Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Sometimes you need a little extra screen real-estate, and the typical 16:9 monitor won’t do. Whether you’re a creative professional who needs a massive curved display, or a gamer looking for the most immersive experience you can possibly get outside of VR, there’s probably an ultra-wide monitor for you. Be careful though, ultra-wides are dangerous – once you try one, you’ll be spoiled for all other monitors. Even the sharpest, clearest 16:9 monitor will seem insubstantial and inadequate by comparison.
That said, if you’re prepared to take the plunge, read on. We’ve gathered the best of the best in the ultra-wide monitor market and run them through a barrage of tests to determine their fitness to display your games, your movies, or even your workspace.
Why should you buy this: You want a monitor with the sensibility and size of a small luxury yacht.
Who’s it for: Gamers, professionals, and everyone in between.
How much will it cost: From $950 to $1000
Why we picked the Samsung CF791:
First and foremost, this monitor is a striking piece of hardware. The design is understated, effortless and professional. The frame and stand all seem to melt away when you’re seated before that massive curved display. Colors saturate your vision from all angles, and the monitor is all-encompassing.
The CF791 offers stunning picture quality, with rich inky blacks, vivid and lifelike colors — right out of the box. Without any tinkering, it hits a stellar 940:1 contrast ratio, which puts it well ahead of similarly priced competitors.
This level of quality on a standard 16:9 display would be outstanding. The fact that it’s on a massive 21:9 display with a deep curve makes it truly a sight to behold. Video content is rich and fluid thanks to the monitor’s 100Hz refresh rate, and AMD’s FreeSync.
In addition to the stunning display, it has a simple and professional exterior design which makes it a bit of a chameleon. It would be just as comfortable beside a flashy gaming PC decked out in LEDs as it would in an office beside a dusty old workstation.
The Samsung CF791 doesn’t need a flashy exterior design because its size, clarity, and resolution make it a showstopper all on its own.
The best gaming ultra-wide
Why should you buy this: This monitor’s 200Hz refresh rate is wonderfully excessive.
Who’s it for: Gamers, or anyone else who needs a monitor that can render 200 frames per second without breaking a sweat.
How much will it cost: Around $980
Why we picked the Acer Predator Z35:
Ultra-wide monitors look great, and they can provide an immersive gaming experience, but there’s more to a gaming monitor than size and curvature. No matter how big and gorgeous they are, no matter how bright and vivid, there’s one specific that must be up to par. Refresh rate.
So how does Acer’s ultra-wide measure up to other gaming monitors in a more traditional form factor? Well, it doesn’t. It obliterates them. The Acer Predator brings a massive 200Hz refresh rate to bear on an equally massive 35-inch 1080p display, and the result couldn’t be more satisfying. By allowing games to hit 200FPS without screen tearing, the Predator’s refresh rate delivers best-in-class performance. The result is buttery-smooth gameplay.
That said, the display’s 2,560 x 1,080 resolution is a little low by today’s standards. It translates about 80 pixels per inch, which is a little less than a 1080p, 24-inch monitor. However, the resolution does mesh well with the refresh rate. High framerates are less likely at high resolutions.
Despite its high price tag, the Predator is a very good choice for a long-term investment. The Acer Predator Z35 is compatible with Nvidia’s G-Sync, which makes the most of the monitor’s impressive refresh rate, serving up frames as quick as your PC can render them.
The best professional ultra-wide
Why should you buy this: You need a massive workspace and pitch-perfect color accuracy.
Who’s it for: Professionals looking for extra space, without sacrificing color accuracy.
How much will it cost: $775
Why we picked the Dell U3415W:
As you can probably gather from our coverage so far, ultra-wide monitors look spectacular. The technology has matured over the last couple years as resolution and pixel density have gone up, while prices have gone down. Sometimes, though, you need more than a great looking monitor. Sometimes you need a monitor that looks, well, perfect.
Creative professionals like photographers, graphic artists, and film editors need near-perfect color accuracy. Professional monitors need to resolve colors with a degree of precision that might go unnoticed in movies or games. They need to replicate real-world tones and hues with as little variation as possible.
That’s where the Dell U3415W comes in. With near-perfect color accuracy, 3,440 x 1,440 resolution, a best-in-class contrast ratio of 730:1 at 75 percent brightness, and a display panel capable of reproducing 100 percent of the sRGB spectrum, this ultra-wide monitor delivers a unique viewing experience that is well suited to professional graphic design or photo editing.
