Man, was I ever stoked when I brought home my 21″ 16:10 LCD monitor. Unfortunately, that feeling didn’t last as long as I had hoped. It seems there’s several issues which hamper widescreen gaming that aren’t exactly common knowledge. Even after doing hours of research into pros and cons of having a widescreen LCD, I was met with many challenges and frustrating roadblocks that prevented me from jumping into the games I had been playing on my old 19″ CRT.

With the growing popularity of widescreen monitors and LCDs quickly taking over the monitor market share, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experiences and hopefully cut down the hours you might spend troubleshooting should you pick up a widescreen LCD.

First thing’s first. There’s some terminology you need to know and understand…

Resolution

You’ve no doubt heard the word “resolution” and understand what it is in terms of a computer monitor. For those that don’t, it’s the size that your screen is rendered at in pixels. Standard resolutions for non-widescreen monitors are 800×600, 1024×768, 1280×960, etc. The first number is the width in pixels, the second being height. With a CRT monitor, you can use pretty much any resolution and it will look fine. An LCD is different in that respect. It has a “native resolution” which is the physical amount of pixels it has to display. If you use a resolution outside of the native resolution, the monitor has to scale the image to fit the new size, which results in a blurry or fuzzy image. Definitely not optimal. For best results, always use the native resolution. This can be a bit of a problem, unless you have some heavy duty hardware as the bigger the screen size, the bigger the resolution. The native resolution for my monitor is 1680×1050 at which size I’m not able to run many games with the settings I would like. Typically, I have been running games at 1280×800.

You can probably imagine what happens when you run a resolution that is not the same aspect ratio as your monitor. Stretching. And it’s as ugly as it sounds. The image is literally stretched to fit the width of your monitor, producing less than desirable results. Unfortunately, you might have to endure this if a game doesn’t support widescreen resolutions and there’s no work around for it. Or even worse, you might not be able to play the game at all. I found that with my monitor, if the game wasn’t at a 16:10 resolution or in some cases even if there was stretching, the image becomes distorted. Little coloured boxes appear all over the place – as seen in the screenshot to the right.

Field of View (FOV)

Just as, if not more important as resolution is the field of view. FOV determines exactly how much we can actually see at the sides. A smaller FOV results in a tunnel like vision, where as a larger FOV ads more to your peripheral vision – how much you can see at the sides. If the FOV is set too large, you will get a fisheye effect where you can actually see to the left and right without having to look around. I’ve found that games that do support widescreen resolutions don’t adjust the FOV. So your image isn’t stretched, but you don’t see any more than you normally would on the sides and often enough, whatever object is in front of you (your gun, car, etc.) appears closer than it normally would or you can’t see quite as much of it.

Aspect Ratio

The aspect ratio is the size of the horizontal dimension relative to the vertical. A standard CRT monitor or non-widescreen LCD is 4:3. Widescreen LCDs are 16:10 and widescreen televisions (LCD, plasma, just about any HDTV) are 16:9.

VGA vs DVI

If your monitor is digital, you have one more variable to worry about. While using the DVI connection results in the brightest, sharpest and most vibrant image, you will once again run into problems if you don’t have the most high end hardware. Using the DVI connection means you have to run everything at the native resolution. You don’t have the option of running at lower resolutions and if you try, your game most likely won’t even start. My monitor has 5 inputs (DVI, VGA, Component, S-Video and Composite) and my videocard has dual DVI outs. I’m currently using both outputs, one with a VGA adapter which I use when playing games. The other a digital-to-digital connection which is my standard viewing mode. It’s rather unfortunate that I can’t run games using the DVI connection, but some of the more demanding games won’t run at anything more than low or medium settings at that resolution on my current rig.

The Worst Part

By far the most aggravating part of widescreen gaming is the lack of support from game developers. There are a handful of games that support 16:10 resolutions out of the box, and even less that really support it. I have come across a couple games that give the option to use 16:10 resolutions, but merely stretch the image to the specified size. You have to ask yourself why they bother at all?

