Motion Rate Vs. Refresh Rate: Fake Marketing BS?

When 120Hz TV’s came out, the difference in picture was amazing. Shoppers simply had to look for a 120Hz refresh rate in order to get the best picture quality for sports and action movies.

Then manufacturers came out with something called “Motion Rate” to make things more complicated.

So what’s the difference between motion rate and refresh rate?

Is it all just marketing hype to try to sell you a better product?

If you’re planning on buying a TV and terms like LG TruMotion 240, Sony MotionFlow 960, and Samsung Motion Rate 120 seem ambiguous, this article will help clear all the confusion.

Let’s get started.

What Is Refresh Rate?

Televisions and computer monitors refresh their image thousands of times each second. To quantify that in a way that’s easy for consumers to understand, they use a unit called Hertz, which is equal to one cycle (refreshes) per second.

For example, if an image is redrawn 120 times in a second, the rate is expressed as 120 Hertz or 120 Hz.

For many years, 60 Hz was the old television standard for many years, but we’ve come a long way since then. In general, the higher the refresh rate, the clearer and sharper the image, and the less flickering you’ll see.

Some high-end gaming monitors have already broken 200Hz refresh rates, so it’s only a matter of time before we see that start to appear on televisions. For now, the most common refresh rates you’ll see on TV’s are 60Hz and 120Hz…even for the really high-end TV’s.

What Is Motion Rate?

By comparison, motion rate is a much newer concept, largely developed by the manufacturer’s marketing department.

Introduced by Samsung a few years ago, it uses software to enhance the image’s ability to display fast-moving objects smoothly.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to group a lot of similar technology under the term “motion rate”. This includes:

  • Samsung Clear Motion Rate
  • LG TruMotion
  • Sony MotionFlow
  • TCL Clear Motion Index
  • Hisense Motion Rate
  • Vizio Dynamic Motion Rate

While refresh rate measures the number of times the TV panel can physically redraw the image per second, motion rate also takes software and AI enhancements into account. In general, the Motion Rate of a TV is double the hardware refresh rate.

The easiest way to explain this is that it’s similar to comparing the optical zoom and digital zoom on your camera. Optical zoom is all about the lens itself, while digital zoom is software the mimics a higher zoom, but it’s not quite as good.

Previously, you could use the refresh rate to get a good idea of how smooth an image was going to be. Faster refresh rates were critical when watching sports and action movies.

With a higher refresh rate, there’s less motion blur around fast-moving objects. You can clearly see the player’s name and jersey number, even when running or skating.

The idea was that, although refresh rate was very important, it wasn’t the only factor when we’re talking about motion clarity.

Motion Rate Vs. Refresh Rate: According to TV Manufacturers

even though “motion rate” is marketing hype, there’s still some value in understanding the technology behind it, and how to read the numbers. Different TV manufacturers have different ways of trying to get you the smoothest picture possible. But all of them will factor in the panel refresh rate, image processor speed and backlight technology.

Here are some examples:

1. Samsung: Clear Motion Rate

Samsung was one of the first manufacturers to start using the term ‘motion rate’, and they’ve advanced it for their 4K and 8K TVs.

Usually, the motion rate is twice the TV’s native refresh rate. Therefore, a motion rate of 120Hz means the TV has a native refresh rate of 60Hz, while a motion rate of 240 means the native refresh rate is 120Hz.

The cheapest TVs have a Motion Rate of 60 and indicate that the native refresh rate is 60Hz.

2. LG: TruMotion

Today, LG lists their TruMotion number followed by the native refresh rate of the panel. It’s easy to interpret because the native refresh rate indicated is double the actual one.

For example, TruMotion 120 means a native refresh rate of 60 Hz, while TruMotion 240 means a native refresh rate of 120Hz. In most cases, they use the short form of TruMotion—TM.

3. Sony: MotionFlow XR & XR Motion Clarity

With MotionFlow, Sony used to use an arbitrary scale to try to inflate their numbers. Thankfully, they’ve stopped doing this for their current TV lineup and reverted back to using true refresh rates. They still list what motion smoothing technology the TV has, but listing the real refresh rates makes shopping for a new TV significantly easier than it used to be.

