Curved screens are, in most circumstances, a gimmick in search of a purpose. Samsung’s Galaxy Round and LG’s G Flex showed that it didn’t matter which axis you used to make a curve, curved phones just weren’t enticing to people. Curved TVs have also earned more scorn than praise — most recently on this very website, courtesy of a withering review of one of Samsung’s exemplars. But there is one killer application for curved displays and that’s gaming.
The Consumer Electronics Show at the start of this year was unusually rich on new display technology, like Dell’s 8K monitor for graphics professionals, and implementations, like Razer’s three-screened gaming laptop prototype. However the one thing that stood out to me wasn’t strictly new. It was LG’s 34-inch ultrawide (21:9 aspect ratio) curved monitor, charmingly titled 34UC88, which was serving as the display at another exhibitor’s booth. I was immediately smitten with how awesome that LG monitor made the experience of playing Battlefield 1.
Curved TVs are awful in part because they don’t improve immersion but do increase reflections. They also narrow down the viewing angle to a perfect perch point right in front of them, which is kind of a big deal with a social centerpiece like a TV. None of those things are an issue with a personal monitor, which is by design intended for just one person, and with which the wraparound sensation that a curved screen is intended to provide is in fact tangible. With its cinema-wide aspect ratio, the LG monitor seemed to envelop me, providing a more natural sense of my environment than a flat 2D plane does.
There’s a straightforward technical reason for why I found Battlefield much more enjoyable on a curve. Most first-person games condense a wide field of view into the narrow window of a screen because that gives the player more information to work with. That generates a dissonance: you’re looking through a circumscribed box, but seeing more than the box should properly show you. Curved, ultrawide monitors feel more realistic when rendering game environments because they can unfurl the visual information across a wider space, and instead of making the things on the player’s right or left sit directly in front, they can position those more appositely. That’s my theory, anyhow.
The bottom line is that I stuck around at that CES exhibit for way too long, driving an uncooperative tank aimlessly, just soaking in the beautiful sights of Battlefield’s landscapes. Razer’s wild laptop prototype was supposed to give me this sensation of added immersion, with its unprecedented trio of 17-inch monitors, but I never felt it. Multi-monitor gaming has never proven its value in my eyes, as I tend to find myself just focusing on the middle screen at all times. But with the curved LG monitor, my eyes were roaming and exploring with a freedom I hadn’t previously experienced. It was a subtle difference, but it was a real one — and it made the experience feel downright luxurious.
PCs have matured to such a degree these days that it’s hard to find huge and obvious upgrades. If you have a good graphics card, that will last you years, not just months as was once the case. Memory bottlenecks can be overcome cheaply, and processors are good enough for the vast majority of tasks. Virtual reality is starting to strain some older machines now, but I’m not yet interested in jumping aboard that bandwagon. Not when there’s so much fun to be had with a curved ultrawide monitor. VR might be the future, but I’m fully sold on curved monitors being the best portal to a great gaming experience in the present.
Alas, even though there’s now an abundance of choice of curved displays, none of them are particularly cheap. A 34-inch variant of the sort I played with at CES will set you back $800 or more, depending on the specs and connectivity options you want it to have. Beside their high price, curved screens also have their inconveniences when you’re not gaming, where they put undesired curves on everything. Excel spreadsheets and precise photo editing are probably best handled elsewhere.
So a curved monitor is neither cheap nor practical. But having sampled its glories as a means to game on a PC, I’m sold on it as the ultimate gaming upgrade.