There is a new game in town, and I am not talking about Witcher 3, which had sold a million copies worldwide on pre-order, before it hit the stores yesterday. This is big news. With a curve.
Ultra-wide curved 34-inch monitors that will send PC gamers into a frenzy because they will be able to see more than 50 per cent more of their games on these displays. Seeing more means better planning and faster reaction when playing shooters, racers and strategy games.
It is also a visual treat for the eyes to get a panoramic view of 18th-century Paris from the top of the Notre Dame in Assassin's Creed Unity.
With ultra-wide monitors, gamers will be able to see more than 50 per cent more of their games, such as Assassin's Creed Unity (above), which leads to better planning and faster reaction.
In Civilization Beyond Earth, I could see more of the world and, therefore, spent much less time panning left and right of the screen to survey the land around my capital city.
Ultra-wide monitors have been around, but early versions ran only on full high-definition resolution and were limited to 29-inch screen sizes. In an ultra-wide screen, 29-inch monitors lose too much height. But a 34-inch ultra-wide monitor is as tall as a regular 27-incher, but with the sides extended by another 25 per cent of screen real estate.
There are currently two such monitors sold here, the Dell U3415W and the Samsung SE790C, both running at the eye-popping 3,440 x 1,440 resolution, a tad short of the new 4K resolution every TV maker is touting these days.
I tested about 10 games on both screens, powered by my gaming rig running on an Intel Core i5-4590 processor and the Nvidia GeForce GTX970 graphics card.
All worked at either 3,440 x 1,440 or the slightly reduced 2,560 x 1,440 resolution. Most of the games automatically resized themselves proportionately to fit the 21:9 aspect ratio. But Modern Warfare 3 and Heroes Of The Storm looked unnaturally stretched.
Mass Effect 3, like some other older games, required a third-party programme called Flawless Widescreen to make the game fit nicely into the new aspect ratio. With Flawless Widescreen, I could even adjust my field of vision and customise how much more of the battlefield I wanted to see. Some gamers line up three standard-sized monitors to achieve the same wide-vision effect but such a set-up requires plenty of table space. And in a three-monitor set-up, the picture will be segmented by the monitors' black bezels.
I also hooked up the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One to these screens but the consoles, unfortunately, run only at full high-definition 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, so games and Blu-ray movies look quite ugly stretched out.
These screens are built to fit the 21:9 aspect ratio, the same ratio found on the cinema screens on which you watch Hollywood blockbusters, but home entertainment is built around full high-definition resolution, which is in the 16:9 aspect ratio. On YouTube, I managed to find several remarkable movie trailers, including The Hobbit: Battle Of The Five Armies, which supported the ultra-wide size. The eye-popping clarity in full cinema-style splendour was to die for. Unfortunately, such trailers are in the minority and limited mainly to recent releases. Viewing a standard 16:9 video on the ultra-wide displays is a lousy experience, with giant black letter boxes on both sides of the screen.
I also tested my three favourite streaming services - Netflix, HBO Now and Amazon Instant Video - and was not happy with any of the results. The Netflix stream resized itself to fit the wider screen after I installed a Chrome plug-in, but for some reason, high-definition streams looked more like standard ones. Amazon was letter boxed, while HBO Now ran across about 80 per cent of the screen, leaving a strange ugly black gap on the left side of the screen.
There is no doubt that watching Hollywood movie trailers on ultra- wide screens is a better experience, but the time for such screens has not arrived yet, because there is hardly any other content built for this new aspect ratio.
An Excel spreadsheet can be shown in its entirety in full landscape view. You can view as many as 53 columns in a single spreadsheet. For long-sighted journalists like me, being able to type this story on a Word document at 500-per-cent zoom is truly a gift. You can even place two PowerPoint documents side by side or keep many windows open at the same time on this gigantic canvas.
Does the curve really matter?
I have never been sold on the marketing spiel that a curved screen offers a more immersive TV viewing experience, especially as watching TV is a family affair and anyone sitting off to the side will have a poorer view.
With the monitor, however, I do feel that the curve is an advantage, because some people sit so close to the monitor that it may be a challenge to see everything on an ultra-wide screen without moving about. The curved screen moves the sides of the screen closer to your eyes, so that you do not have to move farther away from the screen. Unfortunately, I could not get hold of a flat 34-inch screen to make a fairer real-life comparison.
I have no doubt that many PC gamers will view these new 34-inch ultra-wide screens as a must-buy in years to come. The price, unfortunately, could be a deal-breaker, as you need to shell out about $1,500 for one of these. That would be almost the same as a 55-inch TV set, and three times the price of a flat 27-inch full high-definition monitor.
For me, I am already sold. Now, I just need to find the dough.