They say that time is money, but when it comes to your gadgets, time could be something else entirely. The speed at which those milliseconds and hertz tick by can make all the difference.
From refresh rates to response times to touch sampling rates. Understanding the nuances among them gives a new meaning on we experience viewing and playing content in our devices.
But what are they exactly? Let’s discuss.
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Hardware makes up the experience
Before we delve into the specifics, it’s important to note that these parameters don’t just apply to smartphones. The same principles also apply to personal computers, where the CPU, GPU, and the display monitor work together to achieve higher refresh rates for example.
However, for PCs, simply purchasing a display monitor with 144Hz or higher would not enough to reap the benefits. The system specs—and how powerful it is—will still define how high the refresh rates can be.
That along with response time, and touch sampling rate are all crucial factors that determine a device’s overall screen performance. They impact the device’s responsiveness and smoothness, and higher figures result in a better user experience.
Refresh rate: 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz, 144Hz?
Now, on to the refresh rate — -the one that frequently appears on the spec sheet.
Intel describes refresh rate as the number of times per second that a display can draw a new image. Measured in Hertz (Hz), a higher refresh rate minimizes motion blur and makes fast-moving images appear sharper, thus providing a smoother and more enjoyable experience, especially significant in competitive gaming.
For instance, if a display has 144Hz refresh rate, it is (literally) refreshing the image 144 times per second. Right now, Alienware holds the title with the fastest refresh rate on a gaming monitor, reaching up to 500Hz.
Only a powerful system could handle that. If the system uses a more powerful GPU and CPU, the result is a smooth experience with the potential for even higher FPS (frames-per-second) count.
But wait, FPS and refresh rate… aren’t they the same?
According to ViewSonic, these two terms essentially describe similar concept. However, they are actually distinct from each other, and this difference lies in their point of origin.
Simply put, the frame rates are determined by the CPU and GPU, while the refresh rate is determined by the display monitor. But that’s where two problems come up: compatibility and screen tearing.
Refresh rate and frame rate both impact what you see on the screen. If your graphics card and processor are not powerful enough, a monitor with a high refresh rate cannot achieve its full benefits, and vice-versa.
Furthermore, if the frame rate and refresh rate are not in sync, screen tearing may occur. This happens when a single screen refresh is displaying multiple frames at once. Thankfully, technologies like NVIDIA’s G-Sync or AMD’s FreeSync exist for this reason — to balance the frame rate and refresh rate to reduce screen tearing.
For smartphones, these concepts are more simplified. This is because the hardware is already consolidated in the single smartphone device already (unlike desktop computers which require different components to be built).
However, one problem that arises in high refresh rate smartphones is battery drain. To address this, smartphone OEMs have implemented what they call “adaptive sync” of some sort. This feature adjusts the refresh rate depending on the user’s operation or the content that is being displayed.
Let’s take a look at Apple’s ProMotion for example (fancy name as always referring to 120Hz refresh). The iPhone’s refresh rate changes periodically, from as low as 10Hz when viewing a static image to over 120Hz when scrolling or playing a game. Below from 1:01:41 – 1:04:08, Apple showed how their ProMotion works.
Response time is an often-overlooked feature of monitors or display because it does not provide much benefit for everyday use. But, for those in the market for a gaming monitor or those in fields that rely heavily on video or other motion graphics, response time is highly important and can significantly impact the user’s experience.
Measured in milliseconds (ms), response time describes how fast a pixel changes from one color to another.
Displays with a response time of 1 millisecond are ideal for fast-paced activities such as competitive gaming, as they result in less motion blur. Those with a response time of 5 milliseconds provide a good viewing experience but displays with a response time of 10 milliseconds (usually LCDs) or higher may not be suitable for fast-paced gaming, as they may have noticeable motion blur.
Additionally, response time is often confused with latency and even input lag.
Latency refers to the delay between an action and its corresponding response on the screen, and it can be impacted by a variety of factors such as network connectivity and processing power. For example, in online gaming, if there is a high latency between the player’s input and the server’s response, the game may feel sluggish or unresponsive.
Input lag, on the other hand, is the delay between a physical action taken by the user (such as clicking a button) and the resulting action on the screen. This can be caused by factors such as the device’s processing power, display technology, and even the type of input device being used. High input lag can make a device feel unresponsive or sluggish, especially in fast-paced activities like gaming.
Touch sampling rate
Finally, let’s talk about the touch sample rate, which is a vital component of any touch-enabled device. This measurement refers to the number of times per second that the screen registers touch input in Hz.
A higher touch sampling rate results in a more responsive screen to touch input, which is particularly important for devices like smartphones and tablets that rely primarily on touch input.
Gaming phones such as the Nubia REDMAGIC 8S Pro and the Asus ROG Phone 7 Ultimate can achieve refresh rates of up to 960Hz and 720Hz, respectively. This makes them ideal for playing first-person shooter games like Call of Duty: Mobile, as they can quickly and accurately track your aim.
Otherwise, a low sample rate can make the touch interface feel sluggish and unresponsive, which can be very frustrating for end users.
Understanding the difference between refresh rate, response time, and touch sampling rate is crucial to getting the most out of your devices.
From the smoothness of your scrolling to the accuracy of your aim, these factors can make or break your user experience. So, the next time you’re in the market for a new device, pay attention to the numbers and make sure you’re getting the best possible hardware for your needs.
After all, time might be money, but a better user experience is priceless.