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Windows 10: The Ultrawide Monitor Experience

Even though most of the technology industry are pushing for 4K monitors, there's a smaller subset of people who think 4K isn't the way forward, on a monitor at least. I'm one of those people, and instead of using a 4K monitor like so many are doing or trying to do, I've gone down a different route. I'm using an ultrawide monitor, a rather new concept for PC monitors that are rocking an aspect ratio of 21:9 rather than the standard 16:9.

Movie buffs are likely to already know what that means, but for those who don't, allow me to briefly explain. The aspect ratio is basically the "shape" of your monitor. A 16:9 monitor is your standard widescreen monitor, the usual kind of monitor that you're likely using. A 16:9 monitor is usually rocking resolutions like 1366x768 or 1920x1080, but can go all the way up to 4K resolutions and beyond.

LG Ultrawide Monitor

LG Ultrawide Monitor (Image credit: Windows Central)

An ultrawide monitor is similar to a 16:9 monitor, except it's a lot wider, hence the 21:9 aspect ratio. This allows for much more content on the screen at one time, and usually more content compared to a 4K monitor at 16:9 as the real-estate gained on a 21:9 monitor is pretty advantageous. An "aspect ratio", by definition, is the ratio of the width to the height of an image, video or screen.

I was torn between a 4K monitor or an ultrawide for a long time, and I eventually made my choice with a 34" Samsung Ultrawide monitor. I was curious to see how the Windows 10 experience would change (or not change) when using an ultrawide monitor, and whether it would cater to the extra real-estate received when using an ultrawide monitor.

Desktop, Start and Action Center

For the most part, the Windows 10 desktop remains the same, apart from it being a lot longer. With an ultrawide monitor however, you can use an ultrawide wallpaper, which is pretty fantastic. No longer will large photos of beautiful landscapes be cut off on either side, as an ultrawide monitor will display 21:9 photos perfectly. It gives you an immersive experience that can only be understood once you've seen an ultrawide in person.

The Start Menu can be expanded to cater to your ultrawide monitor if you wish, but it won't do that by default, which is a good thing. Even with an ultrawide monitor, I prefer having my Start Menu just one column in size, as it keeps things clean and simple. But if needed, you can make it showcase much more.

Not only that, but since most ultrawide monitors operate at a lower DPI (usually 100%), there's no scaling issues with older apps, something that 4K monitors are constantly having to deal with.

The Start Screen benefits most from an ultrawide monitor, as the Start Screen is basically a full screen start. You can have hundreds of more app tiles on screen at one time with an utlrawide, great for those of you who prefer using the full-screen Start rather than the menu version.

The apps list in full screen mode doesn't do that good of a job however, as the apps "list" is still confined to the middle of the screen. I'd like to see the apps list expand out across the screen if possible, but unfortunately that's not there.

The Action Center sticks to the far right of the screen, and doesn't expand or cater to the extra screen real-estate on an ultrawide, this is to be expected however as there's not really much an Action Center can do other than be a long vertical column, so no complaints from me on that regard.

Task View and Window-snapping

Task View on an ultrawide is a real treat, as it shows many more open apps than usual, on a much wider canvas . Where Windows 10 does fall down on ultrawides is with window-snapping. Even though you've got a much larger area to play with windows, Windows 10 only snaps 2 windows side by side. You could easily snap 3 or even 4, and can do so manually if you wish, but the built in snapping feature only offers a maximum of two snapped windows, which is a huge shame.

You can however snap in quadrants rather than vertically, which does give you an option of 4 windows. Although not ideal, it is there and it does work pretty well on an ultrawide monitor. I find myself using this often when watching a conference, keeping an eye on twitter and writing articles.

Apps

Since an ultrawide monitor is, well, wide, a lot of apps that are designed to scroll vertically don't take advantage of the extra real-estate. Windows 8 would've been superb on ultrawide monitors, as everything scrolled horizontally, but with Windows 10 that is not the case.

A few apps do a good job of expanding all their available menus and whatnot automatically when an ultrawide monitor is in use, like GroupMe for example, which opens up its hamburger menu and group settings menu automatically when expanded to its fullest, but in most cases there'll be a lot of empty space, which is something you have to get used to.

Groove Music is another app that does well populating the screen real-estate with content, but apps like Settings have a lot of empty space. The Store app looks like it does a good job at showcasing more content on screen, but upon closer inspection it becomes apparent that the app is simply expanding the size of app icons, making them far too big and not improving on the amount of content shown on screen at one time.

