Date: February 15, 2016
Author(s): Rob Williams
On the lookout for a gaming monitor that can do it all? If price isn’t a concern, Acer’s Predator X34 is the one to look at. It comes in at 34 inches, boasts a 3440×1440 ultra-wide resolution, makes images pop with an IPS panel, takes advantage of NVIDIA’s G-SYNC frame-smoothing technology, and if that’s not enough: it’s curved.
When it was announced last spring, I called Acer’s XR341CK monitor “drop-dead gorgeous”. Some time later, the company decided to swap the monitor’s G-SYNC capabilities with FreeSync, and then released the monitor as if no change happened. After that, the Predator X34 was born, a monitor like the XR341CK that sports G-SYNC in lieu of FreeSync, a boosted refresh rate, and tweaked aesthetics.
It also happens to be ridiculously good.
On paper, Predator X34 checks the important – and some not-so-important – boxes. One of the more notable features is its size of 34 inches. That means that the monitor claims a lot of desk space, but in return, it delivers expanded views in games, and more desktop space to take advantage of – versus resolutions of 1440p or less.
The monitor’s large size owes a lot to the width; the Predator X34 and a standard 27-inch 1440p monitor have the same pixel width of 0.233mm, meaning that this is “like” a 27-inch monitor, just 7 inches wider. That might seem like a minor point, but it’s important if you are moving over from a ~27-inch 1440p monitor and are expecting a learning-curve – there won’t really be one. Those who move up from a 1080p resolution or a monitor that’s 27-inches or smaller will be in for a surprise, but it’s a good one.
Other Predator X34 perks include an IPS panel, NVIDIA’s G-SYNC technology, a refresh rate that’s overclockable to 100Hz, DisplayPort and HDMI, built-in speakers, 4x USB 3.0 ports, and if that isn’t enough: a curved design.
|Acer Predator X34|
|Resolution||3440×1440 (UWQHD; 21:9)|
|Refresh Rate||60Hz (OC to 100Hz)|
|Tilt Angle||-5° to 35°|
|Power||In Use: 54W; Standby: 0.5W|
|Et cetera||NVIDIA G-SYNC, Speakers, HDMI, DisplayPort, 4x USB 3.0 Ports|
Due to a lack of room, I can’t take pictures of many products on a white background. Being that this is a 34-inch monitor we’re dealing with, that really wasn’t happening here. At least with these pictures, you can see the monitor in a more natural environment. The first shot below shows just how much room the display can take up on a modest desk.
The fact that the Predator X34 commands so much desk space makes Acer’s stand choice hugely appreciated. Aside from its two thin (but strong) legs that extend from the back, a ton of room is left available around the monitor. In use, I had a router and a switch sitting to the left behind the monitor, a tablet and game controller sitting underneath it, and of course, a mouse and keyboard in front of it. If you’re using a smaller desk and a larger mousepad, don’t be surprised if you have to set part of the pad under the monitor.
All of the buttons on the monitor are hardware-based, not touch-sensitive – thankfully. There are six total, all found beneath the right side of the panel. The one on the absolute right is for power; I wish Acer decided to move that over even more to the right, as I’ve accidentally hit it when navigating the menu with the other buttons. There are no icons that correspond with the buttons on the front of the monitor, so a lot of the tweaking will be done “blind”, based on feeling where each button is.
At the back, and on the left side, are HDMI and DisplayPort connectors; on the right, there are 4x USB 3.0 ports. In order to make use of these, a USB cable (included) must be first run from the display to an available port on your PC. Towards the center is the port for the power adapter, as well as an audio out connector for speakers or headphones.
It’s worth noting that the Predator X34 has a small loop at the top of its stand that lets you route cables through. It works great to keep cables out of your way, and it of course helps things look cleaner, too.
For some reason, the Predator logo on our sample has seen better days, but apart from that, I have no complaints to speak of.
Some curved monitors have more of a curve than others, but on Predator X34, the effect is subtle – at least when sitting in front of it. After showing a family member the monitor, they didn’t even realize it was curved until I told them. During regular use, the fact that it’s curved doesn’t even stand out too much. After having used the monitor for two months, I admit that I’ve come to like the curved design, but I don’t feel like the monitor would be losing anything if it missed out on that feature. Of course, if the monitor suddenly lost its curve, it’s hard to predict whether I’d want it back or not.