If you’re looking at an older Sony TV, in general, the number 240 in Sony represents a native 60Hz native refresh rate. Anything higher than that can usually mean a native refresh rate of 120Hz. Even a Motionflow XR 1440 has a native refresh rate of 120Hz.

4. TCL: Clear Motion Index

TCL doubles the actual refresh rate. For their cheapest or smallest models, 60/120Hz CMI, the native refresh rate is usually 60Hz.

All current TCL models have a refresh rate of 60Hz, except for the 75-inch 6 Series, which has a native refresh rate of 120Hz. The 75-inch 6 Series is their most expensive TV.

5. Vizio: Effective Refresh Rate

Just like most other TV manufacturers, Vizio has a term they use to indicate their refresh rate. Their Effective Refresh Rate is twice the actual native refresh rate.

Often, it includes a Clear Action number, which can be confusing. But in a nutshell, this is triple the ERR, meaning it’s six times the native refresh rate. In the real sense, it doesn’t mean much as far as the refresh rate is concerned.

How to Determine a TV’s Refresh Rate

If you’re more interested in a TV’s native refresh rate than it’s motion rate, you may have to do a little digging. Most TV manufacturers will boldly list the inflated motion rate number on their ads. However, you’ll usually need to dig through the product specifications in order to find the TV panel’s native refresh rate.

Additionally, you could go the extra mile and look for a more detailed TV review from an independent source. Personally, I recommend RTINGS for television reviews. They purchase all of the TV’s themselves, so they won’t be swayed to say something nice about a TV just because they got it for free.

Motion Enhancement Technology

TV manufacturers use certain technologies to improve motion clarity. Two primary techniques to enhance this include:

1. Black Frame Insertion (BFI)

Some manufacturers insert black frames between the actual frames to improve motion clarity.

While this may seem counter-intuitive, it happens so fast that the human eye can’t even notice the black frame. Because it only lasts a tiny fraction of a second, the blur effect due to fast-moving objects is much reduced.

That said, Black Frame Insertion has its downside. Once you enable it, the overall image brightness greatly decreases.

An alternative to Black Frame Insertion, common in gaming monitors, is the Backlight-Strobing technology. This is an automation where the backlight turns on and off to reduce motion blur. In this case, there’s no need to insert black frames.

Backlight strobing usually makes the viewing experience smoother.

2. Frame Rate Interpolation

Frame Rate Interpolation commonly referred to as the “soap opera effect,” works similar to black frame insertion in that the image processor is simulating additional frames per second. However, instead of a black frame, the processor in the TV generates “unreal” frames, depending on the next and previous frames.

Most people call it the soap opera effect because it makes everything appear unusually sharp and crisp, like TV soap operas. In general, people tend to dislike the Frame Rate Interpolation feature. 

But for some, especially sports lovers or people who often watch high frame rate content, it’s a favorite.

The good thing is that if a TV supports this feature, the chances are that you will be able to lower it to a more recognizable look. 

Refresh Rate vs. Motion Rate: The Verdict

Most manufacturers will use some sort of software enhancements, like black frame insertion or frame rate interpolation to improve a TV’s motion clarity. To differentiate this from the panel’s hardware (native) refresh rate, they call this the TV’s motion rate.

TV manufacturers use such marketing gimmicks to lead you into thinking that the TV has a refresh rate of 240Hz. However, that’s not the case. It simply means that the TV is 120Hz but can simulate 240 frames per second (240 FPS).

That sounds confusing, and it can be. But remember, you can still compare TV’s from different brands by using the TV’s native refresh rate. Although you may have to go digging for it in the specifications.

In general, most TV brand features have the term ‘Motion’ followed by a number like 120, 240, or higher.

It’s safe to assume that a TV with a motion rate of 120 indicates that the TV comes with a 60Hz native panel. On the other hand, the higher numbers mean that the TV features a native 120Hz panel. 

Tim Wells