Troubleshooting computer monitor problems: the sideways stretch

Stretched or horizontally elongated screen are a common computer monitor problem. We'll look at the most likely cause, and resolution.

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I’ve installed 22″ flat screen Optiquest Q2201wb monitor to replace my several-year-old 17″ CRT ViewSonic E771 monitor. Everything seems stretched out sideways: the icons on my desktop are now rectangular instead of square; all the letters in my posts seem wider; the people on the screen seem shorter and fatter; etc.

My neighbor thinks I need to replace the video card(?) in my computer tower. Is this true? Need I do any other things to accommodate the change in monitors. If ‘Yes’, can you tell me what to do and if they’re things I can do rather than taking the tower to the shop where I got it?

I’ve seen this computer monitor problem myself. In fact, if I so choose, I can make that problem happen on my computer monitors without much effort.

Naturally, I choose not to.

The good news is that it is, likely, just that – a choice. But exactly what choice depends on the capabilities of your monitor and your video card.

The difference that you’re seeing is that the “aspect ratio” of your new monitor is likely different than it was on your old CRT. This is a change we’re seeing in the world of television as well as screens change from standard to high definition.

It’s likely that your old CRT has an aspect ratio of 4:3 … meaning that the width is 4/3 the height, or conversely, the height is 3/4 the width. Your new monitor is probably different. Perhaps it’s 16:9, the new HD TV standard, but it could also be something else entirely.

If you look at screen resolutions, you’ll see something interesting; measured in pixels, the old “standard” screen resolutions – 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768 – are all 4:3. And I’m sure that they displayed just fine on your old CRT.

I looked up your new monitor, and it has a native resolution of 1680×1050 pixels. That’s not a 4:3 ratio (it’s actually about 4.8:3, or more correctly 8:5). That means that’s it’s wider, in comparison, than your old monitor’s 4:3.

4:3 and 4.8:3 aspect ratios

Now, if you change nothing else and just plug in your new monitor, then the monitor needs to make a decision – how to display what is likely a 4:3 image in a 4.8:3 space. There are three choices.

The first choice is to maintain the aspect ratio of the original image:

4:3 image centered on a 4.8:3 screen

This is typically done by displaying the 4:3 image centered within the larger screen. You’ll see this all the time now when 4:3 standard definition TV shows are displayed on 16:9 HDTV screens. Typically, the centered image has black bars on either side to take up the unused space.

An alternative we almost never see is to crop:

4:3 image cropped on a 4.8:3 screen

In this case, the image is enlarged to fill the entire width of the screen while maintaining the original aspect ratio. The result is that the top and the bottom are lost since they don’t fit.

The third option, and what I expect you are experiencing, is to ignore the aspect ratio completely:

4:3 image stretched to fit a 4.8:3 screen

In this case, the monitor stretches the image to fully fit the screen, ignoring the original aspect ratio. As you can see, what was a perfect circle at 4:3 is now a somewhat elongated ellipse when it’s stretched to fit this wider aspect ratio. Everything on screen appears slightly stretched horizontally.

Setting your screen resolution to match your monitor’s native resolution is, by far, the preferred solution…

That’s all well and good, for way of explanation, but how do we fix it?

There may be two ways.

Your monitor may, in fact, have an option to choose what to do when the aspect ratio of what you’re attempting to display doesn’t match. In fact, your monitor includes the option to “Fill to Screen” (stretch, in the example above), or “Fill to Aspect Ratio” (the centered with black bars approach) in its settings. These are settings you would access using the menu and other controls on the monitor itself.

Many monitors include similar settings, but many do not. Your alternative is to adjust the screen resolution in Windows itself.

In Windows XP, right click on your desktop, click on Properties, and then click on the Settings tab. In Windows Vista, right click on your desktop, click on Personalize, and then click on Display Settings. In the resulting dialog, look at the Screen Resolution setting:

Display Settings in Windows XP

If you can, set the Screen resolution to the maximum native resolution your LCD monitor supports by adjusting the slider. In your case that’s 1680×1050. If you can set it to that, then Windows will automatically display at the proper aspect ratio, and the monitor will not have to stretch anything. Setting your screen resolution to match your monitor’s native resolution is, by far, the preferred solution to get you the best looking display.

