Living and Gaming in Ultrawide on Linux


As I hinted in my other article about Freesync, I have recently purchased a monitor for a better work environment at home. The thing I did not mention was that this monitor is in an Ultrawide format. What’s an Ultrawide format, you might ask? Well, it refers to displays with aspect ratios greater than 2. Your regular 16:9 monitor is, by division, less than 2 (16/9 is 1.778 ratio).

My new monitor is a 34 inches screen with a resolution of 3440*1440 pixels (apparently it’s called WQHD) with an aspect ratio of 2.38. It’s a flat surface one - you can also find curved “gaming” monitors, which seem silly because there’s not much distortion to worry about at this kind of display size (but don’t tell anyone, they like to charge more for that).

UWD are peculiar devices. As they are much wider than your typical screens, almost nothing is really made to make use of such screen width. So in practice, you can use it as if you had two monitors in one, by making one application take half of the space and arranging your other windows in the remaining half. It’s extemely useful for programming, you can have one browser window on the side and your code editor on the other at the same time, avoiding back and forth for documentation. It’s like dual monitors, without the bezel in the middle and without the need for multiple PSUs and cables.

two monitors

Of course, 4k screens in 16:9 format also give you a lot of screen estate to arrange your workflow in quadrants or windows. The advantage of UWD is that it maximizes your field of vision left and right, where a regular 16:9 format will appear more congested and constrained to a smaller rectangle in front of you. Let’s say that on a 16:9 screen, you can see the whole screen at any time in front of you. On a UWD screen, your eyes need to travel a bit more left and right to fully capture what’s going on, hence the sense of added space.

On Linux, at least on Nvidia, I had nothing to do to make it work. Whether it was connected via HDMI or Display Port, everything worked out of the box, with the proper resolution detected on the desktop (GNOME) natively. Since my monitor is rather large (34 inches), there is no need to play with hidpi settings: the screen is perfectly readable at the typical distance from where you use a monitor. This may yet be another advantage of ultrawide displays vs 4k panels of the same screen height: on 4k, pixels would be even smaller and make it challenging to use at 1:1 pixel ratio by default.

As I mentioned, your productivity will go up with this kind of screen. But what about entertainment?

Well, when you have movies shot in anamorphic (i.e. 2.35) format, it’s just perfect. By the way, let me squeeze a comment here: if you have not heard about anamorphic lenses before, now is the time to start your journey to a new rabbit hole. Fantastic topic, really.

So, anamorphic videos (2:35) will fit very nicely the whole screen with very little loss of space. For other formats (actually, quite a few movies are shot in 16:9) you will end up with black bars on the side, which is not ideal but still acceptable.

For games, it’s a mixed bag. You end up typically with three scenarios:

  • the resolution is not supported at all, and you have to fall back on whatever is the closest to your monitor’s resolution. You end up with black bars on each side.
  • the game supports this resolution natively, but has some corner cases where the screen is not fully used. This happens in Stardew Valley when some backgrounds have a fixed max width, while some other areas expand the field of view to your maximum monitor’s space. A little weird, to say the least.
  • the game supports the resolution natively and makes it possible to massively extend your field of view. Pretty impressive for games like Rocket League where it facilitates your understanding of what’s happening around you. It’s also pretty clear that for simulations (Flight Simulator anyone?), an ultrawide display will help you feel like if you were in the cockpit a little more.

Special mention about Journey, the game recently ported to PC after being a Playstation exclusive. The added field of view is incredible and really makes the whole world more real. In comparison, in 16:9 format it was like you were looking at the game through a small window. Now you are IN it.

Of course, the increased pixel count (from 1080p which is 2,138,000 pixels to 3440x1440 = 4,953,600) can be significant when shifting to such a format (2.3x more pixels to drive). Some games that used to run at more than 60 fps in 1080p are now struggling to go beyond 30 fps, and would require a more powerful GPU to remain enjoyable. On this PC, I have a modest GTX1060 (3GB model) and it’s certainly insufficient for games like Resident Evil 2 Remake at that kind of resolution (I used to play it at 60 fps on 1080p between medium and high settings).

For comparison, a 4k monitor would require pushing 8,294,400 pixels (3840*2160) which is about 4 times what your GPU would need to display on a 1080p screen. Needless to say, you would require a much more powerful GPU (think high end) to make games run well at 4k compared to the UWD display I use - and I’d wager the experience would anyway be better on a UWD despite the slightly lower resolution.

Despite some drawbacks, I am now really sold on the experience of using an UWD. It beats hands down having two monitors side by side for productivity (no bezel in the middle, two cables only (video + PSU) instead of four), and when games properly support such display format, the extra width is not just a few inches more on the side. It completes your field on vision on both eyes and definitely changes how you are immersed in the game.