Luckily for us, there is a pretty large and active community of gamers with widescreen monitors that are adamant to getting the experience they deserve. Enter Widescreen Gaming Forum. Much more than merely a forum, they have an extensive FAQ, user reviews of widescreen monitors and a master games list with solutions for getting your favourite games to run at 16:10 resolutions. I was fortunate to find this early on and it’s answered many questions I had an presented solutions for just about every game I own.

Results

Enough of the technical mumbo-jumbo. Let’s see this shit in action! Here’s a few comparisons of games running at 1024×768 and 1280×800 with explanations of how the widescreen resolution was achieved and if it’s true 16:10. Click on the images to see a larger comparison.

Call of Duty 2


One of the games I own with the best support for varying aspect ratios. Call of Duty 2 supports 4:3, 16:9 and 16:10 out of the box. There is no stretching at all. The FOV is appropriately adjusted and the HUD is repositioned to the screen edges.

F.E.A.R.


While F.E.A.R. doesn’t support an resolutions outside of the 4:3 aspect ratio, it’s very easy to customize the resolution to your needs. You have to manually edit the config file and change the resolution yourself. The FOV is adjusted automatically and HUD repositioned. Works mint and looks great!

Half-Life 2


It’s not surprising that Valve has covered all the bases here. Like COD2, HL2 supports all aspect ratios, correctly adjusts the FOV and repositions the HUD. I did notice that using a 4:3 resolution on my 16:10 monitor, the ammo count was positioned in a weird spot and cut off.

King Kong


King Kong is one of the unfortunate games that gives you the option to use a 16:10 resolution, but merely stretches the image to fit. Gross! Luckily, I finished the game on my 19″ CRT.

Need For Speed Most Wanted


By far, the biggest headache inducing game on the planet. NFSMW doesn’t support 16:10 resolutions and there’s no config/ini hack to correct it. Some dude created a resolution changer, which produces a a non-stretched image. But as you can see, the FOV wasn’t changed so the car appears far too close and you don’t gain any extra viewing space on the sides. I hear there’s a way to adjust the FOV using a camera hack, but haven’t bothered trying it yet. Also, the HUD is stretched producing oval shaped gages.

Quake 4


While it supports 16:9 out of the box, Quake 4 does not support 16:10. I believe this is probably due to the game also being available on the 360. In any case, changing the resolution and FOV is quick and easy (this method works for all games built on the Doom 3 engine). As you can see from the screenshot, there’s definitely a wider viewing space, but the HUD is stretched. I haven’t seen a fix for this, but honestly, it’s hardly noticeable at all. I’ve played many hours at 1280×800 and it looks sick.

Seem Like A Lot Of Work – Why Bother?

Good question – glad you asked! The experience of sitting in front of a screen that occupies most of your viewing space is simply immersive. I find that I get totally lost in the game and it greatly improves the experience overall. It gives a more natural viewing space, so especially for first person shooters, it feels more like you’re looking through a human’s eyes.

To be honest, this wasn’t my primary reason for getting a widescreen LCD. I work on the same machine I game on. I needed an LCD and the vast majority of 19″ LCDs only support 1280×1024. That resolution is simply not large enough for me. 1680×1050 that my 21″ supports is just lovely.

23 Comments

Looks like there’s some serious room for improvement there, Matt.

Good thing i don’t game much, saves me all those headaches.

Great article Matt. I haven’t had the chance to adequately test out my ACD, only a bit of BF2, which I had to change the shortcut to run 1680×1050 as you told me on flickr. But I would really like to see games support them out of the box.

Nice one Matt – after reading your post about getting the monitor, I’d started trawling the computer shops looking for something similar.

I currently have a small 17" Dell CRT monitor on my gaming PC which, unfortunately, can’t really cope with some of the fantastic resolutions outputted from my ATI Radeon 9800. I’m also a web developer by day, and as such have been looking to update my monitor to a TFT simply to make life easier.