If that specific resolution is not available, then you’ll need to try resolutions that are smaller than that, but ideally with the same aspect ratio. 1512×945, for example, would maintain the same aspect ratio. Not all monitors handle running at less than their optimal resolution well, and it may result in a slightly fuzzy display, but it won’t be horizontally stretched.

Finally, your friend may be right. If your video card cannot put out the monitor’s native resolution, and you’re unhappy with the alternatives above, then changing one or the other might well be called for.

There are 26 comments:

  1. Just J Reply

    For the benefit of your readers, I’m not the person who asked this question.

    I would however, like to offer my praise on the answer given.

    I thought your diagrams and explanations of aspect ratio were comprehensive and easy to understand.

    Kudos to you Leo for an excellent article.

  2. vincent Reply

    I like how you drew those illustrations in Ms Paint ;-)

    Microsoft Visio, actually.

    - Leo
    07-May-2009
  3. Bill Reply

    Just an amplification about “If you can, set the Screen resolution to the maximum native resolution your LCD monitor supports by adjusting the slider.”

    It is more important than just getting the aspect ratio right. If you set it to anything other than the native resolution or an integer multiple or division of it, your image will be “fuzzy” compared to the native resolution.
    The other is you want to get every bit of resolution that you paid for.

    The computer will output pixels in the locations set by what you told it to in the properties page. If that doesn’t line up with the number of pixels on the monitor, the monitor will average part of up to 9 pixels from the computer to make one on the screen. That averaging softens the edges of lines or may loose part of a thin line.

    This doesn’t apply to CRT monitors because they can adjust the number and position of the pixels on the monitor. The pixel locations on an LCD or Plasma screen is locked in when it is made.

    There is one more adjustment to add to do when you get a new LCD screen. In Windows XP, it is in the Appearance tab of the Display Properties box. It is called ClearType. Each pixel on your LCD monitor is made up of three colored pixels that get turned on individualy. Clear type uses this to turn on the sub pixels individually to improve the sharpness of the monitor.
    After turning ClearType on, it is best if you use the tuner that adjusts it for the sub pixel positions on your specific monitor. For Windows XP, the instructions are at http://support.microsoft.com/kb/306527
    I am sure that there are similar instructions for other operating systems.

  4. Jon S Reply

    Leo, the answers and insight you gave were correct and helpful however you only partially answered the question. There are still several troubleshooting tips to try BEFORE purchasing a new graphics card.

    I have installed about 50 22

  5. Ken Manning Reply

    I have a similar but, different, problem: I connect a 19′ Wisescreen monitor to my “Netbook”.
    It stretches the width to the maximum but, doesn’t increase the height. Is there a way to increase the height?

  6. Jon S Reply

    Reply to Ken Manning – Ken, I will answer your question assuming you are using a separate mouse and keyboard and not using your laptop

  7. mark Reply

    Although not done very often, I have also found it a good idea to also install the drivers for the particular monitor. This will ensure that the Display dialogue in XP only offers resolutions that that particular monitor can display. In the Display properties, ensure you change the monitor type from “Generic” to the driver that you just installed. Then reboot (required).(Display Properties > Settings > Advanced > Monitor)

  8. mike Reply

    Why does my laptop monitor fade in and out?

    Three possibilities come to mind: 1) the screen is defective 2) you’re accidentally hitting the brightness key sequence 3) the ambient light sensor which auto-adjusts brightness is malfunctioning or obscured.

    - Leo
    03-Jul-2009

  9. Matt Friessen Reply

    I have an HP dv5035nr notebook pc with a monitor problem. The screen will freeze (the mouse will not move) , lines appear and the tool bar inverts. To unfreeze the monitor I have to move the monitor back and forth which clears the problem until I move the pc.

  10. Randy Jay Reply

    My laptop is displaying two same image in between a white horizontal line across the middle of the screen. It caused the image to appear smaller and the text difficult to read. Please tell me how to fix this problem.