Inside the box of the Predator X34 is its power brick, an HDMI and DisplayPort cable, as well as a wall mount.
Prior to receiving the Predator X34, I had assumed that the 3440×1440 resolution would win me over – and sure enough, it did. The photo of Sleeping Dogs gameplay above will hopefully portray at least a little bit just how cool the resolution is, and not to mention how dominating the display itself is. When a game takes proper advantage of ultra-wide resolutions, the results can be downright gorgeous.
One of the shots above highlights the Predator X34’s IPS glow, which is much more pronounced than I’ve seen on other monitors. The photo above emphasizes the issue due to a slower shutter speed being used to snap the photo, but even in regular use, that glow isn’t too subtle when watching or playing in dark scenes. This isn’t a downside per se, as IPS glow is typical of all IPS panels. It’s just that on this monitor, being that it’s so wide, the effect of the glow is more noticeable.
A monitor like this one has so much going on that it’s hard to find room for a complaint. However, in recent years, a trend has proven that many gamers like their monitors to have higher-than-60Hz refresh rates. The problem? Getting those high refresh rates is difficult on monitors that tend to have all of the other bells and whistles tossed in. While the Predator X34 is spec’d at just 60Hz, it’s overclockable “up to” 100Hz.
Overclocking a monitor involves increasing the refresh rate a little at a time to find the “max” stable. A monitor might ship at 60Hz, for example, but with a software tweak, it could be found to run just fine at a higher refresh rate, such as 75Hz. The reason Acer has decided to not ship 100Hz by default is likely due to the fact that it can’t guarantee 100% success. In the case of our sample, we did indeed taste success. Having run our sample at 100Hz for two months, I have no problems to report.
A refresh rate of 100Hz means that a monitor can display 100 frames per second. If a monitor is 60Hz but gameplay exceeds 60 FPS, only 60 of whichever total number of frames will be seen on the monitor each second. The main takeaway is: if you’re able to power a game at 100 FPS, you’ll be able to get smoother gameplay versus playing on a 60Hz monitor.
Time for a truth bomb: you’re going to need a lot of GPU horsepower to hit 100 FPS. Truthfully, you’re not going to see 100 FPS too often even with SLI, because games are either too demanding, or they will likely hit 100 FPS off of a single decent GPU (MOBAs tend to be good examples).
On a PC with a six-core Intel processor and an NVIDIA GeForce GTX TITAN X, I managed to hit 80 FPS in Firewatch (check out our review), which surprised me given it’s not that graphically impressive. I did manage to hit 100 FPS in TrackMania 2, which isn’t much of a surprise given it’s an aging title that wasn’t graphically demanding to begin with. Running Deus Ex: Human Revolution at 100Hz proved a success, too:
“Overclocking” Acer’s Predator X34 isn’t difficult, and fortunately, you have steps in between 60 and 100Hz in case a full 100Hz isn’t deemed 100% reliable. To overclock, you must hit a button on the monitor and head to a section that allows you to adjust the max refresh. After making a change, the monitor will need to be rebooted (which happens automatically). Once it comes back, you’ll be able to load up your GPU’s control panel and choose to run the monitor at 100Hz:
Before testing the 100Hz setting for real-world use, I loaded up Blur Busters’ UFO Motion Tester. As the below shot shows, the test passed without issue on our sample.
If you purchase this monitor and can’t get a clean 100Hz test with this tool (don’t touch the mouse while it’s running!), I’d recommend backing the refresh down to 95Hz and keep going down in intervals of 5Hz until the sweet spot is reached. It seems very likely that the vast majority of Predator X34 owners will be able to run 100Hz, though, so this tweaking shouldn’t be needed by many.
Note: Comparison shots of ten different games (including the five below) can be downloaded here (21MB .zip). You can flick between the respective screenshots from each game to easily spot the differences (and potential problems) between them.