On top of all this, I also have an Xbox 360 that simply doesn’t get chance to shine through my standard widescreen television, so I’d like the monitor to double up for extended 360 use as well.

This has resulted in a required spec of a fast refresh rate (8ms max), widescreen, high resolution (I usually develop in 1280×1024) TFT monitor.

As you can well imagine, finding this sort of product is practically impossible and as a result of reading this article, I think I’m actually going to buy TWO monitors – one reasonably cheap widescreen for the Xbox 360 and one high res 21" behemoth for PC gaming and web development…

Seeing as the next gen of consoles is going to be moving towards high-def, wide screen gaming there should be a trickle effect throught to the PC market – eventually.

I suppose wide screen monitors for the PC are actually pretty few and far between, it’s only Dell and Apple that have really been pushing them in the last year or so… outside of the laptop market anyway.

@Dave: You’re not kidding! It’s pretty ridiculous when developers not only don’t support widescreen resolutions, but make it impossible to edit the config files yourself.

@Paul: Thank you sir. I meant to include BF2 as well. It was one of the more fussy games. But the end result is perfect.

@Tim: Sounds like you’re definitely in need of a bigger TFT. Not sure if you saw the mention in the VGA vs DVI point, but <a href="http://accessories.gateway.com/AccessoryStore/PC+Accessories_316441/Monitors_316684/LCD+_Q1_Flat+Panel_Q1_+Monitors_316694/20_D1_21+inch+LCD_381955/1534243_proddetail.htm?ref=merch&quot; rel="nofollow">my Gateway monitor has component, s-video and composite inputs built in. I rented an Xbox 360 a couple weeks ago and used the component input on the monitor. Looked sick! So it can definitely serve multiple purposes. Worth checking out for sure.

@Anthony: I’m hoping the 360 gives the developers an added boost they need to get on this shit!

Good informations – My setup looks a bit like yours Matt except that I have a slim PS2 hooked on my FPD2185W thru the component input…

Did you had any problems with the Xbox360 hooked to the gateway 21" like the screen being too dark..?

That’s the problem I have with my PS2 using the component input…way too dark..but when I switch it into PIP mode…looks fine but smaller..see better due do the number of pixels a PS2 can output…

As far as my iMac G5 hooked on the FPD2185W… I’ve never seen anything this nice…and i’m using the VGA…not even the DVI…

can’t wait for the PS3.

Your great review of the Gateway LCD previous to this inspired me to pick one up, and it’s so nice I picked up a new notebook from them today.

Your site is one of the best of its kind out there, Kick ASS design, and excellent content. Thanks a lot. 🙂

silly me.

Funnything. I work with LCDs all day long, along with HD tv’s but I have never heard about 16:10.

?

Thanks for the info. I was looking into a widescreen LCD too and you’re article gave me some good insight.

I think you miss an important point by dumping on King Kong for not supporting widescreen properly. While most of the games you look at use the camera very freely (first person shooters, etc), the camera angles of King Kong are very deliberately composed.

Because of this, swapping between 16:9 and 4:3 is artistically trivial for something like Quake 4 (to an extent, at least, since the environment in something like HL2 is built to lend itself to certain ‘shots’ being produced by the camera). But it isn’t for King Kong, for the same reasons that fullscreen DVD edits are pretty criminal compared to their widescreen original brethren.

Good article. Answered quite a few of my questions, although I still have more. For a start my Widescreen Laptop has a resolution of 1280×768, which is an aspect ratio of 5:3!?!? (Between 16:9 and 16:10) and I havn’t seen ANYTHING else with that ratio.

But custom configs should help with some games. 🙂

@DaCheetah: 5:3, that’s madness! I think you’d be pleasantly surprised though. I’ve seen 1280×768 pop-up in quite a few games. More so in the ones that don’t give you the option of simply enabling widescreen resolutions. Instead, giving you a ridiculously long list of resolutions and refresh rates.

