High Frame Rate vs. Better Resolution: What’s More Important for Gaming?

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How do you want to play? That’s the question your purchasing decision revolves around when it comes to gaming.

Every platform has benefits, every platform has detriments, every platform has special features that make it unique… but the biggest question is, which is more important: having a higher frame rate or playing at a higher resolution?

This article will give you the information you need to make that decision based on what you’re interested in doing.

Frame Rate Explained

Frame rate in its simplest form is explained as the way movement or motion is displayed on a screen. “Frames” are still images that display information to the screen in response to the input stimulus. For instance, if you decide to aim down the sights of your favorite weapon in your favorite shooter, you press a button or pull a trigger, which results in an output.

That output is shown in a series of frames that move from one image to the next, as quickly as possible to give the best visual feedback experience and to immerse you in the activity. That smoothness of motion is exactly why frame rate is so important to certain gamers.

When you play at a lower frame rate, you’re having fewer frames per second output to the screen at any given time, thus your gameplay experience is more sluggish. This can be a serious detriment, especially if you’re playing fast-paced games like twitch shooters or action games that need quick response times.

Related: Video Game Graphics and Settings Explained

You’ll often hear gamers say “it was like looking at a slide-show” when talking about the frame rate of a game because the frame rate was so low it was like looking at a slide show because there was so little visual information being sent to the screen.

When you have a low frame rate, fewer frames are sent to the screen at any one time. For instance, the industry standard is 30 frames per second. This means 30 frames of information are sent to the screen every single second.

When your frame rate dips down to 15, you only get 15 frames per second, and if you’re on a graphics card that’s not very powerful, you can not only get sluggish results in terms of gameplay because of the low refresh rate.

You can also experience sudden jerkiness because there will be frames that are supposed to have been sent to the screen, that aren’t, and since information is missing, and your graphics card can’t fill in the missing holes, it can only provide you with the information it has, which also leads to a poor gameplay experience.

Refresh Rate Explained

The refresh rate is defined as the number of times your hardware refreshes itself every second. In contrast with frames per second, which is the number of frames sent to the screen each second, your refresh rate determines how often that information is cycled through your display. This is key for gaming.

If you have a graphics card capable of outputting 300 frames per second, but a display that only refreshes itself 60 times a second (notated as 60Hz), you’re only going to be able to see 60 frames of the visual information being output.

So to take advantage of the high frame rates that graphics cards and consoles are capable of outputting, you need a display with a high enough refresh rate to match it.

Resolution Explained

Resolution can be explained as pixel count or pixel density. The resolution that your display outputs is how many individual pixels (i.e. colored dots) are on the screen at any given time. Your resolution dictates the visual sharpness and clarity of any image on the screen.

When looking at an image rendered at 1080p versus an image at 4K resolution, the difference in visual quality is astounding. This is because 1080p resolution has around 2 million pixels whereas 4K has around 8.2 million pixels. As a result, people prefer a higher resolution because they want a better visual experience.

Why Can’t You Have Both?

When it comes to resolution versus frame rate, it comes down to your budget.

If you have all the money in the world, you could build a strong enough PC to handle maximum resolutions at maximum frame rates. But if you have a spending limit, you’ll have to decide which one is more important for you.

So if you have a high-end system, 4K at 60 FPS will likely not be an issue for you. But with a weaker system, you may not even be able to handle 4K at 30 FPS. Older consoles can’t even output 4K images, but you may be able to handle 1080p at 60 FPS or 720p at 120 FPS.

Frame Rate vs. Resolution: How Do I Choose?

To decide between a high FPS or a high resolution, you have to decide what you want to do. If you’re someone that enjoys playing multiplayer or esports titles, a high resolution isn’t necessary as long as you can see all of the on-screen information that you need.

If you look at most esports athletes, they’ll tell you that they drop their resolution to 1080p (or even lower) and turn their graphical settings to the absolute lowest quality because they want the highest frame rate they can get.

When you have a higher frame rate, you have more visual information coming to you on a consistent basis, so it allows you to act and react far more quickly than you’d be able to with less information available.

These esports athletes play on high refresh rate monitors, sometimes higher than 240Hz, because they want the most performance possible, and they need a frame rate to match.

More on this: 60Hz vs. 144Hz vs. 240Hz: Monitor Refresh Rates, Explained

Graphical effects like motion blur, film grain, and chromatic aberration may look beautiful… but they come at the cost of FPS. Turning those settings down allows them to reach frame rates of over 120 FPS. So if that’s something you’re interested in, you should buy a graphics card that will allow you to get high frame rates in your multiplayer titles of choice.

Yet, if you’re someone that enjoys single-player titles, like massive open-world RPGs or packed urban cityscapes, then a high resolution may be the best choice for you. While the frame rate is still important, a solid 60 FPS is all you need for an enjoyable visual experience.

When you have highly detailed worlds to explore, you’ll often want to look through every nook and cranny to see what you can find, and be impressed by the visual quality of what you’ll find. If you’re able to, you’ll want to change your resolution from 1080p to 1440p or even 4K!

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, the decision of what’s more important comes down to who you are as a gamer and what you’re trying to do. Don’t make a purchasing decision based on what someone else tells you, gaming is an expensive hobby.

Next-gen consoles cost over $500. A high-end gaming PC can cost you over $2,000. That’s too much money to be spending for something you may have no interest in. Next time you pull out your wallet to make an expensive gaming purchase, ask yourself what you intend to use that purchase for.

There’s no sense in spending $2,000 on a high-end gaming rig when you won’t be taking advantage of its 4K capabilities if a system half the price can run your multiplayer shooters at 120 FPS.

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