Call me VSG
Today we take a look at Acer's take on the new LG 38" curved panel, with others including LG themselves having used it as well. The panel boats a massive 3840 x 1600 (12:5 aspect ratio) resolution which, combined with the sheer size, allows for truly a single monitor capable of replacing dual monitor setups. At the same time, Acer took it upon themselves to not only add in AMD FreeSync certification, but also overclock the panel from 60 Hz as offered by LG to a native 75 Hz out of the box. There a few other neat things Acer have added in, so thanks to them for loaning the review sample and let us begin the review with a look at the specs from the product page:
Be sure to click on the images to view them in full size, as I will be using thumnails in the review for better spacing.
Unboxing and Accessories
Before we begin, I will let you know right away that the product box for the XR382CQK is on par with large 46"-50" TVs in two dimensions, as is the monitor itself. As such, please arrange for delivery to your place of residence and also do not be surprised if it looks worse for the wear having suffered a bump or two- or a few more, as in my case.
With some apprehension about if the product inside had any shipping & handling issues as well, I went about taking a look at the product box which is by far the largest thing I have photographed for a review so far and took up nearly all of my backdrop space. Despite that, I have to give commends for having the forethought to add in reinforced handles on either side to help transport the box, and even if you are not a two-person crew you can still drag it just fine at a total mass less than 30 lbs (13.5 Kg). There is not much else to note here that the pictures do not already spell out immediately, with printed illustrations of the monitor on the front and back, and marketing features with specs on all sides. An Acer branded tape helps keep the contents inside in place.
Opening the box, we see a large polystyrene sheet with sections cut out to house the accessories neatly. There was a crack that ran the length of this sheet, but that was about it as far as any issues go to the contents here. It may not have been intended, but my experience showed the importance of good packaging with such products and thankfully Acer did very well here. You get a DisplayPort 1.2a cable that is 6' long, a USB Type-C cable and an HDMI 2.0 cable that are both shorter at 3' long, and a power cord for the monitor itself that is another 6' in length. The two shorter cables are intended to go with mobile devices you may have- to help charge a phone perhaps, and to use with devices supporting MHL 2.1 (Mobile High-definition Link) over HDMI. As such, the length of the cables are not really an issue given the monitor and the devices that will be connected via these cables are presumably going to be on the same desk and near each other.
In addition, Acer also provides a user guide, a warranty manual, a plastic headphone hook, and the power adapter brick. The power brick for this sample takes as input 100-240 V at 50-60 Hz (USA location) and a current draw of ~2.34 A and outputs 19.5 V, 9.23 A for a max monitor power consumption of 180 W, and max power draw from the wall ~250-260 W for a standard US power mains. As such, it is compatible to the latest Power Efficiency Level VI rating mandated for newer external AC-DC power supplies. Finally, in a separate cardboard box of its own, we also get a 100 x 100 mm VESA adapter mount with screws.
The monitor itself is in the compartment underneath and held in place in another thick polystyrene sheet with another cutout to accommodate the curved panel as well as the monitor stand. There is also another thin foam sheet that goes over the panel to further protect it and help keep it dust free for a pristine unboxing experience. It is only in person that one truly appreciates the size of this monitor, and we see there is also one final marketing printout attached to the monitor via a piece of tape. This honestly was unnecessary in my opinion, although at the very least they used tape that does not leave behind residue so it was an easy enough fix.
For a product with an arguably senseless name (seriously Acer, was there a need to add in bmijqphuzx at the end?), the Acer XR382CQK is a beauty. Something else I can not convey via pictures is how well it is built, although there are a few things with the stand they could have improved as we will see soon. Having finally unboxed the monitor and removed anything that came attached to it, we see this is a curved monitor employing a generous 2300 mm curve radius to where the larger screen makes it look subtle from a distance, and yet from a couple of feet away the display can fully encompass your field of vision as intended. Coming in at 37.5" on the diagonal and with a relatively new 12:5 aspect ratio, it provides a lot of real estate. The LG panel used supports a 3840 x 1600 resolution which is referred to also as UW4K (Ultra Wide 4K), as it shares the longer resolution with standard 16:9 aspect ratio UHD/4K panels. Expect to need a lot of GPU horsepower to effectly driver 75 Hz at this resolution thus, especially on tasks such as graphically intensive games.
The bezels are minimal on the top and sides, with the display drivers mostly located on the back of the panel on a separate PCB. There is a larger bezel on the bottom which serves mostly to aid in moving the monitor and also as a location to host internal connections via the onboard controls located on the back. Speaking of which, turning the monitor around we see a glossy Acer logo printed at the top left corner, an angled cutout with ventilation holes, the end where the stand is connected to the monitor (also where the VESA mount screws into place), and the aforementioned control buttons. These are primarily to be used in conjunction with the on-screen display which we will take a look at in the next section, but there is a dedicated power button, three menu control buttons, and a four-axis joystick at the bottom. On the other side we see a set of four female USB 3.1 Gen 1 (USB 3.0) ports.
