120 Hz Gaining Ground

A new flat panel report from DisplaySearch indicates that the proportion of LCD panels with 120 Hz refresh increased from 12% in the second quarter of 2008 to 16% in the third quarter. This is a big increase: one third more in just one quarter.

The shift becomes more significant when you break it down by size. 120 Hz panels held just a 6% share in 32″ panels, increasing to 25% in 42″ panels, and a whopping 59% for panels 52″ and larger. The faster refresh rate is coming to dominate the larger sizes.

This makes sense on a number of fronts. LCD TV manufacturers are struggling to differentiate their products. After all, once they have the same 1080p resolution and a bunch of HDMI connectors, what more can you do to make an LCD panel in a plastic case more appealing or worth more to buyers? There isn’t much, except increase peformance. 120 Hz refresh does help reduce motion blur, so this could be viewed as a premium feature by consumers. I expect that it will soon become a standard feature, however, which won’t command a premium price but instead will be expected by consumers and sets without the feature will be at a competitive disadvantage.

The fact that 120 Hz is more popular in the larger sizes is also informative. One the one hand, the larger sizes tend to be the premium products, so it makes sense that people would pay a little more for the feature. Next, the electronics of the set represent a smaller portion of the total cost of the TV when you get to larger sizes, so manufacturers can afford to spend a little more on electronic features without it affecting their costs as much as it would with a smaller set.

But I think perhaps the most important reason is that 120 Hz probably doesn’t make as much difference on smaller sets. Now, this may sound strange at first glance. After all, if the sets have the same resolution, wouldn’t motion blur affect them equally? I haven’t seen any studies on this, but it is possible that the larger liquid crystal cell size of the larger panels might result in more blurring, but I don’t expect that’s a factor. Instead, I expect that people who buy smaller LCD TVs are buying them to save money. As a result, I expect that most people watch their 32″ sets from a distance much greater than the four feet that would be optimal. At a greater distance, the blur would be less noticeable, so adding 120 Hz refresh is not as important.

The fact remains, however, that everything else being equal, 120 Hz gives you sharper results for moving images. Given two choices at the same price, pick the one with 120 Hz.