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How will anyone make good use of a 500 Hz monitor, Asus?

How will anyone make good use of a 500 Hz monitor, Asus?

There is such a thing as a step too far in computer hardware, this might be the best 2022 example of that
Asus and nVidia are promoting a new specialized PC monitor that’s more than 8 times faster than the typical 60 Hz computer displays out there. Numbers matter… or do they? (Image: DC Studio, Freepik)

Oh, come on, you know the drill. Computer hardware companies keep releasing products of seemingly outlandish specifications at a quicker pace than ever and computer nerds, upon learning about those products, often react rather predictably. “Damn, what are people going to do with all those 20TB hard drives in their PCs?” or “Geez, who needs 128 CPU cores on a desktop?” or “Are you sure you can tell the difference between a 7.5 GB/s SSD and a 14 GB/s SSD in everyday use?”

Truth is, of course, that even if it takes applications or data some time to catch up, the most outlandish specs of today will look practically normal at some point down the line. But there is a type of hardware product that does seem pointless when announced: it is the kind of product that, in practice, does not take human physiology into account. At all.

Congratulations, Asus. You’ve now announced exactly this type of product.

Five hundred Hertz in search of purpose

Yes, this is about that Asus ROG Swift 500 Hz monitor, which has already received its fair share of criticism and irony from several outlets already — but for reasons other than the most important one, it seems. This monitor was announced a few days back during Computex by Asus and nVidia as “the next step” in the evolution of high-framerate supporting displays and, on paper, it is: as its name suggests, it is a monitor capable of refreshing its picture 500 times every second, more than 8 times faster than most monitors in the market today.

This is the first PC monitor offering a 500 Hz refresh rate. What gamers — even pros — are supposed to do with it is another story. (Image: Asus)

Let that sink in: from a refresh rate of 60 Hz — where they had been stuck for almost three decades — PC monitors began supporting 120 Hz in 2010, 144 Hz in 2012, 240 Hz in 2017, 360 Hz in 2020… and now there’s a model promising to make the biggest jump yet, to 500 Hz. Needless to say, as with 240Hz/360Hz models past, this new monitor is clearly not targetted at casual gamers or even “just” demanding ones. It’s built for e-sports professionals, who can (theoretically) take advantage of such high framerates in games such as Valorant, Apex Legends, Overwatch, Counter-Strike: GO or Rainbow Six: Siege through extensive practice and skill.

Many media outlets have already painted the Asus ROG Swift 500 in a bad light because of its other tech specs. Some have pointed out, for instance, that as a 1080p monitor it just doesn’t offer the kind of detail a 1440p or a 4K monitor does. Resolution is not as important for e-sports as pure speed but is still extremely useful (1440p at 144–175 Hz is considered to be the sweet spot for e-sports titles right now).

Others have pointed out that the overall image quality a monitor is capable of delivering should not be underestimated, as high contrast and good colors bring out more discernible detail in all games (and monitors based on TN do not offer that). Others still have noted that a 24-inch monitor is not ideal for e-sports anyway. But, in all honesty, that’s not why this particular monitor is practically pointless. No. There are more… obvious reasons.

The most important limitation: humans themselves

A 500FPS/500Hz setup makes no sense because there will hardly be any gamers out there — yes, even among e-sports professionals — who can actually tell the difference between that and a 360FPS/360Hz setup. Several outlets have published articles on the subject in the past, but it was a couple of videos by Linus Tech Tips that demonstrated this convincingly — with the help of top competitive gamers no less — all the way back in 2019. Even then it was clear that the jump between 144 Hz and 240 Hz was far less important than the one between 60 Hz and 144 Hz. Let alone one to 360 Hz or 500 Hz.

Asus’ monitor is squarely targeted at PC gamers playing competitively and/or professionally, but even they won’t be able to make good use of it easily. (Florian Olivo, Unsplash)

The actual situation with high-refresh-rate monitors is simple: not only are there diminishing returns in going from a lower FPS/Hz combination to a higher one past a certain point, but even pro players can’t make good use of the difference between the two most recent higher refresh rates (240 Hz and 360 Hz) in practice. The difference between 60 Hz and 120/144 Hz is immense and clearly seen by all gamers. The difference between 144 Hz and 240 Hz is largely not felt by casual gamers or even regular gamers, it’s far less noticeable by most pro gamers and it’s only a few of those that can actually make use of it. The difference between 240 Hz and 360 Hz is only discerned by a small minority of pro gamers and even they admit that it’s too small to meaningfully help their performance.

So one can easily imagine what these top, extremely talented, pro gamers — who most probably play at 144/175/240 Hz depending on resolution — will find out when they experiment with the 500 FPS/500 Hz setup Asus and nVidia are promoting. Even if they do notice a difference, it will probably be far too small to make use of.

The latency observed by a monitor as fast as this Asus ROG Swift is so low that most pro gamers just aren’t quick enough to take advantage of it. (Image: Sean Do, Unsplash)

Chances are that the very best among those pro gamers will only feel, rather than see, a difference in terms of latency (the delay between the input of a command and the display of its result). This is not unimportant or irrelevant, but it is still minimal: latency is greatly reduced from 60 Hz to 144 Hz (16.67ms to 6.95ms), then much less reduced at 240 Hz (4.17 ms), then almost imperceptibly reduced at 360 Hz (2.78ms). Only a few pro gamers in the world routinely demonstrate reaction times lower than 2ms in most popular competitive titles, though, so how would they take advantage of the reduced latency anyway?

At the end of the day, that is why the Asus ROG Swift 500 Hz is rather pointless: not only will there be few, if any, competitive gamers able to see the difference in refresh rate speed between that monitor and the best current 360 Hz models, but even those professionals that do see it won’t be able to make the most out of it latency-wise. The saddest part in all of this? There’s definitely going to be a “1000 Hz” gaming monitor at some point: one can easily picture the marketing material screaming “1 GHz Monitor FTW!” right now. It’s just too bad that it will only be tested by robots.

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