Dell has also thrown in a few extras, like a versatile on-screen menu system, multiple USB ports, and an highly adjustable stand – something that’s not always guaranteed, even on expensive ultra-wides monitors. Taken together, these traits make it a clear pick for creative professionals.
The best budget ultra-wide
Why should you buy this: You need that extra real estate, and you don’t mind a few eccentricities.
Who’s it for: Students, or professionals on a budget.
How much will it cost: $290
Why we picked the LG 29UM68-P:
As stunning as gaming on an ultra-wide monitor can be, one of the best uses for all that extra space is, unsurprisingly, work. A monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio makes for an excellent, luxuriant workspace, offering up enough screen real-estate for three or more windows to co-exist side-by-side. Games will look great, but so will spreadsheets.
If you’re shopping for your home office or your office-office, you probably don’t want to go all-out for an $800 ultra-wide that’s just going to spend most of its time rendering word processors and spreadsheets. The LG 29UM68-P is probably not the best choice if you want an ultra-high-fidelity movie watching experience, but if you need a reliable, well-rounded ultra-wide for less than $300, look no further.
As with any budget option, the LG 29UM68-P is not without its drawbacks. It only supports a 60Hz to 75Hz refresh rate range, and its 2,560 x 1,080 resolution can look a little stretched on such a big screen. But those downsides are easily excused by the price.
It’s even decent to look at when turned off, as this humble LG offers thin display bezels and an attractive curved stand. This is the budget model in the ultra-wide world, but most people won’t know that unless you tell them.
The best ultra-wide for showing off
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Why should you buy this: You have deep pockets and a penchant for extravagant tech.
Who’s it for: Monster battlestation owners and media moguls.
How much will it cost: $1,500
Why we picked the LG 38UC99:
Most of the ultra-wide screens we spend time with are 34 inches, but the LG 38UC99 is in a class of its own, with a 38 inch diagonal and 3,840 x 1,600 resolution. It’s massively expensive, with a $1,500 suggested retail price, but makes up for it with, well, sheer size.
It’s the biggest monitor we’ve reviewed in the Digital Trends office by a fair margin, and it drew the attention of every coworker who walked by the test lab. Many even stopped in for a quick game of Overwatch, or to check out a 4K trailer.
The 38UC99 doesn’t compromise where it counts, either. It boasts a 60Hz refresh rate in normal mode, up to 75Hz with FreeSync, when combined with an AMD graphics card. Which you’ll need, by the way, if you want to play modern games.
If you can afford it, the LG 38UC99 is one of the most impressive monitors you’ll ever set eyes on, and it’s sure to give your gaming rig or media machine an extra pop that even a 4K monitor can’t provide.
How we test
Reviewing monitors can be tricky. Unlike other types of hardware, it’s hard to convey how well a monitor performs with raw statistics alone. Everyone’s going to see a monitor a little differently, so we do our best to conduct objective testing to bring out the best in each monitor that comes through the Digital Trends offices.
When we test monitors, we leave no stone unturned. From physical stability to color reproduction, we run these monitors through a battery of tests to make sure they live up to manufacturer promises and customer expectations. Right out of the box, we test color accuracy, contrast ratio, and brightness with a professional-grade colorimeter, and follow that up with a run through some very dark and very bright games to get a look at how things look in motion.
To find out more, check out our guide to calibrating your monitor. The tools and techniques we use in that guide or the basis for what we use to test and calibrate monitors that we receive.
Is now a good time to buy?
If you’d have asked that question last year, the answer would have been a resounding negative. Ultra-Wide monitors are more expensive than their traditional 16:9 cousins, as they’re bigger, and less common. But if you compare last year’s prices to those you can find today, you’ll see that some of the best, most impressive ultra-wide monitors are currently available for a fraction of their original asking prices.
In fact, if you look through the reviews we have on file for the monitors in this list you’ll notice that the MSRP for each of them is well more than current asking prices. Some are available online for about half what they were just a year ago.
Market pressure and cheaper components have made for an incredibly inviting buyers’ market when it comes to ultra-wide monitors. So, yes, now is a great time to buy an ultra-wide 21:9 monitor, particularly considering we’re nearing the end of the year, and as we all know there are a couple high-profile nationwide-sales just on the horizon. You might see these already-low prices plunge even lower by the holiday season.