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Importance of VR and the Refresh Rate

Updated: May 05,2022

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In the world of virtual reality, refresh rates matter - a lot. Recent VR stats highlight the growing popularity of computer-simulated environments, and studies have shown that the ideal refresh rate of 90Hz provides the best gaming experience and prevents motion sickness. The difference between a low and high refresh can be the difference between feeling like you are in another world or just moving your head around for no reason. 

There are a number of important factors that affect the overall performance. In this article, we will discuss the connection between VR and the refresh rate and how it affects our virtual reality experience. 

The Key to Immersion

When you strap on a VR headset, you're transported to another world. But have you ever wondered how the magic happens? A lot of it has to do with the VR refresh rates. This is more than just a visual improvement.

The VR headset refresh rate refers to the number of times per second that an image is refreshed. The higher the rate, the better the imagery. The vast majority of headsets have a refresh rate of 90Hz, which means that the image is refreshed 90 times per second. However, some high-end headsets have a refresh rate of 120Hz or even 144Hz.

An optical phenomenon known as persistence of vision tricks the human eye into perceiving an image for longer than the duration of a visual stimulus. A VR headset displays images rapidly, and the eye perceives a continuous image, even though the individual images are actually flickering. The highest refresh rate for VR diminishes the flickering.

Even with augmented reality, a good refresh rate makes all the difference. You are using a smartphone to hunt Pokemon monsters in real life, and that phone has to have a refresh rate of at least 60Hz. If your device has a poor refresh rate, it will impact your gameplay.

Common wisdom dictates that the higher the refresh rate, the more immersive the experience will be. However, it is important to note that a higher rate also requires more processing power from your computer and the latest graphics card. As such, using a lower-end headset may prevent you from taking full advantage of a higher refresh rate. 

Low refresh rates can cause a number of problems in the virtual world. First and foremost, they can lead to motion sickness among users. If the image on the screen is not refreshed often enough, your brain will not have enough time to adjust to the new images, which can cause you to feel sick.

A lower than recommended refresh rate for VR can also cause the screen door effect, where visible gaps between the individual pixels are seen on the screen. This can be extremely distracting and make it difficult to immerse yourself in the virtual world. 

There is another important detail to remember when hunting for a higher refresh rate. For most people, a refresh rate of 90Hz is more than sufficient. Anything higher than that will not provide a significant increase in immersion and may actually cause more problems than it solves. 

The Importance of a Refresh Rate for VR

When it comes to buying headgear, the refresh rate on VR headsets is arguably the most critical factor to consider. A high rate means that images are updated more frequently, which can help eliminate any discomfort like the feeling of motion sickness and deliver a comfortable user experience.

The PlayStation VR has a rate of up to 120Hz, which is one of the highest on the market. It means that the image is refreshed 120 times per second, which provides an incredibly immersive experience. However, it is worth noting that not all virtual reality headsets support such a high refresh rate. Therefore, it is important to check the specs on the PlayStation VR refresh rate before purchasing a headset. 

The first Oculus Quest had a refresh of 72Hz, which is lower than the PlayStation VR's 120Hz. However, the gaming community accepted this sub-standard refresh rate nicely thanks to the low-persistence OLED display. The quality of this display reduced the latency and motion blur. 

The HTC Vive has a refresh of 90Hz, which is also lower than the PlayStation VR's 120Hz. We’ve already touched on the fact that 90Hz is perfectly sufficient. But the high refresh rate is important for VR, and PlayStation’s higher frequency will undoubtedly deliver more natural movement representation in action-intense scenes.

Furthermore, a growing number of apps are running at a high refresh rate. For instance, golf smartphone applications rely on high refresh rates to provide the relevant data whenever you need it. This is crucial for fans of the sport who need GPS technology for an aerial overview of the course and other demanding functions.

Meanwhile, smartphone manufacturers, and even their best phones for music, have embraced high refresh rate monitors in recent years to enhance the user experience. And just like with virtual reality tech, these screens make everything feel more lifelike.

Refresh Rate and Frame Rate: The Difference that Really Matters

Frame rates and refresh rates are often confused because they both deal with the number of times per second that a screen is refreshed. The frame rate is the number of individual images — or actual frames produced — that are displayed per second, while the refresh rate is the total number of times per second that the image on the screen is refreshed. 

The refresh rate is always higher than the frame rate, and it is the refresh rate that determines how smooth the image on the screen appears. A good frame rate is important for gaming, but it is the refresh rate that truly determines how immersive the experience will be. For a VR system, a high refresh rate is essential for delivering a realistic experience. 

While most VR headsets have a refresh of 90Hz, some games have a frame rate limit, which is usually 60. So, how important is the refresh rate here? In this case, a video game needs to render 60 frames each second to ensure an optimal gaming experience on a 60Hz monitor.

When you have a low-refresh headset and play a game with a high frame rate, it can be really hard to see what is going on. The images on the screen might feel overwhelming. This is because your brain is not getting enough time to process the new images. 

However, if you have a high-refresh headset and play a game with a low frame rate, you’re guaranteed a more polished experience. This is because your brain has more time to process the new images. 

The bottom line is that in any refresh rate vs. frame rate debate, refresh will be much more important when it comes to VR. It delivers greater VR enjoyment and eliminates the risk of any headaches or other side effects.

Latency: The Bane of Virtual Reality

The refresh rate is fundamental to having a great time with VR gaming. However, latency is another major factor to keep in mind. Latency is the time it takes for your actions to be registered in the game. In other words, it is the delay between when you move your head and when you see the corresponding movement in the game. High latency and a low VR refresh rate cause motion sickness. The perfect latency for VR should be below 20 milliseconds, while the acceptable one shouldn't be higher than 50ms.

The Oculus Quest has a latency of about 20ms. That means that there is very little delay between when you move your head and when you see the corresponding movement in the game. The HTC Vive has a latency of about 30-40ms. That is still relatively low, but it is enough to notice the delay. 

In short, high latency can make VR very uncomfortable. Therefore, it is important to choose a VR headset with the best refresh rate for VR and low latency. Otherwise, you might not be able to enjoy the full potential of virtual reality.

The Lawnmower Man Effect

Today, the dream of having a fully immersive VR is finally a reality. You don't have to risk losing your eyes and your mind like Jobe or Johnny Mnemonic to enjoy interactive media in VR. And the refresh rate is a critical factor in providing a smooth and immersive VR experience.


What VR headset has the highest refresh rate?

It's a tie between PlayStation VR and the Valve Index. Both have 120Hz, but with the latter, you can change the refresh rate for VR and switch to an experimental feature of 144Hz. 

What is Oculus refresh rate?

Thanks to recent patches, Oculus Quest 2 has an experimental mode with 120Hz.

What is the frame rate of a virtual reality?

The ideal rate for VR is 90 fps (frames per second.)

Why are VR videos blurry?

It could be due to poor lens craftsmanship or an issue with the eyebox, which is common among economic VR headsets.

Is there a 4K VR headset?

Vive Pro 2 works with 4K screen resolutions and has support for 5K and a high VR refresh rate. Another model that is compatible with this screen resolution is Pimax 4K.

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While Damjan started his career in humanities, his interests quickly moved on to the tech and IT world. VPNs, antiviruses, firewalls, password managers - cybersecurity is what he knows best. When Damjan’s not losing hair over the dwindling of our collective sense of tech safety, you’ll find him looking for solace in 100-hour-long RPGs and rage-inducing MOBAs.

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