Gaming, Media Consumption and G-Sync
This is where the Acer Predator shines
For movies, the Predator X34 was an absolute treat. The slightly curved nature of its screen lends to the overall illusion of immersion. The vast width of this display allows high-end 21:9 cinematic content without letterboxing (i.e. black bars on top and bottom). This makes for a spectacular widescreen experience. And while this type of content will bring you much joy, more pedestrian 16:9 content will be pillarboxed (i.e. black bars on the sides). 16:9 formatted content is quite prolific online (and for older flicks) but it's not so bad; the display is large enough that you still get a sizeable image when compared to any 24 inch or 27 inch 16:9 screen.
credit: Newegg / Gamecrate
As you might expect, gaming is where the Acer Predator X34 really shines. Its continuous ultra wide expanse was significantly more immersive than traditional 16:10 or 16:9 displays. The curved design is part of this, but certainly the 21:9 aspect ratio is the single largest reason. The wider field of view theoretically grants gamers an edge; being able to see more on screen can be a valuable advantage. In few words, connecting a fast G-Sync-enabled PC to the beautiful enormity that is the Predator X34 is something close to gaming bliss.
Are there any drawbacks to going ultrawide? Absolutely. However, not all complaints will be of equal importance to everyone. First, it’s worth noting some graphics-intensive titles will require higher-end hardware to run smoothly at 3440 x 1440 in its full glory.
Compared to typical 1920 x 1080 displays, the Predator X34’s native resolution more than doubles the amount of pixels on screen. This will quickly give you trouble on budget and mid-range GPUs.
Playing games ultrawide
Another irritation is the need for games to support ultrawide resolutions. Some titles just don’t work (or work well) in 21:9 aspect ratio. Fallout 4’s HUD, for example, doesn't scale properly at 21:9. Sleeping Dogs did pretty well, but some cinematics were pillarboxed and in-game UI elements kept their 16:9 positioning. Curiously, Bioshock Infinite happily supported an aspect ratio of "42:18" but worked flawlessly.
As expected, some games (Marvel Heroes) can’t do ultrawide at all, while some older titles (Dungeons and Dragons Online, Diablo 3, Team Fortress 2) may surprise you with their solid ultra-wide support. With that said, many games handle ultrawide ratios just fine, like Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide and Metro 2099: Last Light.
Ultimately, your experience will depend largely on your favorite games. Be sure to do a bit of research before you take the plunge. As we move into the future, it’s a safe bet most new titles will support 21:9, so try not to let a few bad apples scare you away from the ultrawide experience.
The Predator X34’s defining feature is arguably G-Sync, Nvidia’s proprietary variable refresh rate technology. Of course, the Predator X34’s immense size and reasonably good image production make it a wonderful canvas for showcasing G-Sync and yes, the results are very pleasing.
At their core, VRR technologies (G-Sync, FreeSync) aim to eliminate frame stuttering and screen tearing by synchronizing display timings to frame rates. The “name brand” VRR strategies also perform numerous tricks to enhance this illusion, but that’s the gist of it. And as some witnesses may attest, beautiful things happen when FPS and refresh rate are in agreement. It should be said that non-VRR displays with very high refresh rates (e.g. 144Hz) can also provide gamers with a smooth experience. However, the most gorgeous titles require absurdly high-end hardware to make the most of this. G-Sync and similar technologies offer comparably smooth gameplay to the masses even at lower, less consistent frame rates.
Of course, it would be remiss to discuss G-Sync without discussing VRR a little bit. As awesome as VRR may be, the technology is mired in industry politics. Essentially, the graphics card you own determines what display you’ll need (or vice-versa) for full VRR enjoyment. At the time of this writing, there are no displays (nor graphics cards) which support both G-Sync and FreeSync together. They are mutually exclusive, for now, at least.
G-Sync monitors require Nvidia hardware, more specifically a GeForce GTX 650 Ti or newer. Such displays are equipped with custom G-Sync scalers which come at an additional manufacturing cost. Arguably, this hardware gave Nvidia a technical edge early on in the VRR war, but FreeSync has quickly evolved into something that is at least comparable. At present, it’s fair to say both technologies have their strengths and weaknesses.
