If you’ve ever been in a gaming comments section, you know the debates rage on between PC games and people who prefer consoles. One of the big ones that comes up is frame rate, since the powerful graphics cards in PCs are often able to display more frames per second than their console counterparts.
A common argument is that the human eye can only see X amount of frames per second, making the extra power of the PC useless for any practical purposes. This is often debated, and finally a group of cognitive scientists have gotten together to set the argument to rest once and for all.
The answer really isn’t as cut and dry as we’d hope, but it is very interesting. What makes things even more tricky is that the researchers believe that gamers have superior vision to start with, compared to the general population.
“If you’re working with gamers, you’re working with a really weird population of people who are probably operating close to maximal levels,” says DeLong.
The general message is that there’s a LOT more to it than frames per second. Our eyes perceive light different than movement, and in certain cases trying to compare frame rates can be like comparing apples and oranges, because it depends on what you’re seeing, not just how quickly it refreshes.
As gamers, we obsess over our frames per second, but does it really make a difference?
There are physical limits on what our eyes can perceive, because light has to pass through our eyes and be processed by our brains.
“The whole of what we perceive is greater than what any one element of our visual system can achieve.” explains Alex Wiltshire from PC Gamer, who put together a very in-depth piece on this topic, which you should check out if you want to go deep.
To summarize it, here’s a quote from Professor Thomas Busey from Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences:
“Certainly 60 Hz is better than 30 Hz, demonstrably better. So that’s one internet claim quashed. And since we can perceive motion at a higher rate than we can a 60 Hz flickering light source, the level should be higher than that, but he won’t stand by a number. “Whether that plateaus at 120 Hz or whether you get an additional boost up to 180 Hz, I just don’t know.”
He goes on to explain that 200 Hz is basically going to look like real life.
There’s also a difference between how quickly our eyes and process this information, and how long it takes us to react. It takes time for our brains to process the visual information and to react to it, and some argue that because of that, the frame rate in a game really doesn’t make a difference.
“It’s clear from the literature that you cannot see anything more than 20 Hz,” says Adrien Chopin, a cognitive sciences researcher.
One commenter pointed out the following: “I think Chopin is mixing things up. He is answering the question how quick can you process visual information, but that is not the question, the question is how many fps can you see.”
So, once you factor in the differences in lightning and motion, and our reaction times, and everything else, frankly it’s still pretty confusing, but if you’ve ever sat down and compared the difference between 30 frames per second and 120 frames per second, it’s pretty obvious. They say once you get above 90 it gets harder and harder to sell the difference. For example, comparing 30 and 60 is much more noticeable than comparing 90 and 120 frames per second.