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Multi-monitor, ultra wide or 4K: What delivers the best gaming experience?

By Jos ยท 34 replies
Mar 25, 2015
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  1. delivers gaming experience guest

    While 4K displays are obviously making huge waves for gaming on the PC, we’re also in an ecosystem where the possibilities for how we even display our games are better than they’ve ever been. 4K gaming as it stands still requires a tremendous amount of horsepower – two GeForce GTX 980s or an AMD Radeon R9 295X2 are basically required – but there are also other alternatives worth investigating. We have tremendous flexibility as far as aspect ratio, panel quality, and even add-ons like Gsync and FreeSync. If you want, you can even just stretch your game across multiple displays.

    I decided to investigate performance and the overall gaming experience on multiple different setups. To me, the four big options right now in terms of just aspect ratio are 16:9 (1080p or 2560x1440), multi-monitor surround, 21:9 ultra-wide, and 4K (technically 16:9, but different due to high pixel density).

    Editor’s Note:
    Guest author Dustin Sklavos is a Technical Marketing Specialist at Corsair and has been writing in the industry since 2005. This article was originally published on the Corsair blog.

    First, experientially, it’s basically a draw between 21:9 and 4K. My 21:9 experience is colored tremendously by the fact that we used a Samsung S34E790C, a 34” curved bear of a monitor that nonetheless offers almost all of the benefits of triple-monitor gaming with none of the drawbacks. My bottom line is if you want something immersive, one of the curved 34” displays running at 3440x1440 is going to give you the right mix of detail, picture quality, and overall field of view.

    Internally, we have people split between these two standards. A large 4K display offers something 21:9 displays currently can’t: substantially improved pixel density resulting in a much more detailed image. If raw detail is what you want and you’d rather stick with the conventional 16:9 aspect (and avoid any potential compatibility issues with wider aspects), then you should be shopping for a 4K panel.

    There is, however, another reason why 21:9 is picking up a bit of a following over 4K: 21:9 displays simply require less horsepower than 4K does.

    delivers gaming experience guest

    If you look at the number of pixels that have to be rendered at each step, a garden variety 2560x1080 display only requires about 33% more than a standard 1080p display does. Even the “deluxe” 34” 21:9 panel is still only about 2.4x the rendering, a far cry from the demands of 4K.

    So how does that translate to the gaming experience?

    delivers gaming experience guest

    Just a single GeForce GTX 980 is enough to keep framerates well over 40fps up to the 34” resolution of 3440x1440; things are exceptionally comfortable at 2560x1080, where you’d likely be fine with even a single 970 or R9 290. So if you’re not looking to break the bank on graphics hardware, you could arguably invest more in your display.

    delivers gaming experience guest

    Moving to a pair of GTX 980s, you’re now looking at essentially what I’d consider the bare minimum for comfortable gaming at 4K. Any other display setup runs beautifully on these two, but they should, since this is essentially the most performance you can buy before you start going into the truly treacherous waters of triple- and quadruple-card configurations.

    BioShock Infinite is always going to be an oddball with low minimum frames, but everything else is buttery smooth once you drop below 4K.

    From a practical perspective, a non-TN 4K panel is still going to cost you north of a grand, at which point you’re in the ballpark of these supersized 21:9 displays. Personally, I find the Samsung monitor infinitely more appealing than a TN-based 4K or any of the larger 4K displays, as it offers more immersion without going into the weeds the way triple-monitor surround can. Which direction would you go?

    Permalink to story.

  2. tomkaten

    tomkaten TS Maniac Posts: 247   +164

    Interesting write up, but it's more of a matter of what one can afford. None of my friends would go for anything less than 4k if the cumulated price required to run anything smoothly wouldn't (still) be so prohibitive.
  3. Personally I'm holding out for Occulus Rift or the competitor that will beat them to market.
    claude F and SantistaUSA like this.
  4. Couldn't agree more that 21:9 is the value sweet spot right now. I'm seriously considering the Samsung monitor cited as it would be an awesome display for Civ 5. Going 4K right now is fine if you want all that comes with being an early adopter - getting hosed on hardware prices; font scaling issues mostly in Windows; dealing with the inelegance of a multi-gpu set-up which can double as a space heater with the accompanying electric bill; and finally the sometimes disappointing performance scaling of multi-gpu.
  5. CaptainTom