  11. Joe F Reply

    Very good tutorial by Leo and the help from Jon S was quite helpful. Is there an easier way to wake up your laptop once you have configured it to “do nothing when I close the lid of my portable computer”, rather than opening the lid and pressing the start button each time?

  12. yuvanabhuvan Reply

    my seskto is streched out of the screen how do i fix it

  13. ken graham Reply

    Hi i have been connecting my hp laptop to my samsung lcd tv with no problems until tonight after connecting the laptop desktop image on the tv shows sideways but if i disconnect from the tv everything shows okay on my laptop screen any ideas what gone wrong.Ken

  14. chinu Reply

    why my own computer monitor is streched horizontal even though my pixel seeting is 1024×786 and i’v even tried the menu options of monitor but nothing helps….mine is an LG 19″ crt monitor

  15. Pat Ridley Reply

    Dear Leo

    I’ve recently added a high resolution monitor (1920 x 1080) to my system, and Windows XP now stretches over this and the original monitor (1024 x 768). I can set the resolution for the monitors as you describe in the main article, but when I start up my system I have to change the high res monitor setting from 1024 x 768 to 1920 x 1080 every time. Is there a way of getting the system to start up automatically with the correct resolution settings for both monitors, please?

  16. she h Reply

    I’m trying to reduce the resolution on the screen of our desk. I have adjusted the sliding screen resolution on the settings page to more. However, I cannot apply it as the print is so large it will not allow me to scroll down to ‘apply’. I’ve tried your tip of control, spacebar. This doesn’t work as I don’dt get the size option, only move or close. Can you help please? Is there an F key that I can use instead of moving the cursor over ‘apply’? Many thanks in advance

    Try making the change and then just pressing the Enter key.

    Leo
    11-May-2010

  17. M Bentley Reply

    After running updates on my windows 7 my screen is stretched horizontally. If I use my old settings then I lose my title bar in all programs. If I change it to get my title bar back then I’m backed to a stretched screen….help?

  18. Jaime Reply

    Thank you for explaining screen streetch and how to adjust it. :)

  19. Jean Reply

    Leo,

    Great thanks for explaining this!!! You turned a great new monitor that was performing horribly into it’s true self. : )

    It’s an NEC IPS, closest thing I’ve seen to a CRT (spoiled). Now I’m wondering if I need a DVI card or if my Invidia card is sufficient. Looks great so far with the resolution up to 1920 x 1080. Would a DVI card make that much difference, or just be an unnecessary expense?

    Thanks again!

    Jean

  20. John Reply

    Whoever came up with the idea for “widescreen” monitor should be horse whipped! Why should we have to put ourselves through all the grief that these wacky rectangular monitors give us? Stretched images, black lines on the sides? Who’s the genius that decided THIS is progress? No thanks, I’m sticking with my square 17 inch monitor and my visual sanity.

  21. Edge Reply

    I had to hit “Alt” “Spacebar” to get the “move” option instead of “Ctrl” “Spacebar” as advised concerning moving a window.

  22. Pat Reply

    Was playing a game on my computer
    and all of a sudden lost the picture-it
    went black except for a little bit of light
    showing. Do I need a new monitor or is
    it the video display card?

  23. Arthur Strader Reply

    Hello Leo. I was the guy with the vertically stretched images/text on my old 17 inch Dell Computer monitor,I Emailed you about yesterday,I did what you suggested I went into the Display Properties on my Windows XP and increased the screen resolution to the maximum setting and it corrected the image problem instantly I cannot thank you enough for your help Leo as I was about ready to throw away my CRT.
    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!
    Arthur Strader

  24. steve Reply

    Thanks, the explanation and the solution helped me as well.
    You did a great job.
    steve

  25. kyabo Reply

    my computer stopped displaying a picture on the monitor, and started showing lines and un known letters.whenever i power on my pc, it makes the post sound very well but i only see lines ON THE MONITOR! When i put an external video card,i dont get the picture.i cannot even change onboard video(intergrated video) to pci video card(external video card) because i dont see anything on the monitor but only lines.so,how can i be helped p’se?.my pc is a fujitsu pentium 3 with pci slots

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