And yes, as you stated, you shouldn’t have any problems with games where you can edit the config manually.

Nice work. I just figured out my Dell 2405FPW which oddly enuf needed rebooted before it started working perfectly with my Radeon X1300 at native 1920X1200. Which is nothing but sweet. The price dropped on those LCDs to 799. Worth every cent. Only down side is the lack of HDCP compliance, oh well. HL2 COD2 are all the initials i give a crap about. Well Thanks for the info, and happy fraggin.

Anybody using thier FP for HDTV viewing? Thinking of giving that a try via comcast DVR.

Thanks for the 411 matt, after I bought my dell 20.1 inch monitor, i was plagued with the ws problems in gaming, your site gave me the knowledge i needed to correct them man.

Hey Brett! It’s Stretch from the Widescreen Gaming Forum. I’m glad to see the site resources were able to help you solve a lot of those pesky widescreen issues. I agree – there is still a looong way to go before widescreen gaming becomes a simple install and play affair, but it looks like things are slowly but surely headed into that direction.

Even now I still have to recommend 17-19" regular 4:3 aspects monitors for clients whom I absolutely know are not inclined to do any tweaking on their own.

If you have a chance, you might want to stop by the forum and check out the next step in widescreen gaming: the Matrox Triplehead2Go will allow you to use three monitors to run your games.

By the way – how does your particular Gateway model scale the 1280×800 resolution? Does it look pretty good? I know there’s always a bit of step down in quality when you can’t run the game in the monitor’s resolution, but from your comments above you seem pretty happy at with it. On that subject – I took a look at the picture of you monitor on flckr, and my eyes might be decieving me but the casing looks grey/silver’ish! Is it just the angle the picture was taken at? I was under the assumption that the casing was black – at least that is the way it looks on the official webpage.

Happy gaming – peace!

Great article. I’ve been debating between a 19" widescreen and 19" full screen and your article helped a ton. I do web design and gaming on thesame machine.

My question is rather dumb but I’ll ask anyway:

Would I get the widescreen effect if I end up with two 19" full screen LCDs?

Thanks.

I have built a Media Center pc that I am using for games, tv, dvd, and music. This platform destroys everything else that is out there without breaking a sweat. Widescreen games at 1080i resolution, HDTV, including PVR, and all my DVD’s upcoverted to 1080i (regular DVD only runs at 420p).

My setup is as follows….

Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005

AMD64

2gb ram

4x150gb SATA in a striped set.

ATI X800 Pro

ATI TV550 Pro

ATI HDTV Wonder

All fed into a Philips widescreen HD CRT via component input.

Needless to say the "immersion" value of games and movies in this resolution cannot really be put into words. My only wish to fullfill is an HDDVD drive as soon as I am able to get one.

As for the widescreen gaming, this is the only place that gives me fits. I have a ton of games, and many of them running at 1920×1080 resolution. Unfortunately I have a ton that I am unable to play on this system. Some games I have been able to change simply using reg, ini, and cfg hacks. The rest are games where the actuall exe files need to be modified in order to create custom resolutions. This I am unable to do with any success as I am not a programmer and working in a hex editor is tedious to put it lightly. This leads me to the point of my post. I work for a hosting company, and as such I have server space available if anyone here is interested in creating a place for us to share our successes and offer files to others in order to help them out.

Anyone interested?

I just bought NFSMW and god … it wouldn’t even start on my monitor.

I have a Westinghouse LTV-32w6 (32" wide… 3.5 square feet :-). So I’m returning NFS saying it isn’t compatible with my computer for unspecified compatibility reasons.

Really, they should say "does not support widescreen" on the box!

About the DVI connection:

I have a Dell 2407WFP, and I can run games at many resolutions on a dvi connection, and better image quality than vga. I have had no problems running games at resolution lower than native.

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