Don't get me wrong, none of this is a deal breaker, especially if you plan on using Windows 10 with multiple windows stacked side by side. In fact, that's the best way to use an ultrawide monitor, as it gives you the chance to showcase more content on a single display than possible on a 16:9 monitor.

Some Office apps do a tremendous job at scaling to the ultrawide aspect ratio. For example, within Microsoft Word, instead of scrolling down to get access to each page, Word will display them side-by-side so you can see more on screen at one time. This is excellent if you're frequently working within large Word documents and seeing more on screen at one time is beneficial.

Video editing apps probably benefit the most from ultrawides, as your work canvas expands dramatically. You can see longer video timelines, bigger video preview windows, and a larger video bin. Excellent for getting work done.

Games

Games are a mixed bag, as it depends entirely on whether the developer supports it. We're only going to be looking at games from the Windows Store for now, as there's a small collection of Microsoft titles that we can test.

We tested 7 games from the Windows Store, and only 4 of them took advantage of the ultrawide monitor.

Minecraft

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4

Gears of War 4 (Image credit: Windows Central)

Quantum Break

Forza Horizon 3

The other three games were stuck in a 16:9 aspect ratio, leaving black bars on both sides of the display.

ReCore

Forza Motorsport: Apex

Halo 5: Forge

I was disappointed to see not every title from Microsoft supported ultrawide, especially considering Microsoft is committed to gaming on Windows 10. ReCore, Forza and Halo are big 1st party titles for Microsoft, and they don't seem to support ultrawide monitors. This can be fixed via updates, however this kind of support should be there on day one.

Video content

Most video content you'll likely be watching on the internet are recorded and rendered in 16:9. Most YouTube videos, Twitter videos and even Facebook videos are 16:9, so you'll be watching this content with black bars on either side of your display.

This is the same for most TV shows streamed from Netflix or the Films and TV app. However, there are benefits to a 21:9 monitor when it comes to video content, and that mostly lies with movies. A lot of movies are available natively in a 21:9 aspect ratio, and that opens up a whole world of immersive movie watching.

Depending on the provider, you can watch 21:9 movies natively on your 21:9 ultrawide monitor, meaning it'll take advantage of the whole screen rather than add black bars on either side.

Unfortunately, some streaming services won't stream 21:9 movies as 21:9, meaning you'll have black bars on the sides and at the top and bottom, but if you're watching movies from a good provider, that shouldn't be the case.

Final thoughts

I don't regret my ultrawide monitor purchase, even after several months. I've had many people ask me on social networks and real life whether I wish I went for a 4K monitor now, and I can confidently say that I do not. I much prefer having the extra real-estate at 100% DPI (rather than scaling at 150% on a 4K monitor, causing all sorts of odd scaling anomalies with some older programs), watching ultrawide content and playing ultrawide video games.

Sure, there is room for improvement with some apps, but if you're buying an ultrawide monitor to be productive, everything is pretty much already there. The multitasking, the extra real-estate, everything you need to be more productive at one time is readily available to you.

