The Acer Predator X34 and Linux: Does It Work?

📅 September 9, 2017
“Does the Predator X34 ultra widescreen monitor work with Linux?”

Ultra widescreen 21:9 displays are increasing in numbers. Most reviews focus on games and Windows, but how well does a 21:9 aspect ratio monitor work with Linux?

Specifically, what can we expect with the top-of-the-line Acer Predator X34 display with a 100Hz refresh rate? Will the picture be stretched? Can we achieve a refresh rate higher than 60Hz in Linux? Will G-Sync truly produce smoother gameplay? Are there any unknown issues to be aware of when using Linux?

Yes, there are issues. Here are my results when testing the monitor with Linux Mint 18.2, Xubuntu 16.04, and Windows 7.

The Short Answer

Let’s get to the point: Does the Acer Predator X34 work with Linux?

Yes! Yes! Yes!

The X34 is 100% plug and play.

Simply plug it in, and Linux will automatically use the high 3440×1440 resolution in full-color beauty as long as your graphics card supports the resolution. No special driver installation was necessary. No workarounds needed. The Linux Mint and Xubuntu desktops were both completely usable just like any other monitor.

The full 21:9 aspect ratio is available without any image distortion or stretching. Everything you can already do now with your existing monitor is possible with the X34.

The X34 works with Linux out of the box. In my case, I already had proprietary Nvidia drivers installed for the Nvidia graphics card (1060 and 980 Ti). All I did was plug in the monitor and go.

 

The Monitor Itself

This is a computer monitor.

The Acer Predator X34 plays well with Linux Mint 18.2. (Image taken with a camera. The picture quality is stunning in real life.)

Yes, an obvious statement, but this means that the specifications are built to a higher quality standard intended for close-range viewing than an HDTV. Thus, the cost of the X34 will be higher — much higher — than a larger HDTV from an electronics store.

“Why not just buy a 4K HDTV?”

There is more to a computer monitor than resolution. While the X34 is not a 4K monitor, it offers a wide screen, rich colors, excellent contrast, fast refresh rates, fast response times, and G-Sync for those who have Nvidia graphics cards.

“Are you testing a review sample monitor?”

No. The X34 monitor used for this review is a standard retail monitor. Somebody paid real money to obtain this, so what follows is the experience the average customer might endure.

Despite the price, the X34 is not perfect, so any flaws will be mentioned.

About the Predator X34

The box is big. Real big.

Predator X34 box. The monitor is well-protected during transit.

X34 reviews abound online, so this article will avoid rehashing the specifications and, instead, focus on my experience using it with Linux and Windows 7.

 

Aspect Ratio

The Predator X34 is an Ultra Wide Quad HD (UWQHD) 21:9 3440×1440 34″ (87cm) IPS monitor. The 21:9 aspect ratio adds extra space to both sides of a 16:9 display. At 34″ diagonal, think of this as a wider 27″ 16:9 monitor.

X34 3440×1440 adds sharpness and width without making text too tiny to read. Linux Mint 18.2 Cinnamon shown here.

Comparison between 16:9 and 21:9. The center is the equivalent of a 16:9 27″ monitor viewing area. The darkened areas to the left and right show the added space provided by a 34″ 21:9 aspect ratio.

 

Manufacture Date

The X34 has been available since 2015, so many reviews abound. If you are inclined to purchase an X34 for yourself, read the reviews to understand what you are getting into. This is a pricey monitor, so you want to be happy.

However, the various X34 monitors have been riddled with issues, and reading early reviews (~2015-2016) can give the impression that the X34 is overpriced for its flaws. Some people obtain good monitors, others receive monitors too defective to be usable and require exchanges.

The X34 used in this review has a manufacture date of January 2017. After using this monitor, many of the issues that early adopters complained about appear to have been fixed. Possibly because this is a newer build. I could not find any serious flaws (except for scanlines mentioned below).

However, I did encounter a few issues that will be mentioned later.

3440×1440 2K

For an ultrawide, 3440×1440 is comfortable. Compared to 1920×1080, the higher resolution makes text sharper, and the panel itself is easier on the eyes.

“Why not use 4K?”

A 4K monitor at this size results in text and icons that are too tiny for comfortable viewing. Scaling would correct small elements, but the comfortable result (for me) would be the same as this out of the box. No scaling required with the X34.

Playing Back Videos

The resolution and aspect ratio of the video you are playing makes a difference. Since a majority of the videos available tend to be in the 16:9 aspect ratio, vertical black bars will appear on the left and right sides of the screen when watching at full screen.