The monitor has a removable cover over the I/O and power connector ports on the back, as can be seen when you lay it on the side. The cover is held in place via two plastic tabs on the top so you can remove it by simply pulling it upwards and away from the bottom. Now we can see, from left to right, the power port, HDMI 2.0 w/MHL 2.1 port, HDMI 2.0 port, DisplayPort 1.2 In, USB Type-C port, DisplayPort 1.2 Out (for daisychaining), and a headphone jack if you decide to use the provided hook to support a pair of headphones on when not in use and directly connect to the monitor instead of the motherboard/case. A certification label is also found here, which just reaffirms the specs we looked at before.
The stand employed by Acer here is where I am not as happy with, compared to the rest of experience so far. With the use of a thin V-shaped metal feet stand, it is cumbersome to lift this large monitor and move it around with a single pair of hands. The center of gravity is also thoroughly in the monitor so you always feel it will topple over when attempting to move or even rotate it on a desk. If you have a spare set of hands to help, and this is temporary during setup only mind you, things are a lot easier since you can also use the bottom bezels on the monitor for support. Nonetheless, we still have some options with the stand to help customize the best fit for individual users. The stand helps move the monitor up and down a max travel distance of 130 mm (5.2"), allows for up to a 5° forward tilt and up to a 35° backward tilt (only at the highest elevation of the monitor) for a total of 40°, and 30° of swivel rotation in each direction to the left or right for a total of 60°. There are also four thin textured rubber pads on the three points of contact the stand makes with a surface to help prevent the monitor from slipping or sliding, although I dare say the monitor + stand weighing in at 23.5 lbs (10.7 Kg) will go a long way here by itself.
OSD and User Controls
The first time you power up the monitor, even if there is no display signal coming in, the panel will power on and an OSD (On-screen display) pops up at the top right corner cycling through the four display I/O options to see if there is anything coming in or out- this is due to the auto source option that has been turned on by default. The LED light on the bottom bezel at the bottom right corner lights up blue in this state, and the screen goes into sleep mode with the LED lighting turning amber within 3 seconds of no activity here. At the same time, a feature that went unnoticed thus far lights up white- literally. The Acer XR382CQK has ambient lighting via a multi-color LED strip at the bottom with a white diffuser piece over it (this can be seen in the picture above showing the I/O port cover). All of this can be customized as part of the available user controls via the three buttons + joystick at the back.
Pressing down either of these four brings up the OSD control screen at the bottom right corner of the screen, with each button further assigned to a sub-menu. The first option here is the picture mode, with the "Movie" mode chosen out of the box by Acer. There are a total of eight modes to choose from, including a user-customizable "User" mode. I set the monitor to Standard mode for subsequent testing as it appeared to be set up more true to color than the other modes that were warmer or cooler than I desire, based on my usage of calibrated displays for years. Movie mode is not far off either from Standard mode, at least on this sample. The next two hotkey buttons have a default action to set the brightness, from 0-100% in steps of 1%, and signal source respectively. This latter option is also where you can choose to have auto source on or off- best to leave it on initially, and then turn it off once set up is complete. The final hotkey, associated with the joystick button, opens up the full menu.
There are six tabs of menu options to go through here, and while most are self-explanatory I encourage you to read the manual as it does a good job explaining the various options. Under the Pictures tab, we can change the brightness (0-100% in steps of 1%), contrast (0-100% in steps of 1%), black boost level (0-10 in steps of 1; enhances shadows/darker shades without affecting lighter shades), blue light (off=100%, 80%, 70%, 60%, 50% options; adjusts the amount of blue light shown as a percentage of original), ACM (on, off options; Adaptive Contrast Management), and super sharpness (on, off options). The Color tab has two pages of options, including Gamma (1.8, 2.2, 2.4 options; 2.2 is Windows OS default and 1.8 that for MacOS), color temperature (warm, cool, normal, blue light, user options), R/G/B channel gain/bias controls, sRGB (on, off options), 6-axis Hue (red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan options), and 6-axis Saturate (red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan options).
The Audio tab is short with volume control for the built-in 2-channel speakers (0-100% in steps of 1%), and DTS (on, off options; help stratify the two speaker sounds). The monitor has two 7 W speakers on the back which won't win any audio contests, but they do a good job with DTS on if you have no other speaker/sound output available- better so than most other monitors I have used in the past. The Gaming tab is not any longer either, with control over overdrive (off, normal, extreme options; controls the extent to which the display pixels are over-volted to change the speed of color transition), and aim point (off, three aim point options) that displays an actual aim guide point on the screen to aid in games. The former is best kept on normal as the extreme option can cause false color reproduction, and the latter is a decision you have to make yourself. It can give you an advantage in games, and is not something that gets detected as a cheat, but is ethically grey in such occasions.