    CaptainTom TS Maniac Posts: 403   +211

    21:9 5K IPS :p
  6. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,208   +4,877

    I'd say Surround. 4K would be a waste if games can't really take advantage of it. There are a great many areas that can be enhanced to make a game look better without needing the extra pixels density.
    Jad Chaar and Spykezxp like this.
  7. madboyv1

    madboyv1 TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,530   +420

    I fully intend to replace my main monitor when I put together a new computer later this year, so that is a question I've been asking myself as well. Practicality does push 21:9 monitors a little better than 4k, but I'm also waiting for more G-Sync and FreeSync/DP1.2+ compatible monitors to get on the market.
  8. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,821   +2,076

    I want a 46" 4k monitor so I can have the standard 96DPI but with more bezelless screen realestate. I've been eyeing the Vizio p-series for awhile now as they have very low input lag and 4K@60hz. The best part is that the 50" model has a VA panel with full array local dimming for only $700! At first they had some image processing issues but they fixed that in a firmware update in January.

    that 50" model is close enough to 96DPI so I will be trying to get my hands on that to use as my daily driver.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  9. Sniped_Ash

    Sniped_Ash TS Maniac Posts: 253   +108

    I agree. Games barely take advantage of 1080p as it is and 4k doesn't do you much good when all the action is motion-blurred to hell and back. Back in the day, when maximum display resolution and display size were both increasing rapidly, it was always the bigger, more immersive displays that wowed me.

    Of course none of this matters if you can't get to 60fps.
  10. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,286

    Nah. I can't say I'm terribly interested in this 4K, multi monitor, widescreen setup stuff. 1080p is still good enough for me and will continue to be for a long time to come.
    hahahanoobs likes this.
  11. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,208   +4,877

    ^ Yeah but if you were to choose larger than 1080P. Which would it likely be?

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,684   +775

    I'm also waiting for virtual reality headsets... monitors are for work, VR is for gaming.
  13. LNCPapa

    LNCPapa TS Special Forces Posts: 4,271   +520

    For some of us VR is for work also ;)
  14. Evernessince

    Evernessince TS Evangelist Posts: 3,808   +3,195

    I have a 21-9 monitor and there are two issues I have with it. Pretty much every video won't fill the entire screen and that many games don't support the aspect ratio.
  15. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 2,437   +862

    I like 2560x1080, but not all games support that resolution properly, movies would be upscaled versus native, and websites don't look good at all when the content of a webpage is only taking up the middle leaving large empty space on both sides (within the browser window). Selection and high refresh rate support is also lacking.

    I really wanted to go with a 144Hz 2560x1440 monitor, however I would need more graphic horsepower versus 1080p. I would either have to pay $500+ for a GPU(s) to power it to get close to 144fps, or lower the eye candy to the point of making such a high resolution pointless.

    What I have finally decided on is a to stick with 24" and go with a 144Hz 1080p G-Sync monitor. My personal gaming sweet spot.
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  16. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 8,647   +3,286

    I really don't know, I haven't looked at anything over 1080p. As I said, I don't take much of an interest in this type of thing. When I'm forced to upgrade I guess I'll follow the rest of the herd and take what's in vogue then. What can go wrong? ;)
  17. tomkaten

    tomkaten TS Maniac Posts: 247   +164

    I've said just that so many times in the past only to be blown away by a small increment in resolution that I'm afraid to say it again. 1080p to 4k is 4 times the resolution so games should really look amazing. A couple of days playing games at 4k and I'm willing to bet you wouldn't go back if they paid you. :)
  18. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,821   +2,076

    Yes it's 4X the resolution, that doesn't mean the game can generate 4X the detail at the resolution. There are still far too many problems with things like view distance and LOD's for gaming at 4k to be worth anything. You know when you're playing a game and plants pop up in front of you, shadows are only cast at things in a certain range? 4k would only be worth anything if there was detail that was available further away, but the way I see it most games today barely have enough detail to run at 720p. It is so easy to see the limitations of even games like Crysis when gaming at 1080p.