Big Buck Bunny playing at 16:9 on the X34. Black bars fill the left and right sides of the screen. (Image taken with a camera. The picture looks better in real life.)

However, you can change the aspect ratio of crop setting within VLC (or other video player) to fill the screen as you like.

Same scene playing in VLC with the VLC aspect ratio changed to 2.39:1.

Same scene playing in VLC with the VLC crop setting changed to 2.39:1 while keeping the aspect ratio at 16:9 (default).

Videos are more immersive and a real treat when they fill the screen, but the method used requires compromises. VLC fills the X34 screen from bezel to bezel with the 2.39:1 ratio.

Changing the playback aspect ratio to 2.39:1 stretches the video to fill the screen, while changing the crop setting to 2.39:1 fills the screen while maintaining the proper video ratio (circles still look like circles, not ovals). However, a small part of the top and bottom of the video is chopped off.

In VLC, right-click the video, and select Video > Aspect Ratio > 2.39:1 to stretch the image to fill the screen. If you prefer to fill by cropping, select Crop instead. Either way, the 2.39:1 ratio fills the entire screen.

Between stretching and cropping, cropping tends to offer a better experience, but this is mainly a personal issue, so experiment with both to see what you prefer. It might vary by video.

YouTube Videos

The same applies to online videos. Take YouTube, for example. 16:9 videos will play back in full screen with black bars.

Big Buck Bunny playing from YouTube.

We can fill the 21:9 screen using ultra widescreen browser extensions. Here is the UltraWide Video extension for the Vivaldi (Chrome-based) browser.

Big Buck Bunny filling the screen by cropping (in this case) a portion of the top and bottom of the video to maintain the original proportions. The fill method can be adjusted with Ctrl+Alt+C as the video plays.

Native 21:9 Video

The X34 ultra widescreen aspect ratio matches the ratio of movie theaters. If you can find video material recorded at the film’s aspect ratio then it will fill the entire X34 screen without stretching or cropping. The result is amazing.

Many videos available on YouTube provide a 2K or 4K resolution. Native 2K (1440p) videos look spectacular on the X34 (if the source quality is spectacular).

4K videos are just as sharp. If the videos are 16:9, then 4K videos with zoom and crop will allow you to watch the video in sharpness equivalent to 2K when filling the screen. This seemingly contradictory description is better seen than explained to understand why.

Multi-Monitor or Ultra Widescreen?

At 34″, this easily replaces two 1920×1080 monitors. I would definitely use a single X34 over a dual-panel setup.

“What about three monitors and Nvidia Surround?”

This does not replace a triple monitor setup. Playing games on a single ultrawide is not as immersive as a triple-monitor Nvidia Surround setup, and three monitors still offer more desktop space than a single ultrawide.

To compensate, the 3440×1440 offers sharpness not possible with 1080p monitors. Combined with G-Sync, a single X34, in my opinion, is an “equivalent step up” from triple monitors. The only missing element would be the wider peripheral vision. The higher pixel count, better contrast, higher refresh rate (beyond 60Hz 1920×1080), and G-Sync makes this a superb gaming monitor in addition to everyday usage.

About games, the extreme sides are not stretched or distorted the way Nvidia Surround distorts them. More area with natural dimensions.

HDMI and DisplayPort

There are two video ports: HDMI and DisplayPort.

HDMI is limited to 50Hz while DisplayPort can allow a refresh rate of 50Hz to 100Hz. For desktop usage and productivity (GIMP, Dia, programming), refresh rate is not an issue, but fluid video and game motion will suffer at 50Hz.

If refresh rate is important to you, then you will be limited to a single DisplayPort.

Backlight Bleed

“How is the backlight bleed?”

Nothing to be concerned about.

I thought the biggest complaint I would have with the X34 would be the horrendous backlight bleed that many early reviews complained about.

It turns out that this was not the case at all. On this monitor, small backlight exists around the corners, but it is minimal and non-intrusive — even in a dark room. Colors remain consistent throughout the entire panel, including the corners exhibiting backlight bleed. During normal daytime usage, I could not notice any backlight bleed.

In fact, the backlight bleed on the TN monitor that I had been using for five years was worse than the backlight bleed on the X34. I was very happy that backlight bleed was not an issue.

Viewing Angles

“Is there any color shifting when changing the viewing angle?”

