Acer Predator XR341CK FreeSync Monitor Review

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Author: AkG
Date: November 24, 2015
Product Name: Predator XR341CK
Part Number: XR341CK
Warranty: 3 Years

AMD’s FreeSync technology is in the process of making some serious inroads among monitor vendors due to its ease-of-implementation and affordability factor. Indeed we’ve looked at a few monitors with this technology thus far and have been consistently impressed with their capabilities. However, the one thing holding FreeSync back from true legitimacy among gamers was it integration into everything but leading-edge monitors. That’s going to change in a big way with the Acer Predator XR341CK.

So what makes this monitor so different from current crop of FreeSync offerings? Pretty much everything. It has a massive 34” 21:9 curved IPS panel, a FreeSync range of 30Hz to 75Hz and a host of other features that allow Acer to place this among their other flagship monitors. Obviously this pushes FreeSync firmly into the enthusiast market, a segment that was underserved by AMD’s technology not that long ago. More importantly, while the XR341CK can be considered one of the highest end monitors currently available, it is still a good $250 less than Acer’s ever slightly more capable Predator-series G-SYNC alternative.

While the Predator XR341CK is certainly premier gamer-focused monitor, it is by no means unique in its field. There’s been a trend towards 21:9 curved panels as of late and while their benefits tend to be debatable (more on this later), many manufacturers are marketing them as the next big thing for gamers. For example, the LG 34UC87 boasts literally the same specifications as Acer’s FreeSync flagship but it doesn’t include gamer-centric features like adaptive synchronization, a 75Hz refresh rate, 4ms grey to grey response times or panel overdrive.

Other competitors can be found on the non-curved side of the fence as well, and those you will end up paying substantially less for. Some good examples of this are the ASUS MG279Q and BenQ XL2730Z, both of which offer 2560×1440 resolutions, FreeSync and a refresh rate of 144Hz but retail for just $750. Yes, you pay a pretty penny for the 34” 21:9 curved screens but they do look quite spectacular.

Visually, the XR341CK has a sleek design that’s focused upon minimizing its impact upon your environment but also playing up its gamer-focused roots. Make no mistake about it though; at 34” wide this thing is absolutely huge and will take up a good amount of space on your desk. It also has underglow LEDs (which can be turned off) along the panel’s bottom edge.

The gracious curve is what will likely either sell or turn people off of Acer’s offering. On one hand it looks great and increases immersion in some games but as with all of these types of monitors, in certain genres the curve can add visual artifacts to menus and distort key elements of a game’s interface.

From an aesthetics point of view this monitor does hit most of the high notes. Its combination of moderately thin black bezel, aggressive angular lines, and a silver stand certainly makes it rather distinctive looking.

Unfortunately balancing out these rather stunning good looks is the fact that the stand is a touch sub-par despite its design qualities. It only offers tilt and height adjustment with no landscape mode or swivel capabilities baked in. On the positive side it does offer five inches of height adjustment and whopping 40 degrees of tilt from -5° to 35°!

The list of ports is rather good, particularly when compared to G-SYNC monitors. In grand total you will get a full sized HDMI port, a mini-DispalPort, a DisplayPort IN, and a DisplayPort Out (for daisy chaining), a USB 3.0 hub consisting of one USB 3.0 Type B In port and four USB 3.0 Type-A ports.

Also noteworthy is an honest to god MHL port. A Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) port means that you can connect this monitor to a portable device for screen mirroring. Rounding out the features is a Kensington lock and the power input port for the external power brick.

It is also great to see that this 21:9 monitor comes with multiple physical buttons rather than the finicky touch-sensitive interface seen on some other gaming panels.

With the exception of the lackluster stand’s abilities, all these items are very good and certainly help justify this monitor’s online asking price of $1039 but are not really what anyone would classify as standout features. Basically they all fall within the usual spectrum of features found on 21:9 monitors, and that stand will really be a large negative.

When taken at face value the Acer Predator XR341CK looks like an extremely capable monitor that will deftly avoid the restricting 40Hz refresh rate limit of earlier FreeSync monitors and thus offer smooth gameplay within a much wider and adaptable range. Add in the IPS panel, curved screen and massive dimensions and this could just be the flagship display AMD users have been waiting for.

Menu Layout & Observations

Even though this monitor sports an OSD which is very similar to the Acer XB270HU, its capabilities have been expanded quite drastically. Instead of being simplified to the point of near uselessness the XR341CK’s OSD perfectly executes that delicate act of balancing ease of use and advanced features.

As with all Acer monitor’s, when you first press the menu button you are not greeted with the full OSD and instead a small shortcut menu filled with some of the more common adjustments gamers will want access to while others are easily ignored. For example the included ‘Game Mode’ is not that noteworthy as unlike most gaming monitors the included ‘gaming’ profiles are left blank and it is up to you the consumer to make your own. What is next to it however is interesting. As with many gaming orientated monitors the Acer XR3401CK comes with end-user adjustable ‘overdrive’ (OD) settings. What OD does is basically push more voltage to the liquid crystals – the ‘L’ and ‘C’ in LCD – that forces them to change from one state to another faster.

In theory this a great idea as it reduces the response time of the monitor and allows even a cheaper panel to act like a more expensive panel… or in this case make an IPS panel act more like a TN panel. The downside is that inverse ghosting (pre-images in front of the actual image) and degradation of color quality. Put another way “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. The default for this model is ‘normal’ and in testing was able to boost performance without noticeable loss in color quality, whereas ‘extreme’ is just that – extremely ugly with not only pre-ghosting occurring enough to be noticeable but color shifting also being readily apparent. In other words, for most consumers the default setting is good enough but if you take color fidelity seriously you may want to turn this setting to Off.

If you do need to delve deeper in to the XR341CK’s settings the shortcut menu also includes the standard option of entering the full OSD – or what Acer calls the ‘Function Menu’. This section is a bit limiting when you compare it to what’s offered on other $1000 monitors like Dell’s UltraSharp line. With that being said, there really isn’t any reason to critique here since the Predator is targeted towards gamers and that segment doesn’t need some of the advanced power saving and image quality modifications that are required by the professional market.

There are five main sections here that run the gamut from dealing with color and picture customization, to configuring the panel itself, to even modifying the OSD. The topmost one is called ‘Picture’ and as the name suggests it deals with adjusting the picture displayed on the monitor. Here you will find the usual suspects such as brightness, contrast settings, and selecting from the factory created profiles. There’s also the ability to control black levels, blue light, and even super sharpness.

The Black Level setting is fairly self-evident; it changes the black depth within the panel’s contrast range.

Blue light modifies how much blue is output by the monitor’s LEDs and is best not messed with unless you have a very specific need for boosting or decrease blue levels.

Super Sharpness is interesting since it is basically hardware-level interpolation which takes a lower resolution image and ‘fills in’ the missing pixels. In testing it was fairly decent at this job but certain driver-based algorithms from AMD and NVIDIA tend achieve better results.

The next area is the ‘Color’ section and deals with actually adjusting color profile of this monitor. Here you will find basic gamma correction, color temperature (warm, cool, normal, bluelight, User – we recommend using User), as well as sRGB mode which basically cuts the wide color gamut down to sRGB levels.

Also included is 6-axis hue and saturation adjustment abilities that make fine tuning the color pallet a lot easier than it would normally be. That is because in addition to the typical red green and blue you can also individually adjust the yellow, magenta, and cyan levels. Since our panel came with an out of the box color profile that was bordering on perfect this was not truly needed but it was still a welcome addition nonetheless.

The third section allows for modification of the OSD and can be used to adjust the language, timeout setting, and transparency level. In addition to these standard fares you can also select one of three game orientated factory profiles, and even turn on Aim Point, which puts a crosshair on your screen similar to what ASUS’ RoG monitors offer.

The fourth section deals with monitor hardware settings that do not really fit into one of the other categories. Basically if you want to adjust the latency mode, turn on/off Picture In Picture, adjust USB charging settings, or other highly specific tasks this is the section for you.

The last is the Information section and it basically tells you the mode, resolution, and serial number of your particular XR341CK. For the most part this section can be safely ignored.

Calibrated Settings
Please remember that the settings below have been calibrated for our specific environment and your viewing conditions may differ from ours.Mode Used: “User Mode”
Notes:
– All tests done at default settings at 120 cd/m2.
– Unless otherwise noted, the tests were carried out via DisplayPort or HDMI

Panel Uniformity

In a perfect world a screen’s brightness output would be equal throughout the entire panel. This is not a perfect world, but the lower the variation the less chances you will notice overly bright or dark sections on the screen. For the consumer LCD marketplace a variance of 10% is our gold standard but anything below 15% can be considered excellent as we doubt anyone will notice a -7.5 to +7.5 variation. A variation above 15% but below 24% can be considered adequate, but anything above this does not meet our basic minimum standards.

