How To Get (Some Of) Your Next-Gen Games To Run At 120 Frames Per Second

dirt 5 on the xbox series x
Dirt 5 has touted a framerate of 120 fps.
Screenshot: Codemasters

What’s the saying? “With great horsepower comes great framerates?” The next generation of gaming sure promises some great horsepower, which will allow many games from across generations to hit a framerate of 60 frames per second (fps). But some games will be able to run at double that, achieving a very pleasing 120 fps—that is, if you have the equipment to support it.

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To run games at 120 fps, you’ll need a recent TV that supports a refresh rate of 120Hz. You’ll also need an up-to-date HDMI 2.1 cable, and will have to make sure your TV has an HDMI port that can support HDMI 2.1. That’s the short version, but things are a little bit more complicated than that. C’mon, this is next-gen hardware we’re talking about. It’s against the rules for things to be so simple.

So, “Hz” equals “FPS”?

Not quite. Hz, which stands for “Hertz”—yes, like the rental car company that loves to slam you with $200 of surprise fees a month after the fact—is a measurement of the refresh rate of your screen. Simply put, the refresh rate is how often the on-screen image will update every second. (Anyone who plays games on a PC is well acquainted with the term. You may have heard your PC-gaming friends throw around the term “variable refresh rates” before, which is a whole thing we don’t need to get into today. For those interested, our colleagues at Lifehacker have a terrific explainer on variable refresh rates, and what such specs mean for gamers.)

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On the other hand, FPS is shorthand for “frames per second,” which dictates how many frames, or static images, your console sends to your TV every second.

So let’s suppose you have a new PlayStation 5 or Xbox Series X, and want to run a game at 120 fps. If your TV has a lower refresh rate—say, 60Hz, which is fairly standard these days—it literally won’t be able to show 120 fps. Your new console may be capable of sending 120 images to your TV every single second, but, if it’s capped at 60Hz, your TV can’t keep up. If the TV supports 120Hz it can, and both your console and your screen will update at the same frequency.

What’s this about HDMI 2.1?

HDMI cables are similar to every other type of cable in that they move data from one source (in this case, your console) to another (your TV screen). Moving more data, more quickly delivers a higher-fidelity result. If you’re playing on an Xbox One X or S or a PlayStation 4 Pro, it’s a good bet you’re currently using an HDMI 2.0 cable, which can move data at a speed of 18Gbps (gigabits per second). HDMI 2.1 ramps that up to 48Gbps, which can transfer 120 frames of 4K resolution every second. (4K usually means a resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels.) Legacy HDMI 2.0 technology can still hit a refresh rate of 120Hz, but not at that crisp 4K.

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The HDMI cables included with both the Xbox Series X and the PlayStation 5 can hit those high speeds as outlined by HDMI 2.1. (Both cables literally have “high speed” embossed on the input part, so you know they’re fast.) So long as you’re planning on using the included cables for either machine, you’re all set on that front. The only other investment you’ll need is a capable TV.

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Okay, so what will that cost me?

It surely won’t surprise you to hear that TVs fitting these specs aren’t common—and certainly aren’t cheap. LG’s CX OLED is a high-rated one that will do the trick. The 55-inch model is currently available at Best Buy for $1,400. (Usually, at that size, it’s $1,700.) A same-sized Samsung Q80T QLED, which will also work and is also praised across the internet, is currently on sale for $1,100. (That’s down from $1,300.)

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If you’re going to spend big on a new TV—a big “if”—then be sure to practice the cardinal rule of TV shopping: patience. Yes, as of this writing, those aforementioned 120Hz TVs are up for grabs at a lower price than typical. But we’re not even in the high season of TV markdowns. That’s later this month, when the Black Friday/Cyber Monday long weekend kicks off. (Other big holiday sale weekends, like Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Independence Day, also see major sales across the retail industry, though none are as significant.) The TV release cycle also tends to start in the spring, when manufacturers will release new models and retailers will slash prices on last year’s dusty old tech. And, of course, there’s the pinnacle of TV-watching weekends: the Super Bowl.

Is the investment worth it?

That’s up to you. Hitting 120 fps will make playing games feel as smooth as driving on a fresh-paved highway. No question about that. But the truth is that most PS5 and Xbox Series X games won’t be able to hit that 4K/120 fps target, at least not in the launch window.

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On November 17, Halo: The Master Chief Collection will receive an update that will allow it to hit 120 fps, and at 4K if you have an Xbox Series X. Gears 5 is another big one. On the cross-platform front, Call of Duty: Black Ops: Cold War will hit that 4K/120 fps mark. Dirt 5 is another notable cross-gen game that has touted triple-digit framerates, which Digital Foundry has already explored in detail. But other than that, the pickings are slim. Courtesy of the folks at Windows Central, here’s a full list of Xbox Series X games that will, one day soon, be able to run at 120 fps. And here’s a comparable, though notably way shorter, list of similar games for the PS5. Down the line, once we’re well into this generation, more games will likely promise such pleasantly high framerates. For the moment, unless you’re the type who pours all of their free time into one game, you’ll likely just be investing in tech to amplify a small fraction of your video game library.

Not so long ago, it seemed like every TV that could display an eye-popping 4K resolution would go on sale with an equally eye-popping price tag. Now, 4K resolution is de rigueur. You can pick up a perfectly workable 4K model for a fraction of what you’d have paid for it just a few years back. Of course, it’s impossible to predict how the market will behave. But it’s a pretty safe bet that what’s considered top-of-the-line now will become standard eventually, and price tags will reflect that. If the prices mentioned above give you cold feet, your current HDTV will likely still give you a fine experience with the next-gen consoles, albeit without some of the higher-end features. And when, in a few years, 4K/120Hz HDTVs dip to a more palatable price point, your console will be ready to step up with you.

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Staff Writer, Kotaku

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DISCUSSION

NicholasPayne
Nicholas Payne

It’s worth noting that as framerates increase, pixel response times become a more and more relevant metric to maintain a crisp image, and Samsung’s QLEDs in this range have a ~3 ms response time, while LG’s OLED is around 0.3 ms, so roughly 10x faster.