Are Ultrawide Monitors Worth It? A Comprehensive Guide

A comprehensive guide to the Ultrawide experience
November 18, 2019


Are Ultrawides worth the money? Much like a pair of good boots, it depends entirely on the person.

Here's what we're going to look at: Gaming, Productivity (writing, video editing, photography, programming), Streaming, Multimedia and movies. What about Ultrawides vs two 27" panels? We'll go through that too!

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Gaming:

Pros:

  • Immersiveness
  • Wow factor
  • UW support is becoming more standard at launch

Cons:

  • More taxing on GPU
  • Requires fiddling if games are not supported
  • Not as good for competitive play
  • Pre rendered cut scenes can break the immersion

I bought my first ultrawide panel (The Dell U3415W) in 2015 when not all games supported ultra wide, there were fixes but they weren’t completely stable. In the last few years, more and more developers are becoming aware that ultra wide 21:9 resolutions are a thing. Most AAA releases, or even III (triple indie) releases have support for ultra wide. If they don’t you’ll have to resort to a 16:9 resolution with black bars on the side but it’s by no means a deal breaker. You still get 144hz 16:9 silky smooth goodness (If you go with a panel like the PG348q / X34).

Dell U3415W monitor set up on a desk
Dell U3415W in all it's glory

As for the gaming experience, it's beyond wonderful when it works. Games like Battlefield, any kind of flight or vehicle simulator, MMO all work fantastically well and bring out the best in an ultra wide panel.  Having a monitor take up so much of your field of view is, for lack of a better buzz word, immersive. For the first few months you’ll be checking corners and fawning over how much real estate you have.

Ultrawide gaming is fantastic given you have the GPU power to run it. Compatibility issues  are more often than not be fixed with technical work arounds.

Games like Doom played surprisingly well with the PG348Q. The fast paced action and the sheer size of the screen in front of you really lets you get temporarily lost in fountains of demon gore. WoW is a joy as you have so much room for UI addons and space for customizing things exactly to your taste. Total war and other strategy games are also benefit greatly from this resolution.

So we've established that gaming on an ultrawide is fantastic. What are the drawbacks?

GPU tax - running at 3440x1440 (4.9 million pixels) means you're pushing 1.3 million more pixels than a traditional 1440p panel. It's still much less than the 9.8 million required to run 4k but your GPU is still going to take a hit. If you're wanting to keep to that 144hz refresh rate, then at minimum i'd recommend a 2070 super with some lowered image quality settings. Personally I found that compromise more than acceptable for most AAA games, I'd typically run everything on High as opposed to Max.

Cut scenes - This is a very minor complaint but any pre-rendered cut scene will drop out of the 3440x1440 resolution and be run in 16:9. It's a noticeable jarr but if that doesn't bother you, great! Let's move on.

Competitive gaming - I found I was a lot more focussed with a 27” 1440p panel in competitive FPS games than the ultra wide. If you’re playing competitively and want to take it seriously, I’d recommend the 27” If you want a more immersive experience, go for ultra wide.

Compatiblity with indie games is still an issue - some won’t support ultra wide straight out the gate. If you make a mention of it on the forums though most seem receptive to the idea of adding it in. Solutions to no ultra wide on a game you want it: try the tool, look online for another fix, struggle, or be patient, once patience expires just accept it.

Productivity:

Document writing and research.

-  Having two or even four texts side by side is incredible. Because the monitor is directly in front of you, you don’t have to swivel your head as much as when you have two panels side by side. You can be extremely focussed and efficient. With efficient window resizing tools, or good shortcuts on your machine, it can be an extremely pleasing way to work. This added with windows excellent virtual desktops allows for some very efficient workflow practices.

Programming

- Same pro’s/cons as document writing. Two monitors might be better as you’ll get the option of having a portrait orientation.