    Many games try to fake view distance with the use of LOD's, essentially their a series of 2D images that are pre rendered and placed in the distance. This isn't that much of a problem at lower resolutions, but at higher resolutions it's really obvious that they are faking everything in the distance. They do this because it saves resources and it does it very well, but it sacrifices image quality at higher resolutions. Now, up until about a year ago people didn't even think about 4k so this might change in the future. The problem being that consoles aren't powerful enough to do away with LOD's and developers are lazy so they will continue using them. That means us PC gamers are going to have to continue using them

    The only thing you're going to get out of 4K gaming is the ability to see the lack of detail further away. I like to call this "the unspoken problem with 4k gaming"
  19. As a developer and gamer, I really got interested on that Samsung 34" 21:9. It seems it could replace my multi-monitor setup for coding and testing and still give me some interesting gaming options...
  20. Experimentongod

    Experimentongod TS Maniac Posts: 293   +124

    Interesting points, I would like to comment on them (basically 1920x1080 vs 2560x1080):

    - Games: Not a problem at all, you can always force 1920x1080 (16:9) or 1440x1080 (4:3) pillarboxed with incompatible games (I play some 4:3 games at 1440x1080 myself on a 1920x1080 display). The thing is that if you need to play a 4:3 game the amount of screen real state wasted would be obscene.

    - Movies: Yes, you get a little upscaling on the image, but the clear benefit here is that black bars are virtually non existent (a lot of movies have wider-than-16:9 aspect ratio) so the movie image suddenly gets A LOT bigger. If the movie is already 16:9 you see the same as on a 1920x1080 display though (pillarboxed)

    - Websites: Yes, you waste more space, but the vertical resolution is the same. Use the browser on half the screen and you're fine.

    All in all this could be considered a really interesting upgrade path from 1920x1080. Even two out of the three mentioned drawbacks would only make this displays behave EXACTLY the same as a 1920x0180. Compatibility is excellent as you can always "pillarbox" anything to 1920x1080.

    For me the KEY upgrade points are:

    - It only requires 33% more horsepower from the GPU.
    - Movies look HUGE
    - Works almost like a 1280x1024 dual monitor setup, so you can get some really good multi window desktop experiencie
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2015
  21. tomkaten

    tomkaten TS Maniac Posts: 247   +164

    I think that's going a bit too far. Not everyone enjoys FPSs where they slap a room's worth full of high detail in front of you and a pre-rendered 2D image in the distance. There are games that don't resort to such antics simply because they don't have to render huge open spaces. There are movies that will look a lot better, there's a whole slew of applications that will benefit immensely from the huge resolution.

    It's still too early to tell how the hardware will cope with such a huge increase, but opinions like "everything will look horrible" and "I don't see myself needing that anytime soon" are subjective and not valid for everyone. The market WILL move on to 4k whether we like it or not and game studios will just have to adjust accordingly.

    Not sure about you, but I still remember getting my brand new Voodoo card and pushing Quake from 320X240 to 640X480... The DOF limitations were very much visible, and I still remember feeling like I'd been playing it with a ski mask over my eyes before, so...
  22. claude F

    claude F TS Rookie

    I agree Oculus Rift is the Future !!!
  23. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,073   +164

    I am running 4 x R290X , I have a 4K and 3cpanel 5760 x1080. The bezels disappear and gaming and and I still prefer the surround eyefinty for immersion.
  24. 6 multi-ultrawide-monitor, each monitor is 34 inch (21:9) with the same ppi in 4K displays @144Hz :D
  25. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,821   +2,076

    Well sure, but why would I spend thousands of dollars on a computer to play games with graphics that don't take advantage of my hardware? If I have a titan and 4k montior I don't want to play metro, I want to play Crysis 3, farcry and planetside.. Sure you can have games that don't have wide open areas, but essentially you have crysis 2 at that point. They couldn't take full advantage of the cryengine because the setting of the game didn't allow them to. Metro has an amazing engine, but personally I think the game looks like garbage because of it's styling and setting.

    Enthusiasts who are making the investment into 4k aren't going to want the closed quarters console style gameplay. And while I will be buying a 50" 4k TV to use as my daily driver, I wont be gaming at 4k. I'm buying it so I can have the extra usable screen realestate.

    seriously, you have to drop at least $1500 on graphics cards to even get started at 4k.
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2015
    Burty117 and cliffordcooley like this.

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