Screens keep getting faster. Can you even tell?

Paulo Boaventura
9 Min Read

OLED monitors have gotten faster than ever. While LCD monitors have been pushing 500Hz for around a year now, CES 2024 saw similarly excessive refresh rates arrive on their OLED siblings, with multiple monitors hitting speeds of 360 and 480Hz.

Whenever we’ve written about these monitors, commenters have quite fairly asked what the point of this all is. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time manufacturers have battled over specs with debatable benefit to customers, whether that’s the “megahertz myth” or megapixel wars of the ‘00s or, more recently, smartphone display resolution

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It wasn’t just one or two manufacturers that had such high refresh rate OLEDs to show off. Samsung, Dell, and MSI all revealed 27-inch monitors that run 1440p resolutions at 360Hz. Asus one-upped them with a 480Hz 27-inch monitor. And both LG and Asus unveiled 32-inch “Dual-Hz” displays, which offer 240Hz 4K as standard but can boost to 480Hz if you’re happy to put up with a lower 1080p resolution.

Although these new OLED monitors aren’t hitting quite the same refresh rates as the fastest LCDs, in practice, OLED’s faster pixel response times mean that they’re likely to have better motion clarity all the same. In a video comparing a 240Hz Asus OLED monitor with a 360Hz Asus LCD last year, YouTuber Optimum points out that the LCD monitor had more ghosting despite its higher refresh rate, and the two monitors were pretty evenly matched on motion blur despite the differences in refresh rate. Blur Busters’ Mark Rejhon reckons that, on a Hz-for-Hz basis, OLED has roughly a 1.5x to 2x advantage over LCD when it comes to motion blur. The refresh rates might not be higher, but these monitors are likely to be breaking new ground all the same.

When people ask “what’s the point?” I think they’re asking at least two interrelated questions. First is whether it’s possible to objectively measure a difference from a higher refresh rate monitor. But second is whether you’re likely to subjectively notice and actually benefit from these kinds of differences. For example, is someone playing a multiplayer game going to gain a competitive advantage at these kinds of frame rates?

According to Blur Busters, we’ve got a long way to go before improvements to refresh rate stop making an objective difference. You can read an in-depth breakdown of the reasoning in this post in which they argue that we’ll have to go beyond 1000Hz refresh rates before screens can reduce flicker and motion blur to a level approaching the real world. This video from Monitors Unboxed does a great job at showing why motion blur can still exist on a monitor with a refresh rate over 500Hz.

But using test patterns and cameras to objectively measure motion blur is one thing. It’s quite another to actually notice these kinds of benefits with our own eyes. Higher refresh rate monitors might be smoother, with better visual clarity and lower input latency for gamers — but at what point does it stop making sense to pay the price premium they carry, or prioritize them over other features like brightness?

Four years ago, questions about the benefits of high refresh rate monitors were already widespread enough that Linus Tech Tips attempted to test whether even 240Hz monitors were hitting a point of diminishing returns for gamers. Their findings were nuanced, but they suggested that the benefits had yet to level off in real-world use. “I wasn’t surprised to find out that 60 fps gamers are at a significant disadvantage compared to high refresh rate gamers, but I was surprised at how big the difference was between 144 and 240[Hz],” host Linus Sebastian said. And for what it’s worth, Optimum more recently argued that he can feel a difference with even 540Hz in practice.

All of this also assumes that you’ve got the hardware to play games at these kinds of frame rates, and that you’re not tempted to sacrifice them in the name of turning on some visual eye candy. For the foreseeable future, that likely means that the only players who’ll be making the most of 360Hz or 480Hz monitors are competitive gamers playing esports titles like Counter-Strike where every frame matters. For me, a person who was happy to play through a game like Alan Wake 2 at between 40 and 60fps for the sake of enjoying its ray-traced graphics options, that’s never likely to be the case.

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Although early hands-on coverage of MSI and Alienware’s 360Hz OLED monitors from the likes of Optimum and Linus Tech Tips has been positive, when it comes time for people to decide how to spend their own money, I suspect the vast majority of people are going to be using monitors with much lower refresh rates for the foreseeable future. I can appreciate the engineering that’s gone into making it happen. But even as a person who’s been enjoying watching the monitor spec arms race from afar, I’m not looking to imminently replace my 100Hz ultrawide LCD, which I’ve been using daily for over half a decade.

But even if you don’t immediately feel the difference, it’s amazing what you can get used to over time and then immediately notice when it’s gone. I wouldn’t say I immediately noticed the difference when I used a 120Hz iPhone for the first time, but after using one almost daily for over a year, I immediately feel it when I have to use an older model. My colleague Tom Warren feels the same going back to a 120Hz after getting used to 240Hz PC monitor. It’s like going back to non-fiber 80Mbps after getting used to gigabit. Or, to use an even sillier example, it’s like drinking bad coffee after a pandemic spent obsessing over brewing the perfect cup at home.

Improvements to TV and monitor technology can feel incremental in the moment, but they can stack up over time. I have consistently found myself looking at new generations of display technology and wondering how things could look any better, only to look back at those same 1080p and early 4K screens years later and see how dated they’ve become as technology has moved on.

I don’t know that anyone truly “needs” to spend the money on a 360Hz or 480Hz OLED monitor. But as prices come down and the technology improves, I suspect we’ll see more and more people end up with them without thinking too much of it. And I can’t wait to find out if we’ll ever look back at 240Hz the way we now look at 60Hz monitors.


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