Gaming in cinemascope delivers widescreen goodness without multi-monitor complications, but not all games can take advantage of 21:9 displays out of the box. Some produce distorted images that stretch standard 1080P and 1440P resolutions to cover the extra pixels. Others add pillarboxing, which preserves the aspect ratio but wastes screen real estate with a pair of black bars on either side of the image.
Fortunately, dealing with this is easier than you think, and doesn't involve begging developers for patches or learning how to code. You can fix most games with a few simple utilities that take care of all the details for you, and get some older, stubborn favorites working just by adding a line or two to a configuration file or the registry. You can even use these tools for gaming on exotic multi-monitor Surround and Eyefinity setups. Best of all, they're free, although worthy of the modest donations requested by their authors.
If you have an ultrawide monitor, here's how to take advantage of it.
Flawless Widescreen: Patch perfection in 21:9
The premier application for ultrawide gaming, Flawless Widescreen supports dozens of games via a handy automated plug-in architecture that pays multiple dividends for its users and developers. This modularity allows developers to add new games or update available ones regularly without time-consuming modifications to the base code and lets users load only the plug-ins relevant to their library, keeping development fast and software overhead low. Installation is a few clicks of effort and mercifully bereft of the installation kruft so common with downloaded utilities. You'll find no third-party toolbars or search engines bundled along for the ride here.
The layout is clean and operation simple: games are listed on the left and preferences for the selected on the right. Options include turning the ultrawide fix on or off, game version selection, FOV controls and game-specific tweaks, such as HUD or mouse sensitivity corrections. Useful information about patches and links to detailed reports appear on a sidebar to the right for those who want to dig deeper.
As long as Flawless Widescreen is active, all of the enabled plug-ins remain in effect; you shouldn't need to do anything special in-game to get up and running in 21:9. Just minimize the app to the system tray, boot the game, pick your resolution and you're good to go. Steam and Origin catalogs are automatically recognized, along with most standard game installs.
Drawbacks are few. While impressive, the catalog of around 100 games doesn't begin to cover a well-fed library. Most hardcore gamers have backlogs longer than that. If a plug-in for your favorite game isn’t written, you'll find no help from Flawless Widescreen. Don't lose hope, however. There are other options.
Windowed Borderless Gaming: Going outside the fullscreen box
Don't let the minuscule 900K size and minimal interface fool you; this tiny utility holds many charms. Originally born to help online streaming gamers switch between multiple apps without the glitches that often plague fullscreen Alt-Tab swaps, Windowed Borderless Gaming allows your system to run games at desktop resolutions as a windowed application in a simulated fullscreen state. The mouse is bound within the designated game window area, and the borders are blacked out, providing a convincing fullscreen experience, but the benefits of running on the desktop are retained and they go far beyond quick task switching.
You can change the native F3 keybind on the settings screen. Handy if you use this key for an in-game quickslot.
For 21:9 users, windowed mode lets games never patched to use ultra widescreen displays to enjoy full native resolution support. Even software that doesn't normally permit windowed modes is redirected by Windows Borderless Gaming, so aspect ratio distortion in fix-resistant games is eliminated. If the game provides options for custom resolution, de-facto full-screen support is possible as well.
The perks don't stop there, however. Tearing is virtually nonexistent when gaming on the desktop, without the need for V-Sync and its appetite for halving framerates and introducing input lag. Furthermore, monitor color correction profiles set up via control panel and other fine-tuned settings frequently ignored in full-screen modes are retained while running games on the desktop. Since plug-ins aren't required for operation, most games work fine with Windowed Borderless Gaming. The list of tested and verified games runs close to two hundred entries, but even if the game you want to play isn't listed, it may still work.
Playing games on the desktop can cause some problems, however. Nvidia owners report occasional micro-stuttering while running Windows 8, and in general it's not uncommon to run into poorly optimized desktop code as many developers don't focus on performance for these display modes, so extra GPU horsepower is recommended to compensate. Also, FPS and competitive fighting gamers take note: while desktop gaming has less lag than V-sync, it's still not quite as sharp as full-screen gaming in terms of latency.
DIY Widescreen: Not as lonely as you think
Many popular games will yield good results with Flawless Widescreen and Windowed Borderless Gaming. But for the ones that don't, there's a final resource, the Widescreen Gaming Forum. This clearinghouse of obscure information dedicated to widescreen gaming contains detailed DIY entries for over 1500 games, and although you'll need to read and apply the changes yourself, there's an active community ready to help troubleshoot your problem if things go awry.
Most fixes come in the form of config file modifications or registry edits, but links to other utilities, patches and similar workarounds ensure you'll make the most of your monitor with a minimum of frustration. They also keep handy lists of widescreen-specific hardware and other resources of interest for 21:9 and multi-monitor enthusiasts.
Not just a toolbox, but an artist's palette
Keep in mind there's nothing preventing you from using these tools together or with other utilities for compounded effects. For example, you can use Flawless Widescreen for HUD correction, Windowed Borderless Gaming to eliminate V-Sync and add other tools like Durante's GeDoSaTo to sweeten visuals beyond what's capable via software settings. And not just for gaming, but for amazing screenshots and video captures as well. If you've got a 21:9 rig you want to enjoy to its fullest potential, it's well worth your time to check these out.