It is the big trend on the display market of the last two years: screens with the aspect ratio 21:9. In itself, this is not a new format. In the consumer sector, such monitors have been available for quite some time, especially for gaming or film and video editing. It is not called the “cinema format” for no reason, as many films are shot in a wider aspect ratio. Anyone who has ever wondered about the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen at home will understand.
The common display standard is still the narrower 16:9 format. But now 21:9 is also pushing its way into the corporate AV sector, as could be observed at ISE, for example. In the offices and modern work spaces, ultrawide screens are intended to facilitate work, promote digital collaboration and make hybrid meetings more natural.
Why use 21:9 and why are they popular now?
21:9 promises a more natural viewing experience and more productivity for users. The format is more similar to the human eye’s field of vision than 16:9, which is said to lead to less eye irritation and more comfort during prolonged screen work. Due to the screen width, more content can be accommodated on the screen surface.
In everyday work, users often have to jump back and forth between many applications in parallel. They often use several screens for this. Now they can do this on one. Depending on the size of the monitor, several applications can be opened side by side in sufficient size – without the visual interruption of a dual display setup. Possible colour fluctuations and inconsistencies between different or differently calibrated monitors are thus avoided. With only one monitor, for example, you also only need one connection on the laptop and can thus do without additional peripheral devices. Due to the wider format, 21:9 displays also have a higher resolution than their 16:9 counterparts. All these points should contribute to a more immersive user experience.
Microsoft’s Front Row feature and the 21:9 format
The hype about 21:9 displays was also triggered in particular by Microsoft’s advertising campaign for its new Front Row feature for Microsoft Teams. The new layout is optimised for Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms and is intended to enhance standard rooms for hybrid meetings and conferences. With Microsoft Teams Rooms in high demand, it is understandable that many display manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon to place their products.
Microsoft recommends a monitor in 21:9 format with 5k resolution. This is because the Front Row layout arranges the gallery of participants in the call horizontally at the bottom of the screen. This should ideally be at eye level with the participants in the room. The shared content appears centrally above it, while chat windows and additional displays are placed on the left and right. This should lead to a better overview in the meeting.
In the room, the picture surface and furniture are aligned transversely. An arched table is provided. In addition, there are recommendations for technology such as a Windows PC, connections, cameras, microphones and so on.
The aim is to create an immersive and efficient meeting and collaboration environment, more space to work together and better inclusion of all participants through natural interaction.
The great advantage of Front Row for hybrid meetings in such a setting is that the perception of remote participants is highly improved and all participants communicate with each other at eye level. The increased presence and visibility also make it easier to register and interpret non-verbal signals. This counteracts the repeatedly voiced criticism that remote participants are disadvantaged in hybrid settings. Both the people in the real and virtual room benefit from these changes during communication and collaboration.
So far so good. But what becomes apparent on closer inspection is that this setup is not at all intended for the masses.
Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms are not a mass solution
Such a setup, as described in Microsoft’s guide for Signature Microsoft Teams Rooms, is not a mass solution. It is definitely fancy and modern, but the arrangement requires a lot of space and the furniture is expensive. A 21:9 display in an appropriate format costs a lot of money. This is still a special room.
Be careful with the format!
There are a few things to consider when choosing a meeting room setup. Be careful with the 21:9 format in 5K. The content must match! A lot of content in the corporate environment is still in 16:9, for example PowerPoint, camera images and so on. However, some content also scales, such as browser windows or applications designed for them. A different format nevertheless brings problems, also considering external sources and peripheral devices that may not support the format at all, but are necessary to configure the bandwidth. There are not many available yet. The new Barco Clickshare, for example, supports the format, but not in its native resolution. Common connections via HDMI are not possible here because the bandwidth is not sufficient.
Here, you either have to make do with technical tricks and adapt your setup to still use the potential of the entire 21:9 screen and 5k resolution or fall back on other solutions. There are ways to deal with these issues. Interestingly, even Microsoft does not use a 21:9 display in its promotional photo, but a projector with a 21:9 cut-out. So, there are also alternatives that are often cheaper.
Our AV experts will be happy to advise you on the realisation and optimisation of your Microsoft Teams rooms.
The problem with Front Row
The idea behind Front Row is basically good when it comes to involving many remote participants. But there are disadventages, too.
In the end, the feature really comes into its own in this setting if there are a correspondingly large number of participants in the meeting and they occupy the additional space accordingly. But what if there are only four and two of them have switched off the camera?
Does it really make sense to permanently display elements such as chat or reactions on the left and right? Is the 21:9 format at all suitable for content presentations? Much of the additional screen space is rather wasted in this context.
A 21:9 screen with a 105 inch screen diagonal corresponds in height to an 85 inch screen in 16:9 format. By moving the subscriber tiles to the lower edge, the displayed size of the shared content is reduced again significantly – in this example to around 55 inches. This is too small and poorly visible for most viewing distances and applications.
This means that the displays would have to be correspondingly larger, which in turn costs space and money. Whether this investment is even worthwhile for this use case must be decided on a case-by-case basis. 21:9 is still very expensive. The oversize format is also difficult to transport due to its size and weight. So there are also additional costs for transport. Together with the special furnishings, it is important to weigh up carefully what you want to use this setup for or whether you would prefer a dual display setup.
Testing interactive 21:9 displays at macomLAB
We are happy to advise our customers on the appropriate selection. In our macomLAB, you also have the opportunity to try out technologies and use cases on site.
We have recently started testing 21:9 touch displays there. Our experts look into the question of what the huge, interactive monitors are suitable for and what challenges the technology brings with it.
This already starts with the transport and assembly of the 120kg displays. Simply hanging them on the wall is difficult. In this case, extra reinforced display columns were the solution. Useful features such as height adjustability and tilt protection are not a matter of course for a screen of this size either.
Of course, the touch function is of little use for Teams meetings and Front Row. However, the large surface is ideal for collaborative work. That’s why our employees are testing the devices as a substitute for a blackboard or whiteboard. Such and even wider formats are common in the education sector. In combination with a PC and browser-based applications like Mural, such screens could enhance teaching in schools and universities in the long term. At least as soon as prices drop.
For individual special rooms and special use cases, for example boardrooms or as a flagship with innovation character, Signature Teams Rooms with 21:9 displays are an appealing high-end meeting solution, but in terms of price and scalability there are cheaper, more flexible and simpler alternatives with similarly good results. At this stage, however, the products are not yet suitable for mass consumption.