The 21:9 aspect ratio has existed in film since the 1920’s, but it has only recently made its way in the modern-day house with the emergence of 21:9 computer monitors. With the technology still being in it’s early stages, buying a 21:9 monitor right now might make sense for the early adopters of new technology, but for some users it might be worthwhile to wait for the technology to mature before buying their first UltraWide. If you’re unsure if a 21:9 monitor is right for you, the content in this article will hopefully help you decide on your purchasing decision.
One of the biggest reasons to get an UltraWide monitor is productivity. Depending on the size and resolution, a single 21:9 monitor can easily replace two 16:9 monitors. Having one monitor is great for saving desk space and in a lot cases it can make a setup look cleaner. However, with certain operating systems like Windows 10, managing multiple windows on one screen is a bit harder than splitting windows across two separate screens. Windows features like aero snap and workspaces certainly help with managing screen real estate, but a tiling window manager is needed to truly maximize the efficiency of a single monitor.
In terms of media consumption an UltraWide monitor is a double-edged sword. Being able to watch 21:9 shows, movies, and videos without black bars on the top and bottom really does improve the viewing experience and can make a film much more immersive. However, issues can arise when trying to play 16:9 content on this aspect ratio. Depending on the source, the video will respond to the unique aspect ratio in two different ways. On some video players a 16:9 video will be stretched to fill the entire screen, which can cause odd distortion effects. Otherwise, two black bars will be added to the sides of the screen creating a smaller 16:9 area for the video to be viewed. The black bars are certainly noticeable, but aren’t nearly as distracting as the horizontal stretching. Fortunately, there are some browser plugins and patches that can fix video playback on popular sites, but this is hardly a solution for everything.
Much like video content, gaming in 21:9 can be a mixed bag. It takes more than just resolution to have an enjoyable 21:9 gaming experience. A lot of games are capable of rendering in 21:9, but they will still have many issues related to the aspect ratio. Some of the issues, such as improper HUD scaling, can be annoying but not critical. Other issues, such as limited field of view options, can really cripple the UltraWide gaming experience. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources that can be utilized to get games that don’t natively support the aspect ration to work properly.
Most of the gaming benefits of 21:9 are aesthetic, but there can be a competitive edge depending on the game being played. In games that involve a lot of driving the wider field of view makes a fairly big difference in the sense of speed, making it a lot more immersive. The extra screen space is also nice for seeing objects to the side, which can really improve driving performance. The wider field of view is also really beneficial in first and third person action games because it can allow you to see more objects and enemies on your screen than you can at a normal field of view. Even in games that are top-down, the extra screen space can be advantageous due to being able to see more of the environment and map.
After using a 21:9 monitor for about a month, it is very clear to me that the technology is still rather young and going through some growing pains. There are a lot of times when content doesn’t work the way it should, but when games and media do work the experience is significantly improved compared to 16:9. The boost in productivity is nice, but some extra work is required in order to really see a difference in productivity. The overall experience of an UltraWide monitor is certainly great, but the deciding factor of whether it’s right for you depends on how much tinkering you're willing to do on content that doesn't support 21:9 out of the box. If you’re willing to deal with some stretching, black bars, and the occasional window management frustration, I strongly recommend looking into a 21:9 monitor for your desk.
The monitor I am basing the content of this editorial on is the LG’s 29” 2560x1080 UltraWide monitor. This specific monitor is a perfect entry-level UltraWide monitor due to the size, resolution, and affordability. The screen size is big enough to offer a height similar to a standard 23” 16:9 monitor and small enough to offer a reasonable pixel density. Due to being 2560x1080 instead of 3440x1440 the monitor is also relatively inexpensive, making it a good product to test the UltraWide waters.