No. This is an IPS panel, so all colors remain consistent when you move your head to view different parts of the monitor. This alone is far superior to a 24″ 1920×1080 TN panel where looking directly at the center of the monitor causes slight color shifts in the corners of the monitor.

With the IPS panel of the X34, there is absolutely no color shifting. This is important given its size. Colors in the corners remain as true as the colors in the center of the screen.

The 3800R Curve

“Will the curve distort straight, horizontal lines?”

Almost all ultra widescreen monitors have some form of curve. This can be good or bad depending upon your intended use. Games take advantage of the curve by making the viewing area feel more immersive, but productivity can suffer due to long, straight, horizontal lines becoming skewed.

Predator X34 viewed from the top. The 3800R curve appears steep, but it looks flat when viewed from the front.

This was my second biggest concern (after potential backlight bleeding issues), but, again, it turns out that this was a non-issue. The X34 curve is slight, very slight, at 3800R. The monitor is almost flat physically, but the curve still exists. When sitting in front of the monitor, the X34 appears flat, and lines appear straight.

The curve is perfect for this monitor, and I welcome it. I would not want a steeper curve, so 3800R is just right.

Overclocking to 100Hz

Out of the box, the X34 defaults to a 60Hz refresh rate for DisplayPort and 50Hz for HDMI. However, you can “overclock” the X34 to operate at “up to” 100Hz by enabling the overclock option in the monitor’s menu and choosing the desired refresh rate. The monitor will reboot, and the new refresh rate will take effect…if supported by the monitor and the graphics card.

In both Linux and Windows, I also had to manually set the refresh rate to 100Hz in the Nvidia control panel (nvidia-settings) in order to change the refresh rate after overclocking and rebooting the monitor. Overclocking the monitor only allows a higher refresh rate. You must still change the refresh rate in software.

In my case, the X34 overclocked to 100Hz upon the first try. Total supported refresh rates in Linux are 50Hz, 60Hz, 80Hz, 85Hz, 90Hz, 95Hz, and 100Hz. However, the monitor will not exceed the manual overclock setting. If you set the X34 to its maximum of 100Hz, then all refresh rates are possible. If you set the X34 overclock setting to 85Hz, then the operating system software will not exceed 85Hz.

Video Ports and Refresh Rate

Only the Display Port is affected by a change in refresh rate. You cannot overclock the HDMI port, which is fixed at 50Hz no matter what the overclock setting of the DisplayPort might be. However, the X34 remembers your overclock setting, so you can switch between HDMI and DisplayPort without needing to change the refresh rate upon each port switch.

When switching to HDMI, the monitor reverts to 50Hz, and when switching to DisplayPort, the monitor returns to its overclocked setting, such as 100Hz. There is no need to reset the refresh rate again when switching to DisplayPort unless you want to change its maximum supported refresh rate to something else.

HDMI Switch

One HDMI video port is not enough if you have multiple HDMI devices you wish to connect. An HDMI video switch, such as the J-Tech Digital 3-port switch, allows you to connect up to three HDMI inputs to the X34. Switching between HDMI inputs on the switch was very fast.

This J-Tech Digital HDMI switch is a handy way to add more HDMI inputs to the X34. It requires no external power supply, and it is compatible with 3440×1440 at 50Hz.

However, the Predator X34 I had suffered from the scanline issue (discussed below), so all HDMI exhibited scanlines with or without the HDMI switch.

If you can live with the scanlines or scanlines do not exist for your panel, then this is an easy way to increase the number of HDMI inputs. It works perfectly at 3440×1440 at 50Hz.

To G-Sync or Not to G-Sync: That is the Question

G-Sync, yes!

Yes, G-Sync makes a significant difference when playing games. Testing the X34 with some games on Windows 7 revealed a new world of gameplay not possible without G-Sync.

You must use the DisplayPort and you must use an Nvidia graphics card to see the benefits of G-Sync. Simply put, games are incredibly smooth. No stuttering or tearing was visible even at lower refresh rates.

I tested this with a 980 Ti graphics card in x2 SLI with a variety of high-motion games to see the results, and wow! There was no going back to non-G-sync gameplay.

The quality of the picture motion was fluid beyond words. G-Sync is an experience you must play firsthand to understand its potential. Yes, it is good, and the X34 excels in this area.

Do Refresh Rate and G-Sync Matter?

Yes.

