Setup and Use
The Predator Z850's ultra-short throw distance allow for large images from inches back
Unlike a typical projector, which requires some planning before deploying it in the average room, the Z850 can simply be placed near any clear wall before use. The projector has a minimum size of 87 inches, with a max (rated) 120 inches. You can of course go much smaller or infinately larger, but the picture won't be as clear the farther you move past the 120-inch size (though the manual focus offers quite a bit of range to offset distance). Needless to say, it's pretty impressive to see a wall of your house, floor to ceiling, become a display!
The Z850 sits on three adustable feet, and these can be used to correct most image distortion, along with a simple rotation of the unit. If further adjustment is required the Z850 does offer digital keystone adjustment, but this is not preferred as it will lower the resolution of the image, and can add jagged edges. As long as object on which you place the projector is reasonably level, and the wall is flat, setup should be very quick. The slider on the right side allows focus to be adjusted, and the image is very sharp afterwards.
The remote is straightforward, and provides easy navigation of the on-screen menus
Further tweaking is available in the setup menu, which works like a normal monitor's on-screen system. The many options include screen aspect, digital keystone correction, color correction based on wall color (with further adjustments available for each color channel), laser intensity (normal or eco mode), and audio level controls; along with many others I won't get into here.
Choosing between a standard 16:9 aspect for entertainment content and an ultrawide 24:9 display is as simple as changing resolution on the PC, and making sure the projector is set to the ultrawide mode (or its "auto" aspect setting). The Predator Z850 supports up to 1920 x 1080 resolution from computers or standard entertainment sources, but once I switched the resolution in Windows to 1920 x 720 I was seeing the full width of the projector's throw. It should be noted that at 16:9, there is a visible light being emitted to the sides of the image that extend pretty far to the left and right of the projected image.
The lens of the Predator Z850 was designed to throw a very wide 24:9 image
With 24:9 set the wider image simply takes up this extra space to the sides, and consequently the projector must be moved far closer to the wall. When I began testing the initial switch to ultrawide mode far exceeded the space available, and I had to push the projector closer to the wall to get back to 100 inches diagonal.
It is hard to describe the impact of a 100-inch (or greater) display for gaming. It must be seen in person to appreciate. In addition, DLP projectors are outstanding for fast motion as they are not subject to the blur of an LCD panel, and without video processing common to home entertainment projectors the Z850 feels very responsive. How responsive? Without a proper input lag test, or any published lag in milliseconds from Acer, I can not provide a figure here. Subjectively it was much more responsive than my Samsung LCD TV in "Game" mode, but my F8000-series set (the company's flagship 1080p model from 2013) favors picture quality over responsiveness. This projector felt like a monitor, not a TV, and I assume that is what Acer is going for here.
One of the ways I subjectively checked for input lag was with a baseball game, and with my PlayStation 4 connected via HDMI I tried a quick game in MLB The Show 16. I found that I was suddenly early on every swing, even facing 95 MPH + fastballs; and the exact opposite is the case with my Samsung TV. I have apparently become so accustomed to swinging early due to input lag that I found myself unable to make contact at first – even on "rookie" mode. After adjusting, I couldn't believe how long I could now wait on pitches, and it really felt like I was using a gaming monitor. I will absolutely update the review if I receive an official lag time in milliseconds, but in the games I tried I didn't feel the effect of lag.
Aside from gaming, this projector makes a first-rate entertainment option for getting a big picture for football games, movies, and whatever else you can think of. Be warned, however, that the Z850 is very bright, even on "eco" mode (which lowers the light output). I sat down to an evening movie with the lights off and it was almost uncomfortably bright, but I don't imagine very many people try for a 120 cd/m2 cinema light output from their screens in general, and I certainly don't want to give the impression that the Z850 is a "home theater" projector. This is an ultra-bright gaming and entertainment projector, and when it comes to daytime use, you need as much light output as possible. The Z850 was absolutely usable even in a bright living room, but colors are washed out and blacks are pretty much non-existent until you control the light (a problem with projection in general).
One final note on usage, and that is noise output. At the standard laser intensity the fans spin quite fast, and generate as much noise as a typical graphics card under load – well into 40 dB range. When the projector was set to its "eco" setting, which lowers the brightness (and heat) output, the fans quieted to the point where normal game/movie volume masked it for the most part. This is nothing new for projectors, but if you are expecting silence, you will be in for a surprise. Still, with a 100+ inch image on the wall I think an equally impressive sound system is pretty much a must! (I doubt you would be worried about fan noise with an explosive soundtrack shaking the living room.)