The OSD tab allows you to change the language (which I did not bother changing from English lest it auto-apply), OSD timeout in seconds (max of 120 seconds), transparency (off=0%, 20%, 40%, 60%, 80% options; only available in gaming modes), and refresh rate (on, off options; displays the current refresh rate of the monitor on the screen if selected on). The final tab is for System level settings, where you choose the input, auto-source, daisychain (extend, clone options; clone does not support adaptive/FreeSync), DP format (1.2, 1.1 options; leave as the default DisplayPort 1.2 setting provided your source and cable both support it), wide mode (full, aspect, 1:1 options), PIP/PBP (PBP on/off, PIP large/small, PIP location, PBP/PIP source options), ambient light (control the light effects, color and style) where you can change the color (white, green, red, blue etc), effect (static, breathing, flashing) and MNT (white=normal, red=adaptive sync mode), change the hotkey assignment from the default three settings options we saw before, DDC/CI to allow software control over the monitor settings, HDMI black level, quick start (on, off options), USB/DP Alt (on, off settings; setting USB functionality of the ports as off provides additional bandwidth for DP Alt port), and usb charging when monitor is powered on or off.
In general, there are a lot of options available for the end user to change as desired and Acer did a good job allowing extended color setting/gamma options in addition to some of the fancier options pertaining to the "gaming monitor" nature here with the aim-point and ambient light as seen above.
Monitor Quality Testing
In this section, I will talk more in detail about the panel used and the factory calibration done. The testing was done using a Datacolor Spyder5ELITE+ and Spyder 5 Utility version 1.5 with a full series of display analysis tests done on the Acer XR382CQK in "Standard mode" as mentioned before. The same colorimeter was used to then calibrate the display and then the series of tests were repeated in a calibrated stage to see what the panel is capable of, and also to check how well the factory calibration was done.
First up, the as-received tests results:
Given this is an IPS panel, I expected good sRGB color gamut and that's what I see here with a 99% sRGB coverage and a decent 79% Adobe RGB coverage. Unless you are planning on making a living printing photos, this will do fine. The tone response for Gamma measured vs set was not great though, with a larger deviation than expected. As such I also tested the response for Gamma 1.8 and 2.4, and similar was the behavior here with a marginally better response at 2.8. If this sample is indicative of all others, set your monitor Gamma to 2.4 for a more accurate, better picture output.
On to brightness, black levels and contrast ratio measurements then. First off, a chart was prepared to show the change of white level brightness as a function of the percentage set in the menu. It was definitely pleasing to see a linear change with a max brightness of ~323 cd/m^2. Acer rates the monitor at 300 cd/m^2 so we are getting what we paid for and more. I prefer the standard 120 cd/m^2 brightness in a well lit room for my work, so it was easy enough to set the monitor to ~29-30% and call it a day. That value is also what I used as a target for my calibration later on as well. Black levels are higher than I would have liked, however, with a max of 0.5 cd/m^ which thus also affects the contrast ratio at realistic conditions. IPS panels do have a limitation here of course, but ~650:1 is not very impressive. I tried out some of the other modes available at this point, but they did not do much better- if anything, I stand by what I said about using the "Standard mode" here.
Color uniformity was another place where I want to see improvement out of the box. To be fair, a curved IPS panel does trick colorimeters somewhat so keep this in mind, but it will not be as much to account for the big values here. The absolute differences were not big enough to worry me as much as color accuracy was though, which was not good for an IPS screen from a major brand such as Acer. Perhaps it is a one-off here, but that just says their quality control needs to improve. Loss-loss regardless, and definitely a venue for improvement.
Luminance uniformity unfortunately showed a similar picture to where there were definite dark zones in the top right and middle left parts of the screen with the settings as they were out of the box. This was not as noticeable in practice in said well-lit room, but in a darker environment it can definitely be impactful to your viewing experience.
Calibration was now carried out at a desired brightness of 120 cd/m^2, and the results below are post calibration now. I am not going to show all the results here to prevent this review from going too long on a single page, but the ones shared are enough to make my point as you will see.
The color gamut improved even further to now cover 100% sRGB, but the biggest improvement was in the Gamma response to where the monitor matched Gamma 2.2 very, very well now. I was able to clearly see the difference in picture quality based on some test images provided by Datacolor, but also in my own standard images I use to check displays. This shows that the monitor and the panel were capable of much more, but the factory calibration was not very well done.
Color uniformity improves slightly post calibration, but the biggest change here comes in color accuracy as expected. It is at this point where I would safely use this monitor for all my photo editing. One more point towards a weak factory calibration rather than a bad panel itself.
Unfortunately, nothing much could be done about the luminance uniformity so this remains a panel issue.
The final set of panel tests were done to gauge other things