Zac Bowden
Zac Bowden

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

57 Comments
  • In Windows 8.1 You was able to snap 4 apps side by side. It walso worked on Surface pro 3 :P And also Start on W8.1 was great on monitors like this one. MS should improve W10 too..
  • No question, Windows 8.1 provided the better experience. Not to mention the table experience.
  • They really need to improve the tablet experience. It was so fluid in 8.1, 10 is a bit clunky. For example, going from Start to All Apps and back, is a lot of tapping. I really miss the Start button from Charms Bar. And switching between two apps.
  • I prefer 10. I absolutely hated the seperate desktop environment in 8. It felt like I was running some kind of desktop emulator on a tablet. Now both store and desktop apps can be controlled as normal individual apps via touch and mice.
  • I prefer 10 too. I found Windows 8(.1) was a (little) weird having 2 different environments in 1 PC, just like using Android and Windows at the same time. Though at that time, I'd prefer 8(.1) over 7 because I like their performance rather than 7, and Windows 10 combines the best of both worlds into one OS, which is great.
  • I'm seriously considering getting an ultrawide screen, i watch a lot of movies so it would be fantastic. They need to bring this aspect ratio to television as well though.
  • they did once... Philips tried it sometime ago but didnt continue it with newer models! must just be too much 16:9 content. solely for Movies a 21:9 is amazing. but i guess its like more from 4:3 and 16:9 it just takes time! everything is 16:9! and one day it will be 21:9 :) http://www.philips.co.uk/c-p/56PFL9954H_12/cinema-219-lcd-tv-with-ambilight-spectra-3-and-perfect-pixel-hd-engine  
  • In the last Star Wars example, is this the fault of Windows 10? I see the picture smaller but it's not cropped or losing any image information from the 4 sides. Doesn't this mean that the ratio is still 21:9 but just at lower resolution, thus not filling the screen? Can't the monitor just scale it up in this case? If the content were 16:9, there would be cropping in the picture, right?
  • Yes, I'm not sure what is going on there. The 16:9 video should have cropping when compared. It seems instead that the 21:9 screenshot is simply stretched. Unless... We're both crazy and it's actually the same image. Which out might be after taking another look...
  • What it's doing is the streaming service actually has black bars on the top and bottom of the video, so it shows a smaller image (as the bars are touching the edges of the screen it considers the image to be as big as it can be). It's something I have seen in the past back in the early days of 16:9.
  • I believe that is the fault of the streaming provider. If instead of streaming you pick up the Blu-Ray and play it, it will play in 21:9 without any bars (I can assure you of this as I own both an ultrawide monitor and the film on Blu-Ray). Which means service providers are tempering with the quality... Yet another reason against streaming. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • I mention this in the article, it is the fault of some streaming providers. Not all 21:9 movies are available in 21:9, even if they're filmed as such. Some providers will stream the 21:9 movie in 16:9, and that example you're talking about is what it'll look like on an ultrawide monitor. That Star Wars example is from YouTube, the Star Wars trailer is 21:9 but they uploaded it on YouTube in standard 1080p 16:9, hence, that's what it looks like. The actual movie is 21:9, and if you get it from somewhere that actually offers it in its native aspect ratio, you'll get the full experience.
  • like from where?
  • No, that`s not the Windows 10 fault, the fault is at the other end, for who encoded the video, instead of using a 21:9 render resolution they used standard 16:9 and added black bars on the video, the video itself has the black bars encoded. For example a ultra wide video should be renderd as 1920x800 but instead they do the full 1920x1080 and thus adding those black bars. When viewed on a 21:9 monitor, the monitor sees the black bars as actual video and it cannot scale up the video, you could achive this only by zooming into the video. I use a 3440x1440 21:9 34" monitor and this is annoying when you also see big companies like Sony Entertainment pushing out movie trailers with those black bars... it`s like they don`t have a smart guy there to know how to render a trailer. And the sad part is that if you do render in 21:9 it will still look ok on 16:9 monitors, but they chose to render it badly. PS: there are players like Media Player Classic that you can choose scaling options and you can put "touch window from inside" and thus remove the black bars but sadly you can`t do the same on streaming videos from YT or other providers.
  • Not Windows 10's fault. A lot of video have hard coded black bars to turn a 21:9 frame into a 16:9 frame. On a 16:9 display you would not see any difference, becasue there would be black bars anyway for content with different aspect ratio. But on a 21:9 display, now the display finds the video as 16:9 content becasue of tnje harcoded black bars, and adds black bars to the sie like it should. End result is viewer ends up with window-boxing.
  • Great info... I'd like a link to the monitor you have. Considering a purchase.
  • LG 34UM88C-P 60Hz IPS 5ms monitor, they tend to advertise as 75Hz but it`s not. Sadly the freesync is only between 40-60 FPS and i`m usually way above that, but in games like DOOM i sometimes sit in that area and the FreeSync is actually good and makes everything look very smooth.
  • I've recently made the exact same choice though I opted for a 29" monitor due to desk space issues.
