Ultra-wide screens are great. I have purchased several 21:9 panels over the years and they have been my best gaming monitors.
There’s a lot to love about that aspect ratio. It’s perfect for juggling multiple Google Chrome Windows and the kind of daily computing tasks I do at work during the week. The form factor just looks great. And when it comes to gaming, 21:9 can add a lot of immersion by offering a natural canvas that lets you expand your field of view setup.
Ironically though, it’s video games that often let the ultra-wide format down. The vast majority of PC and Mac users still use 16:9 displays, so I understand why developers going into ultra-wide features isn’t a high priority. That’s not to say these studios won’t continue to disappoint ultrawide fans.
The real problem with ultra-wide support in the best PC games comes down to cutscenes. Almost all games are released with 16:9 full screen cinematics.
Sure, you get the weird anomaly like Red Dead Redemption 2 where the aspect ratio is actually 21:9 but it’s displayed letterboxed, meaning you’re presented with large horizontal black bars across the screen during cutscenes. However, with the vast majority of PC titles, the problem is the vertical bars.
Playing racing and sports games on an ultra-wide monitor is great. The exaggerated aspect ratio makes every spin and kick that much more immersive.
That’s not the case with story-based games.
Even in 2023, when 21:9 monitors have been around for years, very few developers go the extra mile to support the ultrawide format when it comes to story scenes. While almost every title I launch on my Alienware AW3423DWF runs smoothly with no black bars during gameplay at the monitor’s native resolution (3440 x 1440), the problems add up as soon as the cutscenes hit the screen.
Aging Destiny 2 and The Last of Us Part 1 are two rare examples where studios have gone the extra mile to remaster their cutscenes for proper ultrawide support. The difference between watching a pivotal scene with vertical bars and seeing the full screen of the screen used is a big deal for this ultra-wide aficionado.
The best non-gaming comparison I can make is to legendary directors and actors like Christopher Nolan or Tom Cruise telling you to watch Oppenheimer in the IMAX format it was designed for instead of on TV, or that you learn to turn off motion smoothing before watching the upcoming Blu-ray version of Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part 1.
Ultrawide is an amazing format; one that is deeply tied to the history of cinema. 21:9 monitors display essentially the same widescreen 2.35.1 Cinemascope format that has dominated Hollywood for decades. It’s the annoying reason why even the best TVs in 2023 still show black bars when showing movies because they’re limited by their 16:9 aspect ratio.
I love 21:9 monitors, and I love them even more now that Alienware has developed ultra-wide OLEDs.
However, until PC developers show that extra care when transferring games from console, the vertical black bars will continue to kill my immersion during cutscenes.