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4K vs. 165Hz: Is There A Difference?

The different technologies aimed at gamers can be overwhelming. For example, some monitors get measured in hertz and have a set maximum resolution. In contrast, computer graphics get measured in frames per second and resolution.

“4K” measures how many pixels a monitor has, while “165Hz refers to the refresh rate, or how often those pixels can be updated. While high quality monitors of 4k resolution look better than 1080p monitors, this upgrade is much less expensive than the upgrade to 165Hz, which very few people need. 

They are not the same, but you might prioritize one over the other based on your personal preferences. Let’s examine the difference between the two measurements and determine which is best for you. 

What is 4K?

4K LG Display

4K is a resolution, something we hear about in gaming. But what exactly is a resolution? It is a measurement of how many pixels a monitor has. 


Pixels are the small units that together form a picture on your monitor. Each pixel can only display a single color at a time. There are many different pixels, and the precise kind defines your monitor type.

Some examples include LED pixels, OLED pixels, and Quantum-Dot OLED pixels. Of course, different kinds of pixels work differently. An individual pixel from any technology is the smallest individual unit of detail. 

Pixel Measurements

The naming convention for the number of pixels a monitor has is arbitrary. What matters is the real-world pixel count of a monitor. It gets measured by the pixels running your monitor’s width and the pixels running the height. 

For example, the earliest proper high-definition monitors had a resolution of 1920 by 1080p. That means the screen had 1920 lines of pixels that ran the screen’s width and 1080 that ran the height. 

Pixel Density

Together these measurements describe the total number of pixels your monitor has. So 1920 x 1080 = 2,073,600. That amount of pixels gets spread over a screen size like 32 inches. Now you can measure the number of pixels per inch, or PPI.

The 1080p 32-inch monitor will have a PPI of 69. So 69 pixels per inch. That is not a great specification. 

The fewer the pixels per inch, the larger each pixel is, and the easier it is for your eyes to distinguish individual pixels.

The higher the pixel count per inch, the smaller each pixel. That is what one aims for with a higher resolution, like 4K. Furthermore, the smaller the pixel, the harder it is to tell pixels apart. That results in a beautifully detailed picture with no hardware pixelation. 

4K is a resolution of 3840 x 2160, which equals 8,294,400 pixels. That is exactly four times 2,073,600, or 1920 x 1080. Thus the “4” in 4K. The monitor has four times the resolution. 

If we spread 8,294,400 pixels across a 32-inch monitor, we get 138 PPI. That means each pixel is smaller and more challenging to spot. 

Note: The PPI does not scale by four on a 4K monitor because monitors are measured diagonally from corner to corner.

The Human Eye

There is, of course, the matter of how much is too much when it comes to resolution. There are some great technologies in modern gaming, many of which sound almost too good. Often, that is the case, but not because the tech doesn’t work.

An example of this is HDR. It is a fantastic technology to display high contrast levels in small intervals. It makes games pop with inky black levels, and light sources can seem blinding. But there is a catch.

Past a certain point, the human brain can’t perceive minor variations in contrast, and there isn’t much room for improvement. But companies still need to make new monitors sound like an improvement on the older models.

Then one starts getting meaningless iterations on something that can’t get much better for human perception. The new tech usually does work, and one can measure it under testing conditions, but it’s all hollow technical jargon. 

That principle applies to screen resolution. For example, the late Steve Jobs claimed the human eye could only differentiate a maximum of 326 PPI from a distance of 12 inches. 

Viewing Distance

So far, there is little to prove Steve Jobs wrong, and the same principle plays a significant role in TVs and computer monitors. For example, pixels might be discernible if you had your face 12 inches from the screen all the time on a 32-inch 4K monitor. 

But you likely don’t game like that. If you do, 32 inches is far too big of a screen. So instead, you probably view your screen from a couple of feet away. 

There is a loosely exponential factor to our vision. The further you are from your monitor, the harder it becomes to see any pixels. So even with brilliant eyesight, you won’t see a difference between a 32-inch 1080p and a 32-inch 4K monitor from 20 feet away. 

What is 165Hz?

My home office desk setup for freelance web development work

Hertz, abbreviated as Hz, has no direct correlation with resolutions like 4K. Instead, hertz measures how many times a monitor can refresh its screen every second. 

When one speaks of refreshing the picture or refresh rate, it refers to the speed at which the screen can change its pixels to a brand-new image.

Why Does This Matter?

The earliest movies played at sixteen frames per second. That means that each second, sixteen images, or photos, got projected onto the screen. 

Sixteen frames never convinced the human eye that it sees motion. Instead, it was closer to what we think of as stop-frame animation. 

Soon after, they showed movies at twenty-four frames per second. For the time being, it was a giant leap. Today we would see it as a film quickly flickering through images to almost create convincing motion.

The classic movie, Around The World In 80 Days, filmed in 1956, was one of the earliest shots in thirty frames per second. That became a golden standard, and thirty FPS remains a popular frame rate today. 

Gaming and Frames Per Second

The film industry aimed to find a frame rate that created the illusion of movement without any flicker. Thirty frames per second cut it. Then, finally, the immersion braking flicker was no longer noticeable, and movement was fluid. 

Gaming changed that. There was a time when games were little more than interactive still frames. Today, they are competitive blockbusters that require perfect precision and exact response times.

Thirty frames per second are fine to watch but don’t cut it when interacting with the environment and other players. Today, some extreme monitors boast ridiculous refresh rates.

Human Limitations

Gaming monitors today are marketed on two things—resolution and refresh rate. But, just as with resolution, there is a threshold to the number of frames you can see per second. 

With many studies as confirmation, medical science tells us that the human eye can’t perceive much more than sixty frames per second. That is the equivalent of 60 Hz. So that range could fall between 60 and 120 Hz. 

That is why a 120 Hz monitor represents the refresh rate cap that impacts gaming response time. Anything higher is, medically speaking, indistinguishable.


That brings us back to how HDR values become meaningless at some point. As long as you convince a competitive gamer that bigger numbers mean better results, you can keep adding to meaningless specifications and selling new monitors.

165Hz vs. 4K: Which is Better?

Because there is no direct correlation between the refresh rate and the resolution of your monitor, you can’t compare the two. However, if you want both features, you can buy a 4K, 165 Hz monitor.

The question is about which feature to sacrifice if a 165 Hz 4K monitor is priced out of your budget. In that case, the resolution is the clear winner. That is, as long as the 4K monitor you plan on buying has a refresh rate between 60 and 120 Hz. 

Does a Higher Refresh Rate Matter?

A higher refresh rate is essential. However, it has diminishing returns. Upward to 60 Hz, the human eye cannot distinguish faster refresh rates. Therefore, the ideal middle ground for a gaming monitor is 120 Hz. 

Which Type of Graphic Card is Best for 4K and 165Hz?

The answer depends on your budget. If money is no concern, why not get a GeForce RTX 4090? Realistically that is outside most people’s budget for a gaming graphics card. 

All of the high-performance cards in NVidia’s RTX series and most AMD premium RX cards will give you value for money. 

Most importantly, the top models of these cards should run games that use your monitor’s specs. Naturally, the more premium the price, the more performance you should get.