About six years ago, I penned an article that discussed the benefits of multi-monitor gaming. In it, I showed comparison screenshots between a bunch of games that spanned a handful of genres. The point I wanted to get across was that when the width increases more than the height in a monitor, it results in being able to see more in the game world (not just the same content, stretched).
Ahem – it’s time to have that discussion again. To understand the benefits, we just need to talk about aspect ratios. The Hollywood standard for movies is 16:9, which scales to a few common resolutions: 1080p, 1440p, and 4K (eg: 1920 / 16 = 120; 1080 / 9 = 120). Ultra-wide resolutions are the same height-wise, but are wider; eg: 2560×1080 and 3440×1440 are both 21:9. This is all simple math; the bigger the gap between the height and width, the wider the image.
So that brings us to an important point: what is the point? Well, at the desktop, a wider desktop means that there’s more room to work. In games, it means that, more often than not, you see more of the game world.
Given all that I’ve seen over the years from multi-monitor gaming, whether or not a game engine will properly utilize wide resolutions is hit-or-miss. In some rare cases, an image won’t reveal more detail, but instead just stretch. Any game from the Call of Duty series will exhibit this behavior (some hacks exist to fix the issue in select versions). There’s no excuse for this, as I’ll show an example below of a game (Asheron’s Call 2) that was released 13 years ago that utilizes 3440×1440 just fine.
Those wanting a more in-depth comparison look, I’d recommend downloading the archive above. From that archive, I’ve chosen five games to highlight, to give an idea of the benefits and drawbacks.
The Witcher 3 is a shining example of a game that utilizes ultra-wide resolutions well. You can see above that when using the 3440×1440 resolution, a lot more detail can be seen on either side of the game field. Sometimes, the objects on the end views can be distorted (more common on multi-monitor since the width is even longer), but not here.
In the “Benefits of Multi-Display Gaming” article I wrote back in 2010, I said this about Counter-Strike: Source: “you simply see far, far more of the game world, and in a competitive game, that’s going to be rather important.” I was talking about multi-monitor there, but the same applies with ultra-wide and Global Offensive, as the above screenshots show.
You’re not losing detail here; you’re gaining it. In this particular example, if someone is hiding behind one of the boxes on the right or the alley on the left, you’d be able to see them in the ultra-wide resolution, but not the 16:9 one.
The Source engine has long been complementary towards wide resolutions, so the same revealing of the scene in the shot above would be matched in Half-Life 2, Portal 2, and even Dota 2. Speaking of…
Like CS: Global Offensive, Dota 2 handles ultra-wide monitors just fine. While ultra-wide in a game like CS: GO could add a certain advantage, it goes without saying that the advantage could be even stronger in Dota 2. It’d be hard to jump to the conclusion of calling it “cheating”, though, as ultra-wide monitors have even been used in competition.
It’s not cheating; it’s just better.
Asheron’s Call 2 is going to be relevant to 0% of our readers, but I am including it for one good reason: it’s proof that a game engine doesn’t need to be designed for ultra-wide to work in ultra-wide.
AC2 was released in 2002, a time when most new monitors were 1280×1024. Back then, that felt like a major step up from 1024×768. Today, both resolutions make me cringe. Nonetheless, despite this game being old as dirt and being designed at a time with square resolutions, it’s quite something to see that it utilizes 3440×1440 without issue.
A couple of years ago, I tested the game with a 1080p x 3 configuration (5760×1080), but that was a bit too much; the game engine simply wasn’t designed to handle rendering at the super-strange ratio of 16:3. It seems 21:9 isn’t quite wide enough to cause those sorts of issues.
To help wrap things up, let’s tackle the worst game of the entire bunch when it comes to proper scaling: Call of Duty: Black Ops III. In the shots above, you can clearly see that the game makes no attempt to scale anything as it should; it merely takes a 16:9 image and stretches it. It actually doesn’t look so bad in action, but when comparing the two, it looks awful.
In the case of games like this, the best course-of-action is to just run the game at 2560×1440, which should just put black bars on both sides of the screen. For what it’s worth, consoles that are plugged into the display will behave the same way. In BO III‘s case, though, it will fill the entire screen even if a 16:9 resolution is checked, resulting in stretching.
