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Our staff overwhelmingly preferred the 144Hz panel but our test subjects didn’t always agree
Before we get too far, we’ll say that our preference is for the 144Hz or 120Hz panels. The overall smoothness, although unfamiliar at first, is something we quickly got used to. If we had to choose between a 60Hz TN panel and a 120/144Hz panel, the choice would be easy. The actual blind-test subjects, however, didn’t see things quite as cut-and-dried.
Our first test subject is a software and hardware reviewer at a major console games magazine. As we expected, the video portion of our test was the most challenging and our subject had no preference in either of the high-frame-rate videos, but she preferred the 60Hz panel for the 24fps material.
We wanted to know whether scrolling a web page looks better at 144Hz.
As we moved onto gaming, she quickly latched onto the 144Hz panel, even saying the 60Hz panel is “tiring my eyes out,” and “Owww, it’s hard on my eyes.” Moving on to what we thought was the easiest section, she surprised us by having no preference with the scrolling-web-page test. And in a further surprise to us, she picked the 60Hz panel in the moving-window portion because the text stayed sharper.
The second subject is a salesman who’s also a gamer and PC enthusiast. He preferred the 120fps GoPro video on the 144Hz panel, saying, “This is more realistic.” He had no preference in our high-frame-rate FRAPS video, and also preferred the 24fps material on the 60Hz panel. Interestingly, the subject felt Left 4 Dead 2 “felt smoother” on the 60Hz panel but then in Portal 2 preferred the 144Hz panel. In our scrolling and window-moving tests, he preferred the 144Hz panel.
Our third subject is a hardware editor with a leading PC magazine. He was familiar with our challenge so we tried to throw him off by telling him we had swapped the monitor positions. He still picked the 144Hz panel for all of the tests save one: the HD source material at 24fps, which he said looked better on the 60Hz panel. Color us cynical, but we suspect some confirmation bias at play, as his picks didn’t actually mesh with others.
Our next subject is a long-time hardware and tech editor. He immediately picked our 120fps GoPro video on the 144Hz panel and had no preference for our FRAPS video.
And, like the others, picked the 60Hz panel for the 24fps HD movie.
In games, however, he had no preference in Left 4 Dead 2 and actually preferred Portal 2 on the 60Hz panel, saying, “It just looks sharper to me.” He also preferred the 60Hz panel for both our scrolling test and moving-window test, echoing our first test subject’s reasons: sharper text, albeit at an admittedly lower frame rate.
Our fifth subject, a junior games editor, chose the smooth rims of the wheels in our GoPro video at 144Hz versus the strobing on the 60Hz panel, had no preference on our FRAPS video, and like all others, picked the 60Hz panel for the 24fps material.
In games, he first picked the 60Hz panel saying, “This one definitely feels smoother,” but then reversed his preference in Portal 2, saying, “[The 60Hz] is definitely smoother, but I’m liking Portal 2 on [the 144Hz panel].” However, he described the differences between the two monitors in Portal 2 as “miniscule.” He also picked the 60Hz panel for both the scrolling and window-movement tests, saying it was “smoother” for both.
An IT guy served as our next subject. He had no preference whatsoever in any of our video tests or when playing Left 4 Dead 2. But he thought the 144Hz panel had a slight advantage in Portal 2. In our scrolling and window-moving tests, he picked the 144Hz panel for both, saying the panel was “snappier.”
We included a second gaming editor for his “bionic-like” LASIK-corrected eyesight. However, he bucked our expectations by choosing the 60Hz panel in both our GoPro video and in the HD movie, believing the 60Hz panel was “sharper.” In our L4D2 test, he picked the 60Hz panel even though he said he thought the 144Hz panel was actually “smoother.” When we got to Portal 2 though, he uttered, “uh oh” and “oh, dear,” as he realized which panel was actually 144Hz, which is the one he preferred in that test. He said the scrolling and window-moving tests were both smoother on the 144Hz panel, but that he didn’t care about those factors very much.
