Ultrawide displays are great. I’ve bought several 21:9 panels over the years, and they’ve been my best gaming monitors.
There’s just so much to love about that aspect ratio. It’s perfect for juggling multiple Google Chrome windows and the sort of daily computing tasks I tackle for work throughout the week. The form factor simply looks cool. And when it comes to games, 21:9 can add so much immersion by offering a natural canvas to let you expand your field of view settings.
Yet ironically, it's video games that often let the ultrawide format down. The vast majority of PC and Mac users still use 16:9 displays, so I get why developers going all in on ultrawide features isn’t a huge priority. That doesn’t mean these studios aren’t still disappointing ultrawide fans.
The real issue with ultrawide support in the best PC games boils down to cutscenes. Almost every game is released with fullscreen 16:9 cinematics.
Sure, you get the odd anomaly like Red Dead Redemption 2 — where the aspect ratio is actually 21:9 but shown in letterbox form, meaning you're presented with large horizontal black bars on screen during cutscenes. With the vast majority of PC titles though, the problem is vertical bars.
Playing racing and sports games on an ultrawide monitor is great. The exaggerated aspect ratio makes every turn and kick that much more immersive.
That’s not the case for story-driven games.
Ultrawide of the mark
Even in 2023, when 21:9 monitors have existed for years, so few developers go the extra mile to support the ultrawide format when it comes to story scenes. While almost every title I boot up on my Alienware AW3423DWF runs without fuss and with no black bars during gameplay at the monitor’s native resolution (3,440 x 1,440), the problems pile up as soon as cinematics hit the screen.
The ageing Destiny 2 and The Last of Us Part 1 are two rare examples where studios have gone the extra mile to remaster their cutscenes to offer proper ultrawide support. The difference between watching a crucial cutscene with vertical bars versus having your display’s full screen being utilized is a big deal for this ultrawide fan.
The best non-games comparison I can make is legendary directors and actors like Christopher Nolan or Tom Cruise telling you to watch Oppenheimer on the IMAX format it was intended for rather than on TV, or learning how to disable motion smoothing before you view that upcoming Blu-ray version of Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning Part 1.
Ultrawide is an amazing format; one that is deeply tied to movie history. 21:9 monitors essentially display the same 2.35.1 Widescreen Cinemascope format that has dominated Hollywood for decades. It’s the annoying reason that even the best TVs in 2023 still show black bars when showing movies because they’re limited by their 16:9 aspect ratio.
I adore 21:9 monitors, and I love them even more now that Alienware has developed OLED ultrawides.
Until PC devs show that extra care when porting games over from console though, vertical black bars will continue to kill my immersion during cutscenes.