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Are widescreen monitors better for gaming? What sets them apart from other common types of monitors, and if they have a fundamental advantage, can it be subverted? Let’s dive deep answering these questions and more below.
A Brief on Widescreen Monitors and Common Display Aspect Ratios
First, a quick moment to establish the basics. A display’s “Aspect Ratio” is the ratio of its width to its height, and various aspect ratios are standard across different media or even eras of video games. For example, old pixel art console games are made explicitly to be run on a 4:3 interlaced display, and lose accuracy when stretched to fit a wider aspect ratio.
- 4:3 (“Fullscreen”): The standard “box” type aspect ratio established by CRT TVs and monitors of old.
- 16:9 (“Widescreen”): The modern-day standard “widescreen” aspect ratio made popular by the adoption of HDTVs and home theater experiences.
- 21:9 (“Ultrawide”): In the context of monitors, an enthusiast-oriented ultrawide display targets wide aspect ratio-supported content. Besides gaming, many films also benefit from an Ultrawide display with less screen real estate needed for the black bars that would be present on a 16:9 display.
Are Widescreen Monitors Better For Gaming Than 4:3 Displays?
Sorry, 4:3 monitor users. I have a few solutions that might help you later in the article, but for now we need to talk about what makes Widescreen monitors so good for gaming purposes. It isn’t just having a physically wider screen: the aspect ratio also means that for the overwhelming majority of games on the PC platform, a 16:9 display will literally have a wider field of view within the game than a 4:3 display.
Image Credit: DisplayWars
However, this also means some games will give 4:3 display users a…taller field of view, which can be useful in its own ways.
Are Ultrawides Better For Gaming Than 16:9 Widescreen Monitors?
It depends. But if the Ultrawide aspect ratio is properly supported and not prone to stretching from or cropping to 16:9, then yes! An Ultrawide aspect ratio will give you far more peripheral vision to work with in all kinds of supported titles, single player and multiplayer.
However, not all titles will support Ultrawide. In fact, some explicitly disable it. The reason why is surprisingly simple. Imagine how it felt back in the day being stuck on a 4:3 display competing against players on a 16:9 display who could literally see more of the environment than you. It’s a tilting experience, even if in-game Field of View settings and such can offset it to a certain extent.
However, 4:3-to-16:9 is kind of marginal in comparison to 21:9-to-16:9. It is literally just better in every way if the game has support for it. There’s no hidden upside for 16:9 in FOV height.
Image Credit: DisplayWars
How To Fix A Game That Only Runs In 4:3 or 16:9
With the basic rules established, it’s time to get into the real nitty gritty of PC gaming: how do we fix this experience? If you’re on a 16:9 display and want to improve a 4:3 gaming experience, or are worried about having wasted money on an expensive 21:9 Ultrawide, don’t worry! You’re in the right place, and I’m here to help.
…or more accurately, the Widescreen Gaming Forum (WSGF) is here to help! The WSGF exists to help you find game-specific config tweaks and patches to enable 16:9 or Ultrawide support in a wide variety of PC games that otherwise wouldn’t have these features, especially ports of old console games. PCGamingWiki is also good for documenting and collecting fixes like this.
However, it is worth noting that if your game is a multiplayer title or supports multiplayer to a limited degree, you may not want to play online with one of these mods enabled.
How To Make The Most of Gaming on a 4:3 Display
So, what if you’re still stuck on a 4:3 aspect ratio display? Are you really that much worse off than widescreen monitor users?
Well, there are some key downsides to 4:3 discussed earlier.
However, we should take a moment to talk about the actual boons of a 4:3 monitor for gaming, and how to utilize them:
- Playing any game hard-coded to run at a 4:3 aspect ratio, especially retro console gaming. High-refresh CRT and HD CRT monitors can also boost these experiences, but tend to be quite costly on the secondhand market since they are no longer manufactured.
Digital Foundry covers many of the boons of gaming on a CRT in the video above, and most CRTs were 4:3 or even 5:4.
- 4:3 monitors also tend to be taller than their widescreen counterparts. This means if you use your GPU software or a Custom Resolution Utility to change your display resolution and appropriately add black bars, you can effectively simulate an equivalent width 16:9 display, especially recommended for multiplayer games.
- 4:3 monitors, compared to modern displays, tend to be lower-res and thus allow for lower performance overhead when pushing high refresh rates, high graphics settings, etc. All according to your preference!
And that’s it!
I hope this article helped tackle “The Widescreen Question” for any of you who still had it or were hoping to make the most of your particular monitor, even if it isn’t widescreen. Feel free to leave a comment below and let me know if you have any further questions related to gaming hardware, including making the most of your existing setup.
Until then or until next time, happy gaming.