Widescreen Dilemma

December 26th, 2006 by Potato

It is a fact of life:

  • Anything invented before you were born is old and cruddy.
  • Anything invented while you’re young is exciting and the way of the future.
  • Anything invented after that is against the natural order of things and will doubtlessly kill us all.

[modified from Douglas Adams]

I find I’m feeling very old lately, and that’s partly due to experiencing a lot of that “this new technology just isn’t right” lately when it comes to TVs/monitors, particularly widescreen ones.

Widescreen, as much as I hate it, seems to be the way of the future. Its proponents claim that it is more immersive, that looking at something in a “landscape” format makes you feel more like you’re actually there than if you spread your screen area around more evenly. Perhaps I spent too much time as a kid inside watching TV rather than outside tracking antelope across the horizon, but I just don’t really find that’s the case. I have terrible peripheral vision, so that may play a large role in that. I have to constantly track my eyes across the screen, and when it’s nicely compact around the centre, then I can keep my eyes roughly near the centre with less movement overall to follow the action — widescreen stretches things out so I have to track further horizontally (though less up&down) which I just don’t care for quite as much.

A lot of this is because I deal with a lot of text, or small detailed graphics (ship icons, etc). Perversely, it was the immersive wide-screen movies that really drove the recent widescreen craze, and you can probably still see a number of demonstrations of why watching a movie in widescreen (as it was meant to be) is better, showing the action that was cut out by fitting to your 4:3 TV screen. I say this is perverse because many of those movies were actually shot on cameras with 4:3 aspect ratios, and they simply used fancy lenses to get a wide picture (typically compressing the horizontal, so that even though you get more scenery side-to-side, the resolution is worse), or crudely cut away the top and bottom (which reminds me of a counter-ad I thought of a long time ago: rather than showing the two bad guys on either side of Jackie Chan that would be cut out if widescreen were adapted for 4:3, instead show a picture of an actress in a close-up that only goes down to the collarbone, and how if it had been in 4:3 rather than letterboxed, you could have had cleavage in the shot).

Anyhow, the point is made: I have some reservations about the widescreen craze, and kind of like my 4:3 monitor, particularly for all the text work I do (such as writing my website here). Recently though, I’ve thought about getting a new monitor, and it might just make a weird kind of sense to get a widescreen one, since that seems to be where everything is going nowadays. My reservations, aside from a personal and partially irrational distaste for the format, is that a lot of old content just doesn’t look very good on a widescreen monitor (many games are simply stretched to fit, rather than resizing or adding black bars at the side), and more bafflingly, that there seem to be multiple widescreen aspect ratios (16:9, 2.35:1, 1.85:1, and I’m sure, somehow, the French have invented a metric one like 2:1. Bloody French).

Why you ask, would I be interested in a new monitor when my gianormous flat screen CRT monitor is still in good shape and produces rather excellent pictures in my antiquated yet preferred aspect ratio? Partly, to have something new and cool (both in the sense of being nifty and in producing less heat). Partly because I would get a bigger screen than the one I have now (even if just off to the sides). And partly because of this awesome boxing day sale. A 22″ monitor with <8 ms response time for $300 with free shipping? Hell, yes. Plus I can get a… relatively paltry, in comparison to the cost of the monitor… bonus 33 Air Miles by going via airmilesshops.ca. Plus, 22″ (widescreen) is just about the perfect size for me because the vertical dimension is just about exactly the same as my 19″ (18″ viewable) CRT, which means that it’s really just getting wider, instead of trading height for width like I would have if I went for the 20″ one I was initially looking at.

For a while now, I’ve had my “price point” for a new monitor set at about $300, so this looks like the time, even if I may not be completely ready for widescreen (luddite that I am). I’ve also been really impressed with the Dell monitors at work. While I’ve had some serious reservations about Dell in the past for their computers (proprietary parts, skimping on certain things, tech support, etc.), their monitors have always been decent, and their LCD panels seem to be top-of-the-line, so I’m hoping that’ll be the case with this screen. Look for a review after it arrives.

Update: After sucumbing to Boxing Day fever and placing the order for the laptop, I noticed a comment about it: it’s in a strange 16:10 aspect ratio. For the love of… Ah well, we’ll see what happens when it gets here. Also, one thing I was looking forward to with a Dell is that their monitors have USB ports and the ability to swivel 90 degrees into portrait mode, both nice “plus” features that really helped sell it, but this one doesn’t mention those on its details page. Hopefully they’ll be there anyway, but I’ll have to wait a week or so for it to get here…

One Response to “Widescreen Dilemma”

  1. Netbug Says: