If you're looking for the best gaming monitor, a 4K display is now a must-have. While 4K TV struggles ("Bask in the glory of House of Cards and Daredevil in Netflix 4K and...and...?", the world all too painfully aware that even two years after the screen technology came to prominence, there's still naff-all TV or movie content taking advantage of it), it's another story entirely on PC. Console players may wet themselves over anything that can manage to hit 1080p resolutions at 60fps, but PC players are boldly going where few have before, pushing rigs to the limits of their 4K potential. If you're looking for the very best gaming monitor, you're going to want to have that 4K spec-sheet box ticked.
Acer's XB280HK 4K monitor is particularly special. Not only does it offer the hallowed resolution, but it also takes advantage of Nvidia's silky-smooth G-Sync technology, which syncs exclusively to an Nvidia graphics card's output precisely in line with the refresh rate of the screen:
It's a premium experience, which requires some serious hardware to take advantage of. I've been playing with the Acer XB280HK for the past week or so to try to find out whether or not the 4K / G-Sync combo is truly the holy grail of display tech.
Before we go any further, here are a few key specs to note down:
- Screen Size: 28-inch
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Ultra-Wide
- Resolution: 3840×2160
- Inputs: DisplayPort 1.2
- Outputs: 4x USB 3.0
- Price: RRP £549.99 (£494.20 from Amazon)
Spending a little over a week with the monitor as my primary display, I looked at the three most important tasks you'd be buying a screen like this for: gaming, watching films and mind-numbing work.
The Best Gaming Monitor I've Tried
Right, lets get this out of the way straight away then. The Acer XB280HK is the best gaming monitor I've ever tried. And that's coming from someone that felt like his heart was being ripped out when he packed away the LG 34UC97 curved ultra-wide screen he'd had in for testing.
Hooked up to my computer's pricey Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, the XB280HK delivered some absolutely breathtaking visuals. Looking at it simply in terms of resolution, hitting the 4K heights in games like the newly-released Grand Theft Auto V PC port or a 4K-modded Skyrim unveiled details in the games you'd never know were there otherwise. Sitting right up close to the monitor (as opposed to across the room from a 4K TV screen) you can really appreciate the intricacies brought out in texture work. Colour accuracy (at least when viewing the monitor head-on) was solid too, with rich tones and deep blacks, along with plenty of menu options to tweak to your desired look.
But if games look good when static, in motion they absolutely blew my mind on the monitor. Whereas a PC game's V-Sync setting can reduce screen tearing, it works on the assumption of their being a fixed frame rate, leading to stuttering and input lag. Nvidia's G-Sync tech, as found here in the XB280HK, uses a special module to line up with the exact frame output of any Nvidia card from the GeForce GTX 650Ti BOOST and up. When switched on, you get not only the buttery-smoothness that your highest frame rates can offer, but zero-tearing without the stuttering or input lag that V-Sync leaves you with. It is simply stunning to see a detailed 4K game move with G-Sync switched on, as close to viewing real-world motion as I've ever seen from a display.
The monitor, however, didn't perform quite as well when it came to watching films. As with other 4K displays, the quality of your source video makes a big difference, and anything less than 4K (even dependable old 1080p) is going to look a bit ropey when blown up. Hunt down that rarest of 4K clips and the screen does a good job though -- there may be no discernable benefit to having G-Sync enabled when watching a film, but the clarity and detail of the 4K TN panel remains undeniable.
Having said that, I consider watching a film a different experience to PC gaming, which (while you can remotely play with pals online) I tend to find a solitary experience. Settling down to watch a movie however is normally something I do with pals or my girlfriend, which requires we kick back at a distance so we can all get a decent view. Though the 28-inch screen was more than big enough, even a relatively subtle shift from sitting in the centre of the screen saw the colour shift and drop off, lacking the vibrancy and accuracy I'd taken for granted with my nose pushed up against the screen just a foot and a bit away when gaming. It was disappointing.
Likewise, settling down to do some work wasn't all I'd hoped for with the display. That's no fault of the Windows 8.1 operating system I was using, which scaled well to the screen's fancy resolution. The high-resolution allowed for plenty of real estate to position my workspace (though nowhere near as useful as the added width that the aforementioned LG display allowed for), and the 4K pixel density was useful for fine detail work in Photoshop.
However, I found there to be little benefit to G-Sync when working. Perhaps windows and sliders looked marginally smoother when dragged around the screen, but that was about it. In the case of the Acer XB280HK, G-Sync comes at the expense of multiple video inputs too. G-Sync only works with a DisplayPort 1.2 signal, which goes someway towards explaining the barmy decision to not include any HDMI, DVI or even VGA connections. For someone that regularly hooks his laptop up to a monitor to use as a second display, and in the past has used his PC monitor to hook up a HDMI games console, this was a painful omission.
Worth the Money?
If you're purely looking for a monitor to game with, the Acer XB280HK is arguably the best you can currently get your hands on. It's not eye-catching in its construction, and doesn't have the "wow" factor of a curved display, but get a richly-detailed 4K game running in tandem with the G-Sync feature and it's like looking into a window on another world. The combination of pin-sharp details and lifelike motion is astounding, and I found myself revisiting old titles just to see them in this new light. It was like sitting through "Director's Cut" remasterings of old classic films.
However, that shining praise comes with a few big caveats. With only one video input the Acer XB280HK is massively limited in terms of working options, colour shifting at angles anything other than dead-on makes it hard to recommend for group movie viewing, and the best features are reserved for those with expensive top-flight Nvidia graphics cards. If you find those issues passable, and are equipped with the right hardware, then I can't recommend this monitor enough. But I also can't help but feel it won't be long until the competition brings the headline offerings here along with a more comprehensive feature set.