Premium gaming monitors with curved screens, adaptive-sync, high refresh rates, and slick styling are becoming almost commonplace. It’s a challenge for manufacturers to add features that set their products apart. Acer is making a solid attempt with the Predator Z301CT. It starts with a 30" ultra-wide panel with a tight, 1800mm radius curve. It sports G-Sync, 200Hz with overclock, and enthusiast-oriented styling. If that were the extent of it, we’d simply move on to the benchmarks and playing tests. But there is something here we haven’t seen before—Tobii Eye-Tracking. Is it enough to recommend it over other competitors? Let’s take a look.
The first thing that leaps out from the spec table is the Z301CT’s resolution. It’s 2560x1080 which equates to a pixel density of 93ppi. That’s below many other premium gaming displays that offer 109ppi or more and still deliver a fast refresh rate. Of course, 200Hz is something only seen in a few screens, so that’s a check on the plus side. The Predator also has an AMVA panel, which makes us instantly forget about resolution. That extra contrast is more welcome than a few extra pixels per inch. And like all good gaming monitors, there’s adaptive refresh—G-Sync in this case. While that adds a price premium, it ensures tear-free performance at framerates high and low.
The rest of the feature list is nothing earth-shattering: flicker-free backlight, DTS-tuned speakers, game specific picture modes, OSD joystick, low blue-light. These are things we’ve seen before. But Tobii Eye-Tracking is completely new for us.
Before now, Tobii provided eye-tracking in the form of a sensor bar attached to the bottom of a monitor. You can pick one up for around $150 direct from the manufacturer. The device uses infrared illuminators and a camera to literally track your eye and head movements, then translate them to on-screen interaction. In its simplest form, it acts as a visual mouse. In games however, it can guide the camera and your aiming point.
The Z301CT incorporates the hardware into a strip along the panel’s bottom bezel. To make it work, you connect to your computer via USB and load the drivers and software from Tobii. Then you’ll need compatible games. It’s not a universal controller, although it can perform some mouse-related functions in Windows. At this writing, Tobii lists 60 supported titles. We’ll cover our hands-on experience with it on page five of this review.
Before we get to that, we’ll run the Predator through our usual benchmark suite, because regardless of new technology, a premium gaming monitor still needs to perform well where it matters most: playing regular games with a mouse and keyboard.
Packaging, Physical Layout & Accessories
The Z301CT’s carton is quite large and includes a generous amount of packing foam and Tyvek wrap to protect your purchase. The metal and plastic base is the only part that must be assembled. It attaches to the upright with a captive bolt. The power supply is external and comes in the form of a medium-sized brick. Cables include HDMI, DisplayPort, and USB 3.0. You also get a snap-on cover for the input panel and a beefy metal bracket for the 100mm VESA mount should you wish to install the monitor on a wall or arm. You must download the user manual and drivers.
Since the eye-tracking hardware is built in, setup isn’t any different than a normal monitor, but you must connect the USB hub. Once this is done, download the drivers from Tobii’s support site. And of course, you’ll need compatible games. Mainstream titles include Ghost Recon, Wildlands, and multiple chapters of the Assassin’s Creed series.
The Z301CT echoes the styling of other Predator monitors with a distinctive red-trimmed base made from cast aluminum and heavy plastic. It can easily double as the boomerang in a sci-fi film if you need a unique prop for your latest project. The upright includes tilt, swivel, and height adjustments and is very solidly-built. The panel has a narrow bezel around the top and sides that disappears when powered off. The sensor bar is nicely integrated into the bezel’s bottom edge and reminds us of the human sensors seen in some other displays. During operation, dim red lights appear to enable the tracking functions.
OSD controls are around back of the bottom right corner and feature a joystick along with three control keys and a power toggle. The screen has a 3H-hardness anti-glare layer which keeps image-damaging reflections at bay while providing excellent clarity that’s free of grain. Our sample has superb uniformity with no apparent hotspots or backlight bleed. Despite the seemingly-low resolution, you can’t see individual dots unless you sit uncomfortably close. 30 inches is a decent size for 2560x1080, providing ample screen real estate without image breakup.
Like any curved monitor, the side profile isn’t slim. Acer has provided a 100mm VESA mount that can be exposed by removing the stock upright. To attach the Z301CT to the wall or a monitor arm, use the included adapter bracket, which is made from heavy, stamped steel. Speaking of the curve, it’s 1800R, which is relatively tight but not to a point where the image is distorted. You get a decent wraparound effect, although it’s not as dramatic as a 35” or 38” screen.
The back features a large vent that runs from side to side. Since the power supply is external, the monitor runs cool. Speakers fire out of their own grills on the bottom. At 3W, they offer reasonable volume but little in the way of frequency response. DTS-tuning ups the quality level a bit, but good headphones will still sound better.
The Z301CT has the latest Nvidia G-Sync module, which adds an HDMI 1.4 input to the requisite DisplayPort. The down-facing panel also includes a headphone output. USB ports face rearward and offer an upstream port and three downstream ones. You must connect the hub to your PC to enable Tobii Eye-Tracking. The input panel can be hidden with a snap-on cover that completes the back’s taper and cleans up your cables.
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