This is a video of Mario Kart playing on the Wii U. I know, you might not play video games. That’s not the point. Watch it anyway, using YouTube’s 1080P60 setting, starting about 10 seconds in. Oh, and make sure you’re using the Chrome web browser.
Is that not one of the most gorgeous, fluid videos you’ve ever seen on YouTube? There’s a reason. It’s coming to your screen at 60 frames per second (FPS), which is twice the frame rate that YouTube used to support.
For the human eye to see and understand motion, it needs about 12-15 FPS. For that motion to feel smooth, you need something more like 30FPS, which is why video cameras and YouTube alike have long supported 30FPS as standard. And for rendering traditional film content–which Hollywood actually recorded at a more flickery 24FPS–30FPS is more than adequate.
But modern animation, be it in video games, user interface, or Pixar films, is typically rendered at a much higher frame rate in order to produce a silkier, more immersive experience. Because, while lower frame rates like 24FPS have a romantic look in classic films, 24FPS is nowhere near fast enough to make a video game feel right when you’re playing it. Once you tip below 30FPS, a game feels choppy. And as you approach 60FPS, it looks more than smooth; it just looks right.
Frame rate is equally important for user interface in apps and operating systems because it helps everything feel more responsive–here’s a nice side-by-side-by-side of 15FPS, 30FPS, and 60FPS. As app developer and former Apple Software Engineer Allen Pike puts it, “Your goal is 60 frames per second, the natural frame rate of the device…” pointing out that, with growing exceptions we won’t get into here, our LCD displays actually refresh at 60Hz (or, for all intents and purposes, 60FPS).
Indeed, one NASA paper (PDF) states that 60Hz or FPS is a reasonable peak for what humans can distinguish on a stationary monitor, though there’s some debate as to just what the human eye’s max frame rate may be–a highly cited Air Force study that we couldn’t actually find points out that pilots were found they could identify an image that flashed as quickly as 1/220th of a second (and it implies we may perceive frame rates that are even higher). But until we reach that hypothetical point, realize that any animation you post or watch on YouTube now has the potential to look a whole lot better. And that’s thanks to 60FPS.