    Ultimately what led me to it was my need for having two word documents side by side was greater than my wish for 4K content (which I rather watch on my TV anyway). Otherwise my experience is pretty much the same. When it comes to games, I've only tried Xbox branded games from the Windows Store and those are completely hit and miss, specially if they don't support windowed mode. For example, Modern Combat 5 runs perfectly in Ultrawide. Hungry Shark Evolution doesn't even open the game, it just crashes. As for the split window problem, yeah it's a shame Windows only does it in two. However, because I went with an LG monitor as usual, LG provides a program that allows you to control the number and ways the screen is split and allows for at least 3 partitions (probably the 34" version allows for 4). Wallpapers are a problem though. I use photographs I've taken as my wallpaper and all of them are in 16:9. And when I took them, I didn't have Ultrawide screens in mind. Which means I've had to edit new photos for wallpapers.
    I've even had to do some editing on the Windows Hero wallpaper. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Yep, ultrawide especially helps for multiple windows- multitasking.
  • Can you give some examples of providers that do offer 21:9 content? I've been interested in 21:9 monitors but remember the issues with having a 16:10 monitor back in the Windows XP days. A lot of games didn't support it and videos always had black bars, so I'm now pretty wary of non-standard resolutions. Since I've moved most of my gaming to the Xbox, I've thought about replacing my dual monitors with one ultrawidescreen but the support for the resolution is what makes me most hesitant.
  • With the exception of John Wick from Microsoft Movies & TV, no digital movie I own will play natively in 21.9, including The Force Awakens, from any provider (Vudu, Netflix, Disney Movies Anywhere, etc.) I've tried to play Blu-ray movies to see if they would do 21:9, but Cyberlink refuses to play them because it sees my monitor as a multi-monitor setup. Which Blu-ray software will play movies on an ultra wide (Dell u3415w)? ------
    Nexus 6p + Lumia 950 XL
  • What version of PowerDVD are you using? I'm using 15 and I have no issues playing Blu-Rays Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Off the top of my head I couldn't tell you, but I will look into version 15, thanks! ------
    Nexus 6p + Lumia 950 XL
  • So the snapping seems to be main benefit shame it only snaps 2. Life's too short to do it manually. I'm going the route of xps15 with 2xSlidenjoy screens. No time for 4k..yet.
  • The only thing that sucks about this article is that now I wan't a 21:9 monitor even more. I've been watching the prices of some hoping for a good deal, now I might just jump on.
  • I have wide 34' LG and a dell 27' 1200p. The LG is simply amazing. Working on it is a breeze. Wont go back, ever. Gaming is another story. All my games, mostly strategy games such as total war support it. The issue is that i7 6700k&gtx1070 are simply not enough to feed it at good fps.
  • So when some genius records a beautiful landscape while holding the phone vertically you'll have this tiny little vertical strip of video in the middle of this super wide screen :)
  • Oooh looks sweet
  • Great article! Might be worth pestering my boss a bit; the extra screen real estate would be fab for working with AutoCAD, which insanely DOESN'T support 4K resolution, by the way!
  • ProTip: Move Taskbar to left side of the screen ;)
  • Something worth noting, if you're a gamer these ultra wide screens lack the higher refresh rates. Unless you want to shell out 1300 for one that supports Free or Gsync.
  • Given the frequency with which people will put multiple monitors side-by-side for the extra width, this is clearly a win. One benefit to the dual side-by-side monitors over a single wide-screen is the extra edges for snapping windows, but it comes at the expense of the bezels dividing your view. I run an older 30" 2560x1600 display in portrait mode at 100% scaling (where my Outlook sits with all of its folders and Inbox visible without scrolling) beside a 40" 4K screen at 125% scaling. Personally, it's usually height that I want more of, at least until it gets tall enough that you can clearly and easily ready at least a single full page in Word or a full page PDF without scrolling. Tall is also good for the Action Center. So for me, I wouldn't want to go to 21:9 unless the screen were at least 37", or it would just be too short, but above that, and something like 5120x2160 widescreen becomes a beautiful option, even for those of us who like a taller screen. I also like having a resolution high enough that I can use higher than 100% scaling. At 100% scaling, you can see the pixels that make up the characters (or the characters are too small to read). At higher scale rates, the characters and most icons (a few still don't support it) are much shaper, just like on your phone.
  • I'm a developer, and until recently I was using a pair of 34" ultra wide monitors (stacked one above the other) to do development at work.  I really liked that configuration.  However, a few weeks ago Dell release a 43" 4k monitor, and I got work to order a couple of them for us.  From a developer point of view, we are liking the 43" 4k monitor much better than a pair of 34" wide monitors. 
  • I still think 16:10 is best. Even 2x 16:10 would be a lot better than this.
  • Right there with you.  I have 2x 16:10 monitors hooked up and I would very much miss the extra 10% vertical space if I had to drop to a 16/21:9.
  • yeah, 16:10 is a great aspect ratio for working, sadly there aren't many monitors available anymore
  • I had the Dell 29" 21:9 monitor.  It was fantastic.  I'm still sad it broke. :(  Wish they would come out with a 4K version of it.
  • Having a single wide screen monitor seems horrible inefficient compared to having two monitors side by side (except for gaming/movies.)  I've used wide monitors like this and I found I was no longer maximizing the window as it was just way too big.  So the majority of my time was spent re-sizing and moving windows around on the screen instead of working.  With two monitors equaling the width of this one large monitor, I instead just toss maximized windows between the two screens, launch apps maximized, etc. and I spend WAY less time monkeying around with the window size in order to see a few apps at once than I did on one large screen.   Then again, I see TONS of users not maximizing windows all the way and they are wasting their time dragging/resizing windows all over and being totally in-efficient, so for that crowd, this will probably work as it gives them more room to work in-efficiently.
     
