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Why Does My Screen Appear Stretched or Squashed?

Why Does My Screen Appear Stretched or Squashed?

Jul 11, 2012

“I am having trouble doing anything on my computer because the words and graphics look stretched or squashed, like my monitor is the wrong size for what’s on the screen. How can I fix this problem?”

If the graphics and words on your screen look stretched or squashed, it means that Windows is set to use a display resolution with an aspect ratio that differs from the native resolution of your monitor. Normally this is an easy fix, but under certain circumstances resolving this problem requires a little more work than simply changing the graphics settings in Windows. Let’s take a look at why the items on your screen appear stretched or squashed and what you can do to fix the problem.

Aspect Ratio and Native Resolution

Back in the day of the big, boxy CRT monitor, virtually all monitors had aspect ratios of 4:3, meaning that there would be three vertical pixels of display resolution for every 4 horizontal pixels. Take a common display resolution from that era — 1024 x 768 — and divide the horizontal pixels by the vertical pixels. You get 1.3. However, most modern computers use “widescreen” LCD monitors with aspect ratios of 16:9 or 16:10. Take a common display resolution for 15-inch laptops — 1366 x 768 — and divide the first number by the second. With these numbers, you get a quotient of around 1.77. If you use a 4:3 display resolution on a widescreen monitor or vice versa, you get a stretched or squashed display.

Changing the Display Resolution

Regardless of the Windows version installed on your computer, you can change the display resolution in just a few clicks.

Windows 7 Screen ResolutionWindows 7

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Screen Resolution.
  2. Click the Resolution drop-down menu and drag the slider to the desired display resolution. In most cases, with an LCD monitor you should drag the slider to the highest possible resolution for best image quality.
  3. Click OK.


Windows Vista Display SettingsWindows Vista

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Personalize.
  2. Click the Display Settings link.
  3. Drag the Resolution slider to the desired display resolution.
  4. Click OK.


Windows XP Display PropertiesWindows XP

  1. Right-click the desktop and select Properties.
  2. Click the Settings tab.
  3. Drag the Screen Resolution slider to the desired display resolution.
  4. Click OK.


Video Adapter and Monitor Device Drivers

In some cases, you may find that the display resolution slider or drop-down menu does not contain the native resolution of your computer’s monitor. This typically happens when you have just installed Windows or upgraded the video card or monitor, so Windows is using generic drivers for one or both devices. Head to the manufacturer’s website for the monitor or video card and download the current device driver. In most cases, you can install the device driver by double-clicking the installation utility and following the onscreen instructions.

A Note About Games

When it comes to display resolutions, games are a completely different animal from the standard Windows desktop. Most games have Options menus that you can use to select a different display resolution. However, you may run into problems with older games that were designed before widescreen monitors became common. If the game in question uses a standard 3D rendering engine such as Direct3D or OpenGL, you’re probably in luck; a game patch might be available to unlock widescreen resolutions. If not, check the game’s folder for a configuration file. These usually have somewhat self-evident names such as “config.ini.” Open the file in Notepad, locate the line indicating the display resolution and change it. In most cases, the configuration file should be relatively short and this information shouldn’t be too difficult to find. Save the file, launch the game and the stretched or squashed graphics should be a thing of the past.

Tip: For help with a specific game, try searching Google for the game’s title along with the term “widescreen.”

If the game in question uses hand-drawn 2D graphics — just about every computer game released prior to the late ’90s falls into this category — you won’t be able to change the resolution at will as you can with a modern game. In a few cases, you can resolve this by running the game in a modern engine capable of using the original game’s resource files. Exult — a modern engine for the classic game Ultima VII — can run the game at higher resolutions than were originally possible. Most of the time, though, you’re stuck with whatever default resolution the game offers. To prevent the game from stretching on a widescreen monitor, you’ll want to access the monitor’s built-in menu and look for an option such as Stretch, Scale or Aspect Ratio. Use this option to prevent the monitor from automatically scaling 4:3 images to fill the whole monitor.