Gaming Impressions and Closing Thoughts

Setup of a G-Sync monitor is painless. As long as you have recent drivers from GeForce.com it will recognize the Acer XB280HK and show you a new menu option. You simply enable G-Sync there then change the Vertical Sync setting to "G-SYNC" in the 3D Settings menu.

Once you have that done you are basically good to go. In some instances, the game's settings will need to be set to V-Sync Off in order to work properly, but I haven't personally run into that.

Running games at 4K is fundamentally different than running them at 2560×1440 due to the amount of GPU horsepower required. A single frame of 2560×1440 rendered gameplay is 3.68M pixels while a single frame of 3840×2160 is 8.29M pixels – an increase of 2.25x. That means in order to maintain a similar frame rate, your graphics configuration will need to be around 2x more powerful if you are running at the native 4K resolution of the Acer XB280HK. 

In my opinion, the minimum graphics configuration to run the Acer XB280HK G-Sync monitor is a single GeForce GTX 980 or SLI configuration of GTX 780/780 Ti. That can be a sizeable investment in GPU hardware if you are just starting out with a new build and will require another $600-1200 over the $799 cost of the monitor itself. On the other hand, the ASUS PG278Q G-Sync monitor will be able to run with much less graphics horsepower in play because of the lower resolution – I think using a single GTX 970 is going to provide a great experience there.

As with many aspects of enthusiast PC gaming, the higher you invest in any single product component will often times influence the amount of investment required in other areas a well. That is definitely the case with this panel.

For my testing I used a pair of GeForce GTX 980 cards running in SLI sitting our standard GPU test bed of a Sandy Bridge-E 6-core processor and 16GB of DDR3 running at 1600 MHz.

Playing games at 4K is quite a breathtaking experience but requires some additional configuration. For example, our toughest game we use for testing is Crysis 3 and it could not be run, even with dual Maxwell GPUs, at 4K with the Very High IQ settings we typically use. Instead I had to move down the presets to Medium and lower MSAA from 4x to 2x. That resulted in a frame rate ranging between 40-55 FPS which is perfectly suited to show off the benefits of G-Sync. With a typical 4K monitor at that frame rate we would either see stuttering caused by shifting frame times or tearing as a result of misaligned scanning. But with G-Sync, you get an incredibly smooth gaming experience that is 100% playable.

Games that were less demanding on the GPU hardware hit the 60 Hz cap of the Acer monitor and thus simply resorted to the same experience as if V-Sync were enabled. Skyrim, GRID 2, Deus Ex and even Bioshock Infinite were able to run at the 60 FPS cap of the screen and thus aren't really using the benefits of G-Sync technology. I will say that Bioshock Infinite did have a few instances of dropping down to around 55 FPS, which might have caused some noticeable stutter issues on standard monitors, but weren't even noticed on the XB280HK until viewing the FRAPS data after the fact. That is a positive sign that G-Sync is having its intended benefit.

Other than Crysis 3, both Metro: Last Light and Battlefield 4 were running under 60 FPS for most of our play time but still were excellent gaming experiences at 4K thanks to the implementation of G-Sync. I had always expected that the 4K resolution was a perfect location for G-Sync to exist today and these specific gaming sessions have really driven that home for me. Yes, you still need a significant amount of GPU processing power to get 4K to run at playable frame rates, but that range of playable frame rates is extended to a much lower minimum with G-Sync

Pricing and Availability

Acer told me that the XB280HK 28-in 4K G-Sync monitor would show up for sale in early to mid-October with a price tag of $799. Let's see how it all stacks up:

There is a lot to look at with these comparisons and, of course, there are dozens of other monitors that we could be comparing to; I just wanted to keep things simple.

  Acer XB280HK ASUS Swift PG278Q ASUS PB287Q ASUS PB278Q ASUS VG248QE Overlord X270OC
Resolution 3840x2160 2560x1440 3840x2160 2560x1440 1920x1080 2560x1440
Refresh Rate 60 Hz 144 Hz 60 Hz 60 Hz 144 Hz ~100 Hz
Panel Type TN TN TN PLS TN IPS
GPU Power High Moderate High Moderate Low Moderate
G-Sync Yes Yes No No Yes No
Light Boost / ULMB No Yes No No Yes No
Price $799 $799 $649 $478 $269 (+ kit) $449

The Acer XB280HK has a $150 premium over the ASUS PB287Q, both very similar 4K monitors with the primary difference being the inclusion of G-Sync technology. The immediate reaction is to claim that NVIDIA's G-Sync is the full addition of that price difference - and you'd probably be right. I can't be sure if NVIDIA is actually charging that much for hardware + licensing to Acer or if Acer itself is marking up over the actual added cost because they know they have a premium product on theirs hands. 

Final Thoughts

The Acer XB280HK finally fulfills the promise of the 4K G-Sync monitor we have been day dreaming about since the technology's launch back in October of 2013. Now that we have it, as well as another retail G-Sync option in the office, what kind of conclusions can we make? First, the two monitors, the ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q and the Acer XB280HK, are very different monitors and have a lot of competing features to help users decide between them. Luckily (or not) the price of both panels is identical so when they actually both show up in stock again, the debate will be based purely around other arguments.

The Acer 4K panel looks absolutely stunning when gaming at 3840x2160 and if you read over the GTX 980 / GTX 970 review and learned about NVIDIA's Dynamic Super Resolution technology, you can see why even lower resolution displays would want to take advantage of 4K rendering. Games like Crysis 3 and Skyrim look awesome with scalable textures and details visible that simply aren't there in any other configuration. The problem with a 4K resolution is of course the rendering horsepower required to run it - expect to need twice the GPU (either higher end cards or SLI) to really run 4K gaming at similar image quality settings you would with a 2560x1440 screen.

You are limited to a 60 Hz refresh rate on the Acer XB280HK while the ASUS ROG Swift monitor has the ability to run up to 144 Hz. For both desktop and gaming scenarios that can mean quite a lot and most users that take advantage of 120+ Hz gaming will instantly fall in love. But will you fall MORE in love with a higher refresh panel or a 4K image at 28-in? It's honestly a very difficult question to answer as the opinion varies even among the PC Perspective employees in our office. 

I do wish that we had an IPS/PLS/IGZO version of this panel, as well as a 4K screen capable of 120 Hz refresh, but hey, we have to leave something for 2015 and 2016 right? Also remember that buying this monitor for its G-Sync properties will require you to stay in the NVIDIA GeForce graphics card ecosystem. If AMD releases a killer new product you will be able to run it on the XB280HK but not with the variable refresh capability. We are still waiting to hear from AMD and our pal Richard Huddy about our first FreeSync displays; hopefully we'll have more details on that before the end of October.

If you love what G-Sync can do for your gaming experience and you are willing to spend $799 for a new 4K panel, then the Acer XB280HK is going to be an awesome purchase for those PC gaming enthusiasts that can pump out the pixels required to make it sing. Next up we'll have a couple of new 1920x1080 G-Sync monitors to review to see if any more budget friendly options can make the cut!

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