A self-proclaimed video nerd, this subject immediately keyed in on the differences between the panels. He picked the 144Hz panel for the GoPro video, calling it more “realistic” (albeit “wigging” to his eyes), but preferred the 60Hz panel for the FRAPS video and had no preference for the 24fps material. In gaming, he could tell the difference between the two monitors but actually chose the 60Hz panel because the motion blur felt more “comfortable” to his eyes. “This is like an old shoe,” he said, even though intellectually he knew the other one was faster. He thought that scrolling on the 144Hz panel made it seem like the web page was on “grease” and, though off-putting, he said he thought he could get used to it. “If you said I could take one home right now, I would take the high-refresh-rate monitor.”
Don’t blink. To find out if high refresh rates are worth it, we tasked eight people to take our blind taste test
|Occupation||Console Games Editor||Salesman||Hardware Editor||Tech Editor||Games Editor||I.T. Guy||Games Editor||Video Producer / Writer|
|Age / Sex||31 / Female||32 / Male||34 / Male||46 / Male||23 / Male||45 / Male||38 / Male||37 / Male|
|GoPro Hero3 Video 120fps||Neither||144Hz||144Hz||144Hz||144Hz||Neither||60Hz||144Hz||144Hz|
|Left 4 Dead 2 FRAPS Video 120fps||Neither||Neither||144Hz||Neither||60Hz||Neither||Neither||60Hz||60Hz|
|HD MKV Video 24fps||60Hz||60Hz||60Hz||60Hz||60Hz||Neither||60Hz||Neither||60Hz|
|Left 4 Dead 2||144Hz||60Hz||144Hz||Neither||60Hz||Neither||60Hz||60Hz||60Hz|
|Window Moving Test||60Hz||144Hz||144Hz||60Hz||Neither||144Hz||144Hz||144Hz||144Hz|
When we tallied up the results, it was a closer contest than we expected. Rather than 144Hz being the clear-choice technology, in many instances our subjects preferred the 60Hz “look,” even if they couldn’t always articulate exactly why they liked it more.
Display expert Dr. Ray Soneira said some of our results are not surprising. Video tests are particularly challenging when you’re trying to display video at frame rates that don’t divide into the refresh rate of the monitor. This creates artifacts that hurt the experience. More puzzling to us is why the 144Hz panel was the preference with Portal 2 but not with Left 4 Dead 2 (which is based on the same game engine). One theory is that L4D2 takes on a too-smooth, “plastic-y” look (more so than Portal 2) when seen at high refresh rates, and that puts people off.
Still, we’re going to call this a win for 144Hz—but only by a hair. Our testing shows that it’s certainly not the clear-cut, no-doubt-about-it choice for everyone.
Or why Asus says we may actually see higher-than-144Hz panels
Despite the somewhat mixed results in our blind taste test, it’s pretty clear to us that higher-refresh-rate panels offer a real advantage for gamers. We spoke with Asus’s David Wung to get the skinny on high-refresh-rate monitors.
Q: What is the limitation in getting 120Hz/144Hz refresh rates in IPS/PVA panels rather than TN?
A: Two main factors affect whether the panel can support 120Hz/144Hz—ignoring the scaler requirements and other issues. The first is the timing controller, or T-Con for short. It’s the IC package that controls the timing frequency transmitted to the panel. The second is the graphics card supporting the proper timing for 120Hz/144Hz operation, which is no longer a problem [so there’s really no reason the technology won’t be found in other panel types].
Q: Why is Asus the sole producer of 144Hz panels today?
A: The primary reason is that Asus has a very close professional relationship with the leading panel suppliers and graphics card vendors. At times, we often receive exclusive collaboration from our partners due to our ability to engineer, produce, and market these premium products in volume. Our LCD team also works extensively with our in-house VGA team, which guarantees that the 144Hz panels work seamlessly with a variety of GPU products.
Q: Are people buying these monitors primarily for gaming?
A: It depends, but most of time, we think so. In some cases, people also can sense the benefit while watching video on a panel with 144Hz support. We have noticed an incredible rise in popularity of the 120Hz, and now 144Hz panels, in gaming over the past two years, but now we are also seeing a similar rise in other environments like media playback and digital content creation, since the higher refresh rates allow a smoother overall image display.
Q: What exactly is the special sauce in making 120/144Hz panels? Is it only cherry-picked panels that can hit the speeds?
A: Not at all. Unlike with CPUs, as long as we can successfully develop the T-Con [monitor timing controller] and can get the support from graphic cards, then the panels can hit the speeds we need them to hit.