Video editing

- That timeline tho. Having a premiere timeline on a 34” monitor is mind blowingly amazing, You get so much more context and rely less on scrubbing to get through an edit. It’s one of the biggest things I missed going back to a 27” panel, constantly managing the size of the timeline. That being said - multi tasking while video editing is slightly difficult and managing your files is less easy. Again this comes down to one monitor being a dedicated space for bins or color graphs and the other being purely the timeline. I found I was more productive in terms of organisation with two panels, but I had more fun editing on the ultra wide.

Highly specific to your workflow and your use case.

Digital artists.

-  This will again come down to personal preference and how you prefer to work, having a large reference up on the same panel in your field of view at all times is fantastic, but your work area is smaller. If you plan on streaming your work as a lot of artists do these days, I'd recommend two 27" instead.

Photography.

-  Not really any benefit at all working with Lightroom or Photoshop. Having a reference on half the screen with Photoshop on the other is great but this is a better experience with two panels.

Streaming:

For a multi-purpose screen it works, for a dedicated streamer a few 27" panels are the way to go.

I personally disliked streaming with an ultra wide and would recommend two 27" setups almost every time. Streaming is a lot easier when you have two panels and there are only so many streamers out there who can afford the real estate to fit a 34" and 23-27" panel on their desk. If you use a single UW, then you'll have to run the game in a 16:9 window with chat / OBS to the side which works... ok. If you keep the 21:9 aspect ratio, this will introduce black bars to your stream which you'll have to cover with some kind of graphic or overlay. In the end it just adds complications to an already fiddly process with no tangible benefit to your audience.

Movies and Multimedia

Personally, I'd never sit down and watch a movie on a monitor, well, maybe a short film from time to time. That being said, if you're *really* intent on watching a lot of content, the widescreen format makes for a very good viewing experience.

Like gaming, when it works it's fantastic, unlike gaming, when it doesn't you just kinda have to deal with it. The majority of YouTube's library is shot in 16:9 (resulting in black bars) but many films are actually in a widescreen format. Depending on your viewing habits, you could be happy with this compromise.

Not recommended unless you really have to.

Recent HDR compatible ultrawides have futher served to improve the movie watching experience, bringing them up to par with some TV's, however I still
don't think I could ever recommend a monitor for a dedicated movie watching device, only if you were consigned to watching content in your bedroom / office. If you have to watch movies at your desk, this will be better than a 27" if you can find the content for it. A 4k panel might be better for this use case however if the majority of your entertainment is 16:9.

One Ultrawide vs two 27” monitors:

If your work day consists of streaming, then i'd 100% recommend a couple of 27's.
If you're a content creator that doesn't stream, an UW is a fantastic and clean single monitor solution.

If you're a casual gamer with some light competitive gameplay - Ultrawide.

If you're a hardcore competitive gamer - Single / Dual 27's.

If ergonomics are a concern to you, I'd assume having one panel would benefit your neck more. Having two raises a lot more questions around proper placement and if you're swivelling your neck the entire day, it could be a potential issue. I can't offer any proper advice on this so i'd encourage you to do your own research.

What about 4k?

Nope. I'm not convinced the scaling issues on some of the major programs I use - Photoshop, Lightroom, Blender / Cinema4d, Davinci Resolve are fixed. In order to benefit from the increased DPI of the panel, you really need to get a 32" monitor. Added to the extra horsepower required to run games, the trade off is still not worth it. It's something I'll keep an eye on in the future, but having used both I still think 4k has a ways to go in terms of practicality.

As for what I'll choose - I'm going to be redoing my entire setup in the next few months, and i'm still torn between an ultrawide or two 27's. Given that i'm wanting to do a bit of streaming and enjoy the separation of concerns having two frames, I'm leaning towards having two smaller panels. I can get one gaming panel for streaming, then a calibrated Dell / LG panel when working on color critical work for my photography and web business.

Recommendations for Monitors:

Best no compromises gaming ultrawide - Asus PG349Q

Best budget gaming ultrawide - Acer X34

Best Dual monitor setup for gaming and productivity - Asus PG279Q and a Dell U2718q (although if you're buying dell, buy direct, their customer service is amazing).

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