Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
We all know how the game is played when it comes to selling tech products. Six cores are better than four, two GPUs are better than one, and 1GHz is better than 500MHz. Besides the underlying pixel technology, monitors have really only been sold on either size or resolution—until now. In the last few years, manufacturers have begun marketing panels with more than double the refresh rate of a standard LCD panel. Rather than the 60Hz refresh rate that LCDs have been stuck with since, well, forever, these new monitors push the refresh rate to 120Hz and even 144Hz. A high refresh rate promises smoother scrolling and less blur in games, but these qualities may not be for everyone.
Doubling the frame rate in The Hobbit from 24fps to 48fps, for example, is widely blamed for giving the movie its odd look that turned off many viewers. (While refresh rate and frame rate aren’t completely synonymous, they effectively produce the same result on the PC.) Is the same true of content on a high-refresh-rate PC monitor? To find out whether people prefer the effect of a high refresh rate or the familiar 60Hz experience, we set up two identical PCs, with a 60Hz panel hooked up to one and a 144Hz panel hooked up to the other, and tasked a handful of gamers, editors, and other test subjects to pick their pixel-pushing poison.
It’s said that humans perceive reality at about 66 frames per second. Would watching a movie or game at more than double that hurt or help the experience?
For our tests, we built two nearly identical X79-based machines. Each was outfitted with a stock 3.6GHz Core i7-3820, 8GB of DDR3/1600, an OCZ Vertex 3 SSD, and a GeForce GTX 580 card. Each machine was loaded with a clean install of Windows 8 and the identical Nvidia drivers were installed on both. We say “nearly identical” because the motherboards in our two boxes did differ. One featured an Asus P9X79 WS and the other an Asus Sabertooth X79 motherboard.
Representing the high-refresh-rate camp was Asus’s new 24-inch VG248QE. This is the first monitor to bring a 144Hz refresh rate to a consumer panel. The monitor is commonly found for $300 but one reputable e-tailer had the panel listed for $265. The 1920x1080 VG248QE is LED-backlit and has a rated 1ms gray-to-gray response time and features an antiglare surface. The panel supports Nvidia’s 3D Vision 2 but does not ship with an emitter or 3D glasses, to keep the price low. In fact, the VG248QE is one of two high-refresh-rate monitors Asus sells without 3D emitters, to appease gamers who want higher refresh rates but don’t necessarily want to play in 3D. As a gaming panel, the VG248QE also features the company’s “GamePlus” feature that will display a crosshair on the screen to circumvent (ahem, cheat) games that forego crosshairs when set to hardcore mode. Another mode displays a game timer for MMO players doing timed raids, and RTS gamers running on a clock. The VG248QE is a TN panel, so folks with high-color-accuracy needs should probably pass it up for IPS-like technology.
Representing the standard 60Hz field was an Asus VN247. We considered pitting the 144Hz panel against a 60Hz IPS panel, since the prices are similar, but in the end we decided that gamers would be more interested in TN, given that tech’s faster response time. The VN247 measures 24 inches and also features antiglare coating. It has a 1ms gray-to-gray response time and is rated at 250 nits. The 144Hz-rated VG248QE has a 350 nit rating, so we adjusted the brightness accordingly. Both were set to their “theater” preset, which we found to be fairly comparable upon visual inspection.
It’s not attractive, but by covering the bezels of both monitors, we could guard against bias.
Since even the bezel of a monitor can influence people during image-quality tests, we used cardboard to cover both bezels of the panels, as well as the PCs themselves (since we used different cases for each). We also used identical keyboards, mice, and mouse pads for each machine, and audio was disabled on both, since, as we know, a monitor with better sound can be perceived as “looking” better.
For our tests, we used three videos: The first was a 720p resolution video of an editor’s commute across the Bay Bridge, shot at 120fps with a GoPro Hero3 Black. The second video was a FRAPS-recorded session of Left 4 Dead 2 running on a different 120Hz panel with VSync enabled, which locked the video down to 120fps. The third video was a 1080p high-definition MKV file at 24fps. This movie should have no bearing, as its way below the refresh rates of both panels, but we wanted to see how our test subjects would react to it. We believed the videos would be the most difficult part of our test, but we wanted to see what people’s eyes preferred.
We used a GoPro Hero3 Black to record 720p video at 120fps for our tests.
For gaming, we used two Source Engine titles: Left 4 Dead 2 and Portal 2. We decided on them because they would comfortably exceed the refresh rate of both panels with the GeForce GTX 580 GPU in our systems.
For our final two tests, we asked the test subjects to scroll a web page as they would in real life and to move a window around the screen in their typical fashion.
All of our test subjects were given the same instructions to weigh the smoothness of each monitor first and foremost. Subjects were also instructed to try to ignore color saturation, black levels, contrast, or color temperature when picking the experience they preferred. The tester was careful not to suggest one panel over the other or to make approving or disapproving statements. Finally, all of the testing was conducted in a sealed and darkened room, away from prying ears and eyes.
Click the next page to read about the suprising results.