Buzzword: Is it worth paying more for 240Hz?

Consumer Reports News: November 25, 2009 02:26 PM

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One of the big decisions you’ll have to make if you’re shopping for a new LCD TV over Black Friday (or any time soon) is whether to pay more for a TV with 240Hz technology or 120Hz. These technologies are often advertised as reducing the blur in fast motion that has been an inherent problem for LCD TVs with the standard 60Hz refresh rate. It won’t cost you too much more for 120Hz, which has become fairly common over the past two years, but 240Hz is still available mainly on larger and pricier sets. My colleague, Jim Willcox, blogged on this a few months ago, and I think the eve of Black Friday is the perfect time to remind you of his advice, while adding a few findings from our latest tests.

Is 240Hz worth it? That depends. Our tests have shown that LCD TVs that quadruple the frame rate to true 240Hz can reduce motion blur in fast action scenes to the point that it’s barely noticeable, comparable to the rock-solid images on plasma TVs, which don’t suffer from motion blur. LCD TVs that double the frame rate to 120Hz, and those that use a 120Hz frame rate along with a scanning backlight to simulate 240Hz, don’t do as well, but they’re typically better than 60Hz TVs. Notice I said “typically.” That’s because the implementation of these technologies really determines how effective they are. We’ve found some models that show very little reduction in blur despite faster refresh rates. For our TV Ratings and reviews (available to subscribers), we test TVs on a model-by-model basis to show you which sets do a good job at reducing blur.

But blur might not be a big deal for you, depending on what you watch and how discerning of a viewer you are. Blur would be most obvious in sports, action movies, video games, and text moving across the screen in a ticker. When things speed up, you might notice details smearing or becoming difficult to discern. Blur is less obvious in programs with little motion, such as news or talk shows.

One important point to note is that the anti-blur feature is often linked to motion smoothing. This actually relates to something called “film judder,” which occurs when film, shot at 24 frames per second, is displayed on a 60Hz TV. (Video is shot at 30 frames per second, so it’s easier to present at 60Hz.) For film-based content, the TV must perform an operation called 3:2 pulldown, and the uneven cadence can cause a jerky effect, called judder. When you eliminate the judder that is characteristic of film, it makes the film look like video. In my opinion, it’s an odd, unnatural look, and I don’t care for it. But that’s purely a matter of personal preference.

On some TVs, you can leave the 120Hz or 240Hz refresh rate turned on while turning off the motion smoothing, and get the best of both worlds. But other sets have the two features tied together, so you can’t use the higher refresh rate without motion smoothing. Incidentally, every manufacturer calls these features by different names, both in ads and in the TV menus that enable you to turn these features on and off. So you won’t necessarily see the words “anti-blur” or “motion smoothing.” Ask the salesperson or look in the product manual or on the Web site to see what terms your TV brand uses.

So are these motion-blur technologies worth the extra money? There’s no easy answer. Look at sets with 60Hz, 120Hz, and 240Hz in the store, or check out a friend’s 240Hz at home to see if the difference is noticeable to you and worth whatever premium you’ll have to pay. Hope that helps. Happy shopping. – Eileen McCooey

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