Considering how huge this monitor is, a panel variance of 20% is not all that bad. Of course with that being said the reason for most of this variance is due to the panel’s curvature, and creating the same brightness level across the entire screen is quite difficult. Overall we would consider these results to be decent, if not a standout for its class.

Panel Performance

In a perfect world a screen’s real world response rate would be so high that motion blur, ‘ghosting’, ‘reverse-ghosting’ would be a thing of the past. No matter how fast the action on screen all images would be represented in pristine condition similar in quality to a static image. This is not a perfect world, but the less amounts of blurring which occurs the less chances you will notice the issue in real world scenarios. While the panels response rate (ms) and and frame rate (Hz) can give a fairly rough idea of how much blurring to expect it is not the end all and be all.

To this end we have taken PRAD’s Pixel Persistence Analyzer ‘Streaky Pictures’ program and using a high speed camera captured exactly how much and what kind of motion blur you can expect from a given monitor.

As expected the combination of a 75Hz refresh rate and FreeSync is a winning one. In this area this monitor is noticeably better than any 21:9 we have seen to date, and for gaming enthusiasts that is one heck of a reason to purchase this model instead of another offerings. At least with the panel’s overdrive setting to Normal, blur is nearly eliminated altogether.

Gamma Performance

Gamma correction is one of the hardest terms to explain. However, for our purposes the gamma correction of any electronics device is how bright or dark an image will be displayed on a screen.

All PC devices now use 2.20 gamma as the default. Any variance from this will result in an image being either underexposed which will create black crush and underexposed shadow detail or washed out with too little black level detail (aka being over-exposed).

While 2.20 is the gold standard, a minor deviation of 0.10 will in all likelihood never be noticed by anyone other than professional photographers. Higher levels of deflection however will be noticed by just about everyone.

At 2.21 the Predator is close enough to being perfect that we honestly would not worry about it. To be blunt, the only people who will be disappointed with this minor level of deviation are professionals whose livelihood depends on producing perfect, accurate images – and those professionals will own a colorimeter and use it before they ever bother with ‘factory’ settings.

Colour Saturation Levels

While there are numerous colors the human eye can’t “see”, the human color space confined to three primary colors and combinations thereof. To make things easier for manufactures (and not waste resources displaying colors we can’t see) a color space was mathematically described and while various models do exist, the CIE RGB color space is the de facto standard.

In the below image, the dark triangle which isn’t highlighted is the sRGB color space while the overall CIE color space is displayed as the background colors. Meanwhile, the white triangle with highlighted color represents the results of what a given monitor can display. No monitor can display the entire CIE color spectrum but a good monitor should be able to display the sRGB spectrum of possible colors as this is usually used as the standard for image encoding.

A monitor which uses the “wide color gamut” moniker can display more than the sRGB spectrum and is considered primarily for professional use. If a monitor cannot cover off the entire sRGB triangle, the resulting image will appear “off” to an observer. The end result is a picture displayed on the panel which won’t be as rich, vibrant or as correct as it should be.

As expected this monitor offers a color pallet that is rather wide, bordering on massive (albeit with only adequate Blue coverage). Considering the Predator mainly meant for gamers, some of these abilities will go unnoticed but that doesn’t necessarily mean better color fidelity will be for nothing. There are quite a few gamers who will appreciate the benefits Acer has given over standard TN-based panels.

Default RGB Levels

An LCD or LCD LED backlit panel relies on accurately blending Red, Green and Blue pixel clusters to create an overall image so closer to each of these colours is to a “perfect” 100 output, the better and more accurate the default colors will be.

In this case, we have a low tolerance for anything less than perfection since any color shift can be noticeable even to untrained eyes and will require a color correction be applied at the software level to overcome a monitor’s stock output. We do however consider a minor variation of only a few points per color to be acceptable.

A default 101/99/100 out of the box color profile certainly is not the best we have ever seen, but it is darn good. There is an ever so slight reddish tinge to most images but some will appreciate the warmth that brings to the table. Plus, it you are looking for a cooler image all that’s needed is to change a few presets.

Viewing Angles

Unlike CRT displays, the manner in which LCD panels create an image can result in one large weakness: the image can lose contrast when viewed off angle. While we do not recommend watching an LCD at anything besides perfectly straight on, the reality is this cannot always be done.

To help give you a glimpse of what a panel will look like when seen from either above the horizontal or vertical plane we have taken pictures at fairly extreme angles.

Honestly this is a test that no curved monitor will ever be great at. These monitors are meant for the user to sit directly in front of them and only in front of them. If you are unable to do this, don’t bother spending the money on the Predator or any other curved panel for that matter. You will lose contrast, brightness, color clarity and generally end up with a poor looking image at anything besides straight on.

Maximum Contrast Ratio

While manufactures love to throw around “maximum” contrast ratios in the millions, the fact of the matter is that to get these high numbers they have to use “dynamic contrast” which—at best—results in overly optimistic specs. With DC turned off, the number of shades between purest white and blackest black a given monitor can display is usually in the low hundreds rather than the thousands.

The higher the contrast ratio, the better the monitor will display shades of dark and light. For IPS monitors, anything below 450:1 is unacceptable, with 500:1 or above considered optimal. For TN anything above 120:1 will be considered “good enough” for most consumers.

Thanks to its very good LG 8-bit IPS panel, the Acer 34″ Predator has a wide contrast ratio.

Power Consumption

To obtain the maximum number we set the monitors brightness to 100% and the contrast to 100%. The Calibrated results are taken at 120 cd/m2 with the contrast set to the default level.

For the Predator’s class these numbers are right in the range we would expect them to be. Its actually quite efficient.

Movie Performance

In movie and other passive entertainment scenarios the Acer XR341CKreally would not be a perfect choice for the average consumer. First and foremost it has all the issues that all 21:9 monitors which means there is very little content that is natively meant to be displayed on it. Essentially, a good portion of its real-estate will go unused unless you are willing to have the image stretched. In these respects FreeSync and the 75Hz refresh rates will also go to waste.

Be prepared to deal with black borders on all your videos as nearly every title will be in either a 16:9 or 4:3 formats. Very, very few will come in 21:9 (aka 2.33:1, aka ‘Imax’) formats…and even those movies that do offer some scenes in this niche format will not offer most of the movie in it.

Also be prepared to deal with the limitations of that curved screen. If you aren’t sitting dead-on there will be a noticeable drop-off in contrast and image fidelity which becomes extremely tiresome.

Now with all that said the Acer XR341CK still does offer a very good viewing experience. After all it does have a rather wide color pallet, and does come with an out of the box color profile that is close enough to ‘perfection’ as possible without comparing it to some extremely expensive professional monitors.

There certainly are a lot of things to like here, and to be honest if you do take the time to make your video player application use the entire screen, and sit directly in front of it, it can make for a very enjoyable experience. We did find ourselves be sucked into the action rather easily. While this does not make the Acer XR341CK better than any other 21:9 monitor we’ve seen, it certainly was not worse provided the limitations are effectively worked around or ignored.

Gaming Performance

The Acer Predator Predator XR341CK has obviously been build from the ground up to provide a sublime gaming experience. A huge size, the all-encompassing curved screen, excellent image fidelity, top-notch color reproduction and compatibility with AMD’s FreeSync make it -on paper at least- one of the best solutions around. Luckily, those paper specifications succeed in astounding fashion. AMD users need to stand up and take notice of this monitor if they a ton of spare change hanging around.

These elements in turn makes comparing the Predator to non-gaming alternatives from LG, Dell and others a completely unfair gesture. For its intended audience this monitor is simply better, smoother and much more enjoyable.

On the surface the ‘little’ change between 60Hz and 75Hz alongside FreeSync abilities may not sound that significant as for the most part other IPS-based curved panels and the Acer XR341CK have very similar specifications. None offers 120Hz or 140Hz or 144Hz refresh rates, they all have a fairly wide color pallet, and very similar out of the box default color profiles.

Sure the Acer Predator does offer that addition 15Hz on the refresh-rate but visually and without FreeSync users will be hard pressed to tell the difference during gameplay. Not once did we go ‘boy are we ever glad this monitor is 75Hz, since 60Hz would have been such a huge bottleneck’.

What that extra 15Hz accomplishes is critically broaden the operating range of AMD’s awesome FreeSync technology so it isn’t capped at 60Hz / 60FPS. That allows the judder-reduction and motion smoothing capabilities of FreeSync to address higher framerates while minimum 30Hz basement allows the Predator to deftly sidestep the framerate step-downs exhibited by earlier adaptive-sync monitors.

Of course with all that being said this monitor is still going to be difficult to drive to a constant 75Hz using only one AMD GPU. Remember, with a native resolution of 3440×1440 there are significantly more pixels onscreen than 1080P or even 2560×1440 monitors and that increases GPU workloads exponentially.

