The Predator Z850 offers giant images, a bright picture that can stand up to quite a bit of ambient light, ultrawide HD gaming, and an input lag time that felt minimal (though I don't have input lag test equipment to find the actual number). Still, this was not a flawless experience. Colors accuracy out of the box was poor in all modes (the movie preset offered the best color, but was still inaccurate), and without proper equipment to calibrate I was forced to use it as-is. If you aren't using a projection screen the wall color plays a huge role in color accuracy, of course. I did end up testing the Z850 on an fixed 100-inch projection screen, and here the color results were actually worse than my wall, as my screen clearly was not receptive to an ultra short throw projector (it rejects light to a certain extent from the extreme angle of a UST). This is not a realistic scenario, as I would imagine that most users are simply using a wall with this portable projector, so I didn't let it affect my impression of the Z850 too much.

It's easy to forget about drawbacks when you're actually playing a game

Throughout my time with the Predator Z850 I could not help but think of the cost; it was the 100-inch ultrawide elephant in the room, so to speak. I have to play devil's advocate here and bring up total cost of ownership, which is something that projector enthusiasts know all about. Replacement lamps are not cheap, and average life is not very long with standard bulbs – with brightness diminishing over time. Yes, $5000 is a lot to pay for a projector, and much higher-end home theater models like the Sony VPL-HW45ES start at $1999, and can be used for gaming as well (though with far greater lag). In addition, 1080p short-throw DLP projectors can be found for under even $1000, and only require about 5 or 6 feet to throw a 100-inch image on a wall. But again, all of the more affordable projectors have something in common, and that's limited lamp life. Any bulb-illuminated projector will end up costing hundreds more if they are used for more than a couple of years, as rated lamp life on most models range anywhere from 2000 – 6000 hours depending on mode (with 'eco' providing the longest life, but the dimmest image).

A worst-case scenario for bulb cost would be the Sony projector mentioned above, as the MSRP on a new bulb is $499. Assuming the max 6000 hour lamp life for the Sony (if you only ever run it in "eco" mode), the replacement bulbs would run an additional $2000 over the same 30,000 hour life of the Predator Z850's laser diode in "eco" mode. That still leaves $1000 on the table, however, as even in this scenario the total cost of ownership for the Sony model is $4000 ($500 bulb x4). Now, the Sony is meant for darkened home theater use, and has just over half of the rated light output of the Acer at 1800 lumens, but much brighter home media projectors are available, including the incredibly bright Epson 1440, which pumps out a staggering 4400 lumens (and costs less than $1700). Epson is also known for its comparatively low bulb cost, making total cost of ownership much more affordable long-term. But once more, I am bringing up projectors that were not designed for gaming.

The competition in the entertainment projector space is very strong, with similar ultra-short throw models from Optoma and now ViewSonic. In particular, the new ViewSonic LS820 offers similar specifications to the Z850, along with promised Rec. 709 color accuracy, for under $3500. I would hope that competition like this will push the price of the Acer model down in time.

Final Thoughts

For an immersive, ultrawide, and ultra-bright projection image that is easy to move and set up, the Predator Z850 is an attractive option for gaming anywhere you can find a clear wall. The cost is very high at $4999.99, even for a model with laser illumination now that Viewsonic has entered this area, and there are far less expensive conventionally-illuminated options (even considering bulb replacement over time), including Acer's own Z650 short-throw gaming projector. Still, the Predator Z850 is a truly plug-and-play experience, and it was dead simple to set up; requiring only seconds to level it off and adjust focus – and of course it needed only inches from the wall for a big picture. There are plenty of input/output options, and the 10W onboard speaker sounds OK, and means you can game even if you forget your speakers or headset.

Ultimately the Predator Z850 is an impressive product that feels too expensive at $5000. However, it is a very convenient option for a massive gaming display, and I can only assume the price will come down over time.

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