Shopping for a new TV? For most, this can be overwhelming and downright confusing. There are SO many makes and models available, each with their own unique specs. You'll hear a lot of buzzwords surrounding HDTVs, but one commonly referred to and misunderstood is "refresh rate".
What is an HDTV refresh rate?
Technically speaking, a refresh rate is the number of times in one second that your TV updates its buffer. Your TV is constantly changing out the pixels it displays to project the appearance of motion. When it "refreshes", it's in the process of changing those pixels - faster than your eye can detect. The higher the refresh rate, the more times per second the TV is refreshing its pixels. A 240-hertz refresh rate is displaying an image 240 times per second.
Why refresh rate matters?
Generally speaking, most people think the faster the refresh rate, the better picture they will receive. TV marketers play on this when hyping features. It's debatable whether a noticeable difference is created on today's modern TVs. If you're a sports fan or movie buff, this can be particularly important. You want to be able to view every detail of the game you're watching or every time Optimus Prime wipes out a Decepticon - without blurs or lag. Blurs were an issue for LCD TVs many years ago, but technology has advanced such that it's not much of a problem anymore.
Why refresh rate doesn't actually matter?
I know. We just told you a higher refresh rate provides a smoother, more true-to-life image. Now erase that all from your memory. The fact is, most source footage is 60 hertz or less. Your TV can't display a higher refresh rate than what it's being provided. Most high definition content is currently displayed at 1080p at 60Hz. If your TV is operating on a refresh rate greater than the content you're sending it, it will interject frames to make up the difference as a buffer, based on what it thinks is a good middle ground. It's good practice to reduce your TV's refresh rates to 60Hz when viewing standard TV content, then up it for the times you're watching sports or intense action movies. Video games will also benefit from using the higher refresh rate. Keeping the refresh rates separate will help you avoid the super smooth and unrealistic "soap opera effect" while enjoying the news, but experience a smoother transition for sports, movies or video games.
When refresh rate does indeed matter
Though everyone isn't exactly scrambling to get the newest 4K Ultra HD displays, this is really where refresh rate would begin to provide a noticeable difference in the viewing experience. The problem? Content is content is lagging behind due to the slow adoption of this technology. Currently, there's not currently much incentive to produce content any higher than the standard 60 hertz. You can buy that high-end TV, but you're going to be hard-pressed to find any actual content that would take advantage of these high refresh rates for some time.
The general consensus
Don't let promises of extravagantly high refresh rates be the deciding factor when you choose your TV. You'll be fine with 60 to 120-hertz rates using today's technology. Down the road, as more content becomes available for those 4K TVs, you might want to take advantage of it, but for right now, the extra capabilities are wasted. Tell us, what's your refresh rate set at? Do you change your TV's refresh rate based on the content you're watching?