More importantly when compared to typical 60Hz 34″ monitors, this extra 15FPS does translate to an additional 25% more frames per second and that is a significant jump in the amount of video processing horsepower needed. To be blunt you really will want to have two GPUs to get 75Hz consistently in modern games, and that could essentially make the Acer XR341CK completely unaffordable.

Honestly, if a consumer already owns a NVIDIA video card this monitor does not offer enough advantages to justify buying a new AMD video card. By that same token, if someone already owns a higher end AMD GPU that is capable of offering FreeSync (i.e. is GCN 1.2 and not GCN 1.0 based) having the ability to get the most out of your earlier purchase and the monitor sure as hell beats the alternative.

Considering the Predator is the same price as the LG 34UC87, it is a veritable steal if you take your gaming sessions seriously. If not the Acer XR341CK is not going to be better than a standard non-FreeSync model and really will be a less than optimal choice for non-gaming consumers – as would any 21:9 monitor for that matter.

Non-Colorimeter Tweaking and Results

In a perfect world either every monitor would come factory calibrated to perfection or every single consumer would own a decent colorimeter. We don’t live in such a world and as such most consumers simply use the old Mark 1 Mod 0 eyeball to fix any imperfections with the stock colors of their new monitor.

In order to gauge how easy this is to do for a given monitor we have included a new set of tests. These tests will be carried out before any of our standard tests and will consist of us using a combination of the free online LCD Monitor Test Images (found here LCD monitor test images) and then if necessary the free Hex2Bit Monitor Calibration Wizard (found here Hex2Bit – Software by Mike Walters). The goal of these tests is to not only gauge how easy it is to accurately calibrate a given monitor using only the onboard monitor tools, but to see how closely we can come to what a Spyder3 Elite can do.

To obtain these results we did the following
– used “User” mode
– adjusted the brightness to 45% (which resulted in a 120.7 cd/m2)
– All other settings left to default levels

To adjust the colors to near-perfection all users need do is enter the OSD and turn the red down one step. That is it. This will bring the Green level up from 99 to 100(ish), leave the blue at 100, while bringing the Red down to 100. For most gamers this will be close enough to perfection that a colorimeter will not be needed. Just be prepared to lower the Predator’s birghtness level when you take it out of the box.

Conclusion; FreeSync Turned to 11

AMD’s FreeSync technology didn’t have the easiest birth but its standing has gradually turned around with better monitors, additional capabilities, and a deeper range of options. It almost felt like monitor manufacturers were waiting to see how the public received the initial FreeSync products and how well AMD supported their initiative. With the Acer Predator XR341CK it becomes more than evident that AMD’s partners are starting to take FreeSync very seriously indeed.

Acer’s FreeSync-supporting Predator is a triumph for AMD users and the gaming market in general. Not only does it bring leading-edge features like adaptive sync, a curved IPS panel, excellent color accuracy and relatively high refresh rates to the table but it also gives gamers a bona-fide option to save some money on a leading-edge display. Before the XR341CK, if someone wanted all of those options they needed to look towards G-SYNC equipped monitors costing hundreds more.

Even though the Acer’s Predator makes use of basically the same LG panel as the LG 34UC87 and actually costs about the same amount, it is superior in every respect. Everything from a better OSD, to better looks, to better gaming performance, this monitor did not only beat but metaphorically ate the LG 34UC87 for breakfast.

Speaking of gaming, that’s what anyone will likely buy the Predator for and, provided you have an AMD GPU, it dominates. Unlike first-generation FreeSync displays which had a restrictive operational range, the XR341CK’s ability to remain within an adaptive synchronization mode from 30Hz to 75Hz opens up a huge range of options. The only small hiccup is you’ll need a load of GPU horsepower to keep this thing within that window.

With all of this being said, are there any negatives here? That really depends upon how you approach this monitor. In practical terms the 21:9 ratio isn’t optimal for vertical viewing in FPS games and will limit your battle space in RTS titles. There’s also the curved panel which makes the XR341CK a sub-optimal companion for many professional tasks and even toolbars in some games will become warped. That curve also makes your positioning relative to the monitor’s centerline all that much more critical as well. Did we mention it is insanely expensive?

While the Acer Predator XR341CK may not be an optimal monitor for every genre and will likely be well out of the price range of most gamers, it gives AMD users access to a cutting-edge FreeSync-capable display. Just be prepared to cough up a massive amount of money for it.

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