaking, the refresh rate is how often your monitor updates, but it can have different meanings when used in other contexts.
For most instances, however, it represents how often new data can be received. Your monitor’s refresh rate is described in hertz (Hz) and is fundamentally tied to your visual experience.
For reference, most movie theaters make do with a refresh rate as low as 24 Hz because of how the majority of films are shot. A PC monitor, though, will generally offer 60 Hz or more.
Many gaming rigs are now tripling or even quadrupling that number to provide more seamless visuals for competitive gamers, though the difference can be imperceptible to some users.
Dynamic refresh rate explained
More and more, developers are introducing new dynamic technologies that sync your display’s refresh rate with the output capacity of your graphics card. In these cases, you will come across the term “dynamic refresh rate.”
These systems, like AMD’s FreeSync or NVIDIA’s G-Sync, are designed to reduce the tearing and stuttering that can still occur when a display has to strain through heavier visual loads. These systems also smooth out irregularities by making your refresh rate more adaptive moment to moment, hence the term “dynamic.”
While NVIDIA’s G-Sync is a proprietary technology unique to their products, FreeSync and other variants are freely available to developers. These are two of the most visible systems at the moment - both options are well represented in HP products - even while the tech is becoming more commonplace.
If you intend to game or perform other visual-heavy tasks, you’ll want to remember this distinction when choosing your next display.
What’s the difference between refresh rate and frame rate?
Where terminology is concerned, it’s important to remember the difference between expressions like refresh rate and frame rate.
Frame rate refers specifically to video and the frequency with which new frames appear. While both refresh rate and frame rate can be described in hertz, refresh rate deals with the sort of static images or programmed interfaces that dominate most people’s PC experience.
There’s also some natural confusion over how the two relate, particularly because your monitor’s refresh rate and a video game’s frame rate are two separate measures.
Adaptive systems like FreeSync and G-Sync address imbalances between the two, allowing for a seamless viewing experience regardless of any difference.
Making adjustments to your display settings
It’s just as easy to check your monitor refresh rate as it is to change it, and both follow the same steps.
Adjusting your display’s refresh rate is actually fairly easy to do on your own. Despite that, you may still face hardware limits depending on the monitor you own.
When using Windows 10, you can start the process by opening your "Settings" and clicking "System."
Then, select "Display" and navigate to your "Advanced display settings" tab where you’ll find a link marked "Display adapter properties" for Display 1.
From there, click to the "Monitor" tab and you should see a dropdown below a field labelled "Monitor settings." Simply select your desired refresh rate from the dropdown and click "Apply."
Alternatively, you can just right-click on your desktop and select "Display settings" in order to access your" Advanced display settings" tab.
While it can be relatively simple to change your displays settings, these changes can be relatively difficult to detect in many situations. Most users will only need to make adjustments when performing specialized tasks with intense visuals, like gaming.
Of course, that adds extra emphasis to what we described above. Refresh rates and hardware capable of supporting those higher rates will be interesting to those who prioritizes visual fidelity.
Problems that can stem from a low refresh rate
There are several critical visual problems that can begin to surface when your display’s refresh rate is set too low or when a defect causes it to vary.
Blurring and motion distortion
Blurring and motion distortion are the most easily perceived consequences of a slow refresh rate, and they can ruin a viewing experience of any kind. With a slow refresh rate, the blur that naturally occurs as your eye tries to absorb a complex image is a much bigger problem.
Poor response time
When it comes to displays, response time is typically used to describe the amount of time it takes for a pixel to cycle. For the most seamless experience possible, you need a display with a low response time.
Even if your monitor has a high refresh rate, a poor response time can hinder the entire visual experience because the pixels can’t keep up.
On the other hand, a monitor with a mid-range refresh rate and a quick response time might perform better than you expect. Gamers and anyone with a media-rich routine should be aware of response time.
Whatever your display situation, problems with response time can be another source of the visual distortion described above.
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