  • "No longer will large photos of beautiful landscapes be cut off on either side, as an ultrawide monitor will display 21:9 photos perfectly." This is only true if the image itself is in 21:9 aspect ratio, otherwise you will see vertical banding, horizontally stretched out or top and bottom cut off images.
  • I've always liked Zac's articles and videos, even pre Windows Central, and now I know he watches Doctor Who as well! Fantastic!
  • Could I use such a monitor with Xbox one and Lumia continuum feature?
  • No idea about Windows Phone but no problems using the Xbox with it. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • 1440p or 1080p ultrawide?
  • Been using the Dell UltraSharp U3415W for a while now. 34" curved widescreen is the way to go. Took a little getting used to but it is nice.
  • "since most ultrawide monitors operate at a native DPI" This scentence makes no sense whatsoever. The term "native DPI" doesn't mean anything. There is such a thing as a "native resolution" but that is something different. The term "native dpi" might also make sense for a mouse where it refers to the resolution at which the sensor samples the surface it's gliding over, before firmware starts modifying those values based on sensitivity settings, but that has nothing to do with monitors.
  • You are correct, I had a moment of (what word sounds good here? Native.) Updated with a more accurate explanation :)
  • Unfortunately, some streaming services won't stream 21:9 movies as 21:9, meaning you'll have black bars on the sides and at the top and bottom,
    Netflix.
  • @zac how does it hold up against dual 16:9 screens? I used dual screen for development and sometimes an extra screen in portrait mode for documentation. I can see the style benefit and definitely the native movie benefit of an ultrawide but in terms of productivity I can't see it helping me compared to dual screens.
  • I chose dual screen (with small bezels) over one ultrawide screen. Because ultrawide screns are too expensive, I have even more "screen real-estate" and the windows are handeled very well. If needed I can turn one the the sceen off.
  • Pretty much everything is vertical in W10 whereas in W8.x everything was almost horizontal. It's like they can't find the balance between the two...
  • What about "Windows Explorer"? I guess there will be lots of blank spaces.
  • What is its resolution? Is it 1920x1080 or 1366x768 pixels?
  • Got tired of gaming issues on 21:9. Only real advantage is work related stuff like word or other multi document items. They excel for those tasks. Just got 32inch 4k and it is just about as good for productivity and gaming is great.
  • I finally mae the choice to go with a single Ultrawide. My issue is that there are so few reviews it is hard to know which are good for their money and which are not. My personal choice would be a 34" 1080... (1080 due to running a GTX970) and it seems I am limited to either a Samsung or LG. Any suggestions anyone?
  • The 34-inch LG monitor I hung off my Surface Book is the best display choice I have made in years. I bought it on a whim because it was cheap at Costco, and my only regret is that I didn't spend three times as much on a better unit with higher-res options. Still, 2560 x 1080 is good enough for my purposes at the moment, and it's nice to know exactly where I'll go when this one rolls over and puts its feet in the air. The only downside was the experience of filling the full width of the monitor from the Surface Book. Connecting the LG to the Book through a Surface Dock would simply not give me the full display capacity of the monitor; it was stuck at a max of 1920 x 1080. Nor would connecting directly to the Book's mini-display port work until I stuck in an active adapter that took the mini-DP output to a full DisplayPort connection and then came out of that one with the Display Port to HDMI converter that the monitor needed. And anyone who has tried to connect a Surface Dock and an external monitor to a Book at the same time knows that means you have to Dremel off one fat side of the miniDP plug to get them both to fit. Annoyance! I wonder how many pennies Microsoft saved on the per-unit cost of a Surface Dock when they chose not to make their display adapter active. But what I wonder more is why they didn't foresee the anger of buyers who would want to attach high-end monitors to an expensive and asprational device like the Book and rationally decide to make it easier for them to do so. But I digress. By the time I finished putting together what Microsoft should have built into their devices and accessories, I had what I wanted. And I'm happy.
  • Thank you Zac for the review. I was wondering where you got the wallpaper in the second image. I recently purchased the exact same monitor, and i really do like this image. Maybe you have a link or something... thanks :)