Rhinoviruses are important human respiratory viruses and the major causative agents of the common cold. Historically, detection of rhinovirus has been by virus culture and this was significantly improved by the use of PCR assays. Recently real-time PCR was developed but to date there have been no reported comparisons of conventional and real-time PCR assays for detection of rhinovirus. In this study, we first compared real-time PCR (SYBR Green I) to conventional PCR for the detection of rhinovirus in serially diluted standard DNA and rhinovirus stock to determine the limits of detection. Next, assays were compared for sensitivity to detect rhinovirus in cell culture with a known number of infected cells. Finally, the assays were compared using clinical samples known to contain rhinovirus. Real-time PCR was 10-fold more sensitive than conventional PCR to detect rhinovirus in standard DNA and in virus stock and >10-fold more sensitive to detect rhinovirus in cultured cells. Real-time PCR was significantly superior for detection of rhinovirus in patients' nasal aspirates (sensitivity 72% versus 39%, P < 0.05). In summary, we found that real-time PCR was more sensitive than conventional PCR and reduced post-PCR processing. Hence, real-time PCR is suitable for both research and clinical purposes.