While $600 headsets like the Oculus Rift are trying to take gaming toward a VR future, 4K displays are looming on the horizon as the logical next step for high-end PC gaming.
For Acer, that future is right now. The company has a new $1,200 32-inch Predator XB1 XB321HK gaming monitor with top-of-the-line features and capabilities that make an $800 HTC Vive headset seem reasonable by comparison. At that price, the Predator doesn’t skimp on much, and it is easily the best argument I’ve seen for the benefits of 4K gaming.
Is it worth the price? Well, that’s going to depend on you, but I won’t hesitate to call it an incredible way to play video games.
What you’ll like
One of the biggest arguments against 4K is that it isn’t that big of a leap forward because it’s difficult to see the difference between 1080p and 4K from a certain distance. I agree with that point for console gaming, where you are typically 10 feet away from your television as you hold a controller while sitting on a couch. But when it comes to the PC, we sit much closer. From two feet away, the benefits of 4K are clear.
Playing Overwatch, The Witcher, or The Division at 4K on the Acer Predator is like controlling a living painting. Every detail is so crisp. Every color pops to life. And when your character moves on this display, it never looks like a pixelated image. It looks like it’s alive.
The 4K resolution is a big reason for the high-quality image, but it also has to do with the super bright display. Acer claims the IPS panel, which has a great viewing angle, produces approximately 350 nits of brightness. That blows away most other gaming monitors, which typically shine at around 250 nits. But the Predator never looks washed out because of its luminosity. Instead, it maintains a high color accuracy that looks better than most other displays.
The result is that games have never looked so luscious or lifelike as they do on Acer’s 32-inch gaming panel.
Low input lag
The image is impressive but so is the Predator’s gaming performance. Acer claims a 4 ms response time, and that never caused any issue in the twitchiest games in my library. I was competitive (as much as I ever am) in Street Fighter V, and I was getting plenty of kills in Overwatch and goals in Rocket League.
To have those beautiful images combined with high-end performance is a luxury, and it’s where Acer likely put most of the cost. This is a no-compromise experience.
G-sync is magic
This display also includes Nvidia’s G-sync technology. This is a tool that combines software and hardware components to prevent screen tearing for games that drop below a steady framerate.
I was using the Predator on a machine with the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card. That chip is able to get 60 frames per second at 4K in a handful of modern games, but The Witcher 3, The Division, and others often fall closer to 45 frames per second. But with G-sync on, everything felt smooth as butter 100 percent of time. G-sync feels like a miracle, and I feel like it almost justifies the cost of the XB321HK itself. Instead of spending $1,200 on the GTX Titan X GPU or another $600 on a second 1080, you can spend $1,200 on the Predator and get a gorgeous display that will keep the high-end games looking phenomenal at 4K even if you can’t reach 60 frames per second.
Now, a smooth 60 FPS still looks better than a G-sync-smoothed 45 FPS, but the difference is so small that I would choose the monitor and the GTX 1080 over the Titan X and a $500 4K monitor.
Acer also went ahead and plugged some decent speakers into the Predator. Having the ability to play audio through your display is a great option, and I honestly wish more companies would do this with their monitors. These aren’t the best speakers, but they get the job done in those circumstances where you don’t want to use headphones or a dedicated sound system.
What you won’t like
Doesn’t support HDMI 2.0
The only real frustration I have with the Predator is that it doesn’t support HDMI 2.0. That means you’re only going to get 24 frames per second at 4K when you plug in an Ultra HD Blu-ray player, for example. When I plugged in the Xbox One S, a system that does 4K video, the console and the monitor couldn’t speak with one another even when I used a high-speed HDMI cord.
You’re probably going to use the DisplayPort for connecting your PC, and that’s fine — although I wish the Predator had more inputs overall. But the HDMI feels like an afterthought.
60hz refresh rate
The XB321HK doesn’t go over 60hz, which means you can’t do 1440p at 144 frames per second, which is a bummer. This doesn’t bother me a lot because I prefer 4K at 60FPS, but it would be nice to have the option. And if you prefer frame rate over resolution, you may want to look elsewhere.
Acer is catering to a small audience with the 32-inch Predator. At $1,200, most people won’t even consider this panel. For those who do pick it up, they’re going to get an amazing image that makes most games look better than they ever have. And everyone else can relax knowing that this is the technology that we should see built into more affordable units in two to three years.
The Acer Predator XB321HK is available now for $1,200. Acer loaned GamesBeat a sample unit for the purposes of this review.