4K is amazing, but it turns out 21:9 is more amazing-er…
A few years back I wrote a piece declaring 4K resolution as the next step in gaming perfection that provided an unmatched experience. And truly it did. But now, three long years later, some of my biggest gripes about 4K gaming have yet to be fixed, and ultrawides have hit the scene in a dramatic way.
If you are unfamiliar with the term ultrawide, it is used to describe and market a particular set of monitors with an aspect ratio of 21:9 rather than the more common 16:9. Basically, as the name suggests, it’s a wider version of widescreen. In actuality, it’s a format that is much more common than you might think, and it’s very close to a standard cinema resolution. If you have ever watched a movie on your widescreen TV and still had black bars on the top and bottom, that movie is actually a 21:9 movie.
But aside from a better movie experience, a 21:9 screen can make your gaming experience much more immersive and entertaining. You’ve seen all the wild three-screen monitor setups for racing games. Now with a 21:9 monitor, you can get closer to that kind of experience with a single screen. The image you see here was captured at 21:9 and then we cropped it in to 16:9 as a comparison. As you can see, you get almost the entire front dash in the view and you get a quick glimpse at the rearview mirror also. Having this extra periphery makes following your racing line easier and gives you a quicker and easier look at potential competitors charging up from behind you.
But ultrawide monitors have some extra bonuses over 4K beyond the extra screen space. You see, despite graphics cards for computers getting much more powerful over the last three years, running at game at 4K resolution is still really hard. Our current PC, Project Stingray features two GTX 980Ti graphics cards, and it still struggles with a lot of games at 4K. The 3440×1440 resolution of most 21:9 displays is about 30% easier to run on average.
Which brings us to the best part about using an ultrawide. Most of them have high refresh rates.
The refresh rate of your monitor is sort of like a framerate. A 100Hz monitor can show 100 images per second, which means that your gaming experience will be much smoother. All currently availably 4K monitors for consumers run at 60Hz or less. And if you want to get really crazy, Asus is supposed to have a 200Hz ultrawide next year, and Samsung launched a monitor that is even wider, at 32:9.
So to recap, ultrawide 21:9 monitors give you faster refresh rates, a more immersive field of view, and they are easier to run than a 4K display. That is a big pile of win. Now, to be fair, we still think 4K gaming is the future, but until we can get faster refresh rates and more powerful GPUs, 4K gaming isn’t as good as 21:9 right now.