The big alternative to G-Sync, FreeSync, is an AMD technology and -- you guessed it -- requires an AMD GPU. The compatible GPU list for FreeSync is a bit more complicated than the G-Sync list, but generally a Radeon HD 260 or newer is required. One cool thing FreeSync has going for it is its reliance on Adaptive-Sync, an open, royalty free VESA standard. If your display does FreeSync then it necessarily supports Adaptive-Sync. Any graphics hardware (not just AMD's) may be capable of basic VRR provided it has two primary ingredients: DisplayPort 1.2a support and driver support.
Intel recently announced it will support Adaptive-Sync in its future graphics silicon. In fact, even Nvidia could support Adaptive-Sync on future chipsets (Pascal, maybe?) but let’s be clear: FreeSync is not Adaptive-Sync. Sure, FreeSync leverages Adaptive-Sync, but both G-Sync and FreeSync do a bit more than simply synchronize refresh rates with frame buffers. Each technology employs its own set of psychovisual tricks which can lead FreeSync, G-Sync and varying Adaptive-Sync implementations to perform differently under different scenarios. What works best can sometimes be situational, but from what I've seen, any VRR is an improvement over just being able to toggle v-sync off on or on.
Although I’m not personally sold on G-Sync due to its licensing and hardware costs, I am (if you haven't guessed) a fan of VRR more generally. Getting this silky smooth experience on Nvidia hardware will cost you though.
The Acer Predator X34 with G-Sync MSRPs for a stiff $1299. Meanwhile, the company’s decidedly less sexy sounding XR341CK model with FreeSync offers nearly identical specs sans G-Sync for $1099 (actually $850 as of writing). Such a markup seems cruel, but this cost disparity is fairly congruent with other G-Sync displays when compared to their non-G-Sync counterparts. Remember, the Predator X34 with G-Sync does not support Adaptive-Sync nor FreeSync, so make extra certain you have the right hardware before splurging on this display.
With little doubt, Acer's new display is an addition worthy of any gaming rig armed with a half-decent Nvidia card. Drooling for a curvaceous, ultrabig and ultrawide G-Sync experience? Well then, this is your only and best choice at the moment. If the price tag doesn’t scare you away -- which also happens to be the highest MSRP for any curved 34-inch UQHD display -- the Predator X34 is currently the only offering in its class to feature G-Sync.
Triple monitor, ultrawide (and ultraexpensive) gaming?
Gamecrate put together a crazy gaming build with evident incredible results.
Putting G-Sync aside for a minute, the Predator X34 is a good package overall. It boasts good brightness, color and contrast with minimal IPS glow making it a good choice for home and office use. Exceptional IPS panel performance paired with a 100Hz vertical refresh rate also makes this a decent choice for veteran gamers. Lastly, the Predator X34 is comprised of enough inches and pixels to make a reasonable substitute for more traditional dual screen setups.
The Predator X34 also has its share of faults. Dropping $1299 on a display with limited input connectivity, clumsy OSD controls and potential backlight bleed problems will undoubtedly make some buyers squeamish. There’s also a lack of 3D support with 100Hz being the highest (official) refresh rate. 100Hz isn't bad, but there's a growing number of 144Hz monitors out there, so the Predator X34’s oddball 100Hz refresh rate may underwhelm some.
Don’t care about G-Sync? Then look at Acer’s own FreeSync model (XR341CK) which used to cost about $200 less, however it's dropped even further to $850 as of writing. Rivals like Samsung, LG, HP and Dell all offer 34-inch curved displays ranging from $900-$1200, but you won’t find G-Sync on any of them.
Acer has this niche market cornered for now. I say for now, because Asus announced the ROG Swift PG348Q, a comparable display with G-Sync. Supposedly arriving in early 2016, Asus' curved 34 inch UQHD display not only does G-Sync, but matches the Predator X34’s peculiar 100Hz refresh rate.
With that in mind, it seems reasonable to suspect the Asus ROG PG348Q and Predator X34 will actually share the same AH-IPS display panel. While we can expect some differences in overall design, flare and possibly (but not necessarily) price, panel quality should be identical. If this is indeed the case, then the Acer Predator X34 is a quick way to jump aboard the ultrawide G-Sync train now, instead of later.
Pros: Amazing overall gaming experience. The Predator X34 checks all the boxes (IPS, WQHD, 100hz and G-Sync support) with strong performance and image quality.
Cons: Expensive. Some noticeable backlight bleed.
Masthead image and some other images courtesy of Newegg.