Sticking to the trend followed by every Call of Duty before it, Black Ops III hates ultra-wide resolutions. And that’s too bad; even if the game is a so-called “console port”, it still looks amazing at max detail.
There’s not too much that can be said about this monitor that I haven’t already covered. The fact that I called it “ridiculously good” from the start doesn’t leave much to the imagination, either. And when I call it “ridiculously good”, I mean it. The Predator X34, simply put, is one hell of a monitor.
The fact that the Predator X34 is curved doesn’t matter too much, at least to me. It’s nice to look at, but I don’t find that it’s something I wouldn’t want to live without. The resolution, on the other hand, is definitely something I wouldn’t want to live without.
When 1440p/1600p monitors first hit the scene, I felt like they were a little “overwhelming” for desktop use. After settling in with such a display, though, I quickly became accustomed to it. We’re at a point now where 4K monitors have hit the scene, and now that I’ve come to love 1440p, I find those too overwhelming. I’m afraid that won’t change, either: 3840×2160 on a small monitor is not for me. You can increase the DPI, of course, but that means that the monitor mostly benefits games, not the desktop (150% DPI at 4K looks similar to 1440p on the same-sized monitor).
Near the beginning of the article, I talked about aspect ratios, and how on this monitor, the ultra-wide aspect ratio results in more of your game being exposed. This is different to 1080p, 1440p, and 4K – all three show the exact same content (all are 16:9, after all), whereas 21:9 or ultra-wide in general can reveal things you wouldn’t ordinarily see (as some of the examples on the previous page highlight).
I might love 21:9, but that doesn’t mean everyone will. Some might not mind the fact that 4K is still 16:9, because the ultimate goal is crispness. For me, I prefer not just having more crispness; I want to see more of the game world. It’s for that reason that I came to like multi-monitor so much, but with a solution like this one, I’m met in the middle: the resolution is still wider than 16:9, and there are no bezels to contend with. It’s a win/win, as far as I’m concerned.
The biggest “issue” I can cite with this monitor, besides the obvious one (its $1,299 price tag), is that the glow in the corners is noticeable with a dark scene on the screen. The reason I use quotes for “issue” is because it’s not an issue; it’s a trait of IPS panels. It’s just more noticeable here because the monitor is so large (or at least because it’s so wide). To me, this trait is better than having to use a monitor with a TN panel (regardless of how good some of them are).
For all of what’s offered, the Predator X34 delivers in spades. Unlike launch G-SYNC monitors, this one offers an HDMI port in addition to a DisplayPort, and if you’re like me and want to hook up more than one PC or device to the same monitor, that’s a boon. I’ve been keeping a PlayStation 4 hooked up to the monitor with HDMI, and then use DisplayPort for the computer (DP is required for G-SYNC). I also keep headphones plugged into the display, so when I switch between HDMI and DisplayPort, I automatically hear the audio from the proper feed. I do wish that I could choose to hear audio from the alternate source, though, but that’s not going to be an issue for everyone (I like it because I could listen to music from the PC while playing something on the console).
To help wrap things up, I’d recommend the Predator X34 to anyone who wants a no-compromise gaming monitor – and is willing to cough up $1,299 for it. The resolution offered is fantastic for gaming (and desktop work), while the IPS panel makes things nice and bright. G-SYNC meanwhile keeps gameplay fluid (read the second heading here to learn more) during even the most demanding of situations, and for those who like high refreshes, the 100Hz “overclock” feature is a nice touch. Beyond that, the monitor has a great build (the stand is extremely durable), and the fact that plugged-in headphones or speakers can be used for either video source is a nice touch.
The Predator X34 is simply an outstanding gaming monitor. If $1,299 is a bit too rich (we hear that), alternatives are going to lack one feature or another; most often G-SYNC. Acer’s B346CK bmijphzx, for example, is similar to the Predator X34 but features a more standard design, a 6ms response time, and a lack of G-SYNC. It goes for about $800, just like the XB280HK bprz. That monitor is a 28-inch 4K model that does include G-SYNC.
If the Predator X34 isn’t perfect for you in one way or another, don’t fret: alternatives are far from limited.
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