First things first: refresh rates and how many frames you get in game are related to one another but not quite the same thing. If you’re someone with a 75 Hz monitor (refresh rate) you can output 120 FPS (or more) depending on your setup. The only catch is that the end result may not be to your liking.
The trade off with a scenario where a monitor’s refresh rate is lower than the rendered frames per second ultimately comes down to balancing visual clarity and latency. I’ve found that you’ll likely have to make some sacrifices in order to manage these two things, and my experiences with my unique setup have shown me as much.
I have a 4K TV that I use as a monitor. It’s capped at 60 Hz, but my system is capable of rendering a frame rate that far exceeds this refresh rate. In other words, even though I’ll only ever be able to “see” 60 FPS, my GPU is able to render what’s happening in game much faster than what’s displaying on my TV. Visually speaking, nothing changes when running 120 FPS or more on a 75 Hz monitor.
But while you can’t exactly see 120 FPS on a 75 Hz monitor, you may be able to feel it. As I hinted at above, the main benefit of running 120 FPS on a 75 Hz display is that you’ll encounter less latency (how responsive a game feels). This might not be important in games like Starfield or Baldurs Gate 3, but it can make all the difference in highly reactive titles like Counter-Strike 2.
“Slower” monitors – 60 Hz, 75 Hz, or 100 Hz – can still be great for gaming because of this lowered latency. The input lag or latency of running at 60 FPS is roughly 16.6 milliseconds (1 second divided by 60 frames). On the other hand, running a game at 120 FPS halves the input latency to 8.3 milliseconds (1 second divided by 120 frames). Again, your games won’t appear smoother, but they will feel more responsive.
What’s the catch?
I’ve noticed that most games will introduce screen tearing to my TV when exceeding 60 FPS (some games are worse than others). Instead of resorting to Vsync outright (locking your frame rate to your monitors refresh rate), I’ve found that the best way to strike the balance between tearing and latency is by using Nvidia Fast Sync. This can be done by heading to the Nvidia control panel. On the AMD side of things, Enhanced Sync will offer a similar type of solution.
Again, some games will tear worse than others. Depending on your tastes, you may be able to put up with slight tearing for the latency gains. For me, Destiny 2 has awful screen tearing without any sort of Vsync while Counter-Strike 2’s tearing is way less exaggerated.
Things get a little trickier if you’re playing on console. The benefit of reduced input latency still applies, but trying to force 120 FPS on your Xbox Series X or PS5 can provide mixed results. Overriding your console’s auto format might not play nice with your monitor (nothing is displayed). Any screen tearing that’s introduced also can’t be dealt with in the way it can on PC. Still, it’s always worth trying for the benefits mentioned above.
High refresh rate monitors and TVs (120 Hz and above) will always reign supreme for the full benefit of responsive gaming. You’ll never be able to see the increase in visual information on a 60 Hz or 75 Hz monitor as you would on one refreshing at 120 Hz or more. But running your games at 120 FPS or more combined with the low input lag of most 75 Hz monitors means that competitive games should feel much better overall.
Lover of games, tech, nature, and strange electronic music. Shaped by Sega, PlayStation, Nintendo, and Xbox – platform agnostic ever since. Currently overwhelmed by choice on my Xbox Series X thanks to Game Pass.