G-Sync already smooths the image to remove tearing and stuttering. Even at 50Hz, G-Sync matters. But the monitor truly shines at 100Hz. G-Sync and a 100Hz refresh rate is almost breathtaking if you have never seen it before. There is no comparison.

“Can I see a difference between refresh rates with G-Sync?”

Yes — at least in my case. Games were smooth at 50Hz with G-Sync, but they ran smoother at higher refresh rates with G-Sync.

Refresh rate matters, but G-Sync makes the biggest difference. G-Sync at 50Hz was smoother than 100Hz without G-Sync. At least, that was my experience.

I did not test G-Sync with Linux, but it appears to be available from the nvidia-settings control panel.

What About Speakers, Lights, and USB?

I did not use these extras, so I ignored them.

The Predator Logo

“Is the Predator logo ugly?”

The red/black Predator logo is etched into the center of the bottom bezel. To me, it does not stand out, and it is practically invisible. I have to look to see it, and when focusing on the screen content, the logo disappears.

No, the logo is not an issue at all. Screenshots make it appear more gaudy than it actually is.

Any Ghosting?

No.

The panel is rated with a 4ms GtG (Gray to Gray) response time, and I saw absolutely NO ghosting effects during any form of high-speed action. Games and videos played flawlessly. Again, no ghosting or trailing artifacts.

Two Important Issues Not Mentioned Elsewhere

So far, so good. Everything mentioned up to this point could be applied to most other monitors. So, are there any deal-breakers or serious issues to be aware of?

Yes.

I had read many, many reviews regarding the X34, and, surprisingly, the top two most glaring, aggravating issues I encountered were not mentioned anywhere. Information was practically absent until I noticed and discovered them for myself:

  • Lenticular Effect
  • Scanlines

Lenticular Effect

Do you recall the small stickers and pictures that give the illusion of 3D and change when you tilt them? The Predator X34 produces a similar effect on each side of the monitor.

It is small, but for about 5mm from the left edge and about 5mm from the right edge of the panel, those edges resemble, for lack of a better explanation, a semi-3D lenticular effect. When viewing at directly center, any text along the edges appears to curve in 3D, making the text slightly difficult to read. Moving your head causes the text to shift and appear to move slightly in the same way as a 3D sticker.

Of course, if you shift your head over the edge, the effect disappears. This is probably why so many ultra widescreen monitors have a curve: the curve lessens this effect.

With the slight 3800R curve, the lenticular effect is slight, but noticeable. Most of the time, it is forgettable, such as during gameplay and watching videos, but every now and then it is brought back to my attention when I look at the sides of the panel.

I would not rate this as a deal-breaker, but I would rank it as more problematic than backlight bleed. I could live with it, but I would prefer that it did not exist. No review I have read has ever mentioned this issue.

However, the lenticular effect is nothing compared to…

Scanlines

For lack of a better name, I will refer to this side-effect/flaw as the scanline effect because it resembles the scanlines found on old CRT televisions.

When the monitor is operating at a refresh rate lower than 80Hz, thin, alternating lines of bright and dark fill the screen vertically for about 30cm from the left. The rest of the screen to the right is pure without any scanlines appearing.

Comparison. (Top) Predator X34 at 50Hz (or 60Hz) refresh rate produces scanlines. (Bottom) Same X34 set to an 80Hz refresh rate using the DisplayPort. Both images taken with a camera. Screen looks better in real life. Any artifacts or noise besides the horizontal scanlines are due to the camera.

Larger gray section at 50Hz. Image taken with a camera, so any artifacts aside from the horizontal lines are due to the camera, not the monitor. View for a larger image of detail.

Highlighting the scanline effect visible on the Predator X34 when the refresh rate drops below 80Hz or when using the HDMI port at 50Hz. Image taken with a camera.

I tested the monitor with multiple computers and various graphics cards — including motherboard video — and the result was always the same. The scanlines always appeared in the same location.

“Why is this a problem?”

If you do any form of color editing, your photos will have a scanline pattern covering them even though they do not contain scanlines in the source material. ANY content within 30cm of the left of the screen (from top to bottom) will be covered by a “scanline-like” pattern of thin dark and light lines.

Any static areas will make the scanlines prominent. This means photo editors, video editors, and text will exhibit scanlines as you try to focus on the image.

The scanlines are most apparent with grays. Light colors and pure whites tend to hide the scanlines, but videos and pictures are created from a wide range of colors that invariably contain grays. The more gray the image (including dark Linux themes), the more noticeable the scan lines.

Images, desktop wallpaper, icons, menus — everything within the first 30cm was ruined by a light scanline overlay. Operating system did not matter. Linux and Windows 7 both exhibited the same scanline problem.

Even at 100Hz, thin, apparently 1-pixel thin, scanlines appear across the entire screen.

The effect is subtle, but once you see it, you cannot “unsee” it.

Over time, the scanlines became too much of an annoyance, and I began to avoid using the first 30cm of the screen. I moved all windows and other content to the right out of the scanline range.

Sadly, when I did that, I had the equivalent of a 27″ 16:9 monitor viewing space. If I am going to end up with 16:9 area, then why use an expensive 21:9 monitor?

“Does anyone else have this problem?”

After researching the Acer support forums, it turns out that many people have the same problem. Strangely, mainstream Predator X34 reviews never mention scanlines.

It seems that this is an issue affecting all X34 monitors due to the type of panel. There is no way around it, and there is no fix. Some reports say that disabling G-Sync helps, but not for me. The scanlines appear with and without G-Sync enabled.

Acer seems to have reluctantly admitted that the issue exists, and the bottom line is that there is no fix due to the type of panel used.

HDMI and Scanlines

Here is the sad part. Scanlines seem related to the refresh rate of the monitor. Any refresh rate lower than 80Hz causes the scanlines to appear.

The HDMI port is limited to 50Hz.

Can you guess what happens?

Yes, that’s right. Scanlines. Glorious, alternating light and dark scanlines fill the first 30cm from the left completely from top to bottom. Scanlines. Scanlines. Scanlines.

The DisplayPort does this too if the refresh rate is set lower than 80Hz, so it is not a mere video port issue. Both ports do it. The problem is that since HDMI is limited to 50Hz and scanlines always appear when using HDMI, and this makes HDMI video useless if you value a pure screen for the price.

If you plan to connect multiple computers to the X34 and use an inexpensive HDMI switch to switch among them, then you will always have scanlines.

I eventually quit using the HDMI port because I could not tolerate the atrocious scanlines. Limited to the DisplayPort, I resorted to manually unplugging and plugging the DisplayPort cable into computers in order to switch between them.

A Scanline Workaround

“Is there a way to remove the scanlines?”

Yes, but it is actually a workaround. With the X34 overclocked to 100Hz, I tested every available resolution from the nvidia-settings control panel in Linux Mint. Setting the refresh rate to 80Hz removed the scanline effect entirely. 90Hz and 95Hz also worked, but 80Hz produced the cleanest image quality.

NVIDIA X Server Settings (nvidia-settings) in Linux Mint. Setting the resolution to 3440×1440 and the refresh rate to 80Hz removed the scanlines.

At 100Hz, the scanlines return, and they fill the entire panel. However, you must look closely at the screen because the scanlines at 100Hz are much thinner than at 50Hz or 60Hz. During gameplay or any scene with motion, they become unnoticeable at 100Hz, so this is not a major issue.

With Linux, it was a matter of modifying xorg.conf to open the Linux desktop with a refresh rate of 80Hz. No more scanlines.

If this workaround did not exist, I would never consider purchasing this monitor.

Conclusion

Aside from the incredibly annoying scanline issue, this is the best computer monitor I have ever used. Colors are beautiful. Blacks are dark. Minimal backlight bleed. Fast GtG (Gray to Gray) response times. Refresh rates higher than 60Hz. G-Sync. Attractive design. It’s great.

But the scanlines. Be aware of this issue, especially if you are a content creator of any kind. You might think, “I can live with scanlines,” like I did when I first noticed them, but over time, they became unbearable — comparable to a fly in a closed room. It might seem insignificant at first, but, over time, the aggravation accumulates.

Thankfully, 80Hz removed all scanlines on the monitor I used, so the result was spectacular even if HDMI was useless at 50Hz with scanlines.

The biggest drawback is the price. It is expensive. Very expensive for a monitor — especially when considering the scanline issue. If you pay the asking price, you are going to expect nothing less than top quality, so if you are not happy with it, then I would suggest returning it for a refund. It is disappointing to see such a glaring scanline issue when monitors costing a tenth of the price do not exhibit this flaw.

Overall, the Predator X34 is a winner and probably as good as a monitor can get if you can make the scanlines disappear. Beautiful screen. Solid base. Crisp, sharp image quality. Minimal design. Wider screen. This monitor looks good on a desk, and it is completely compatible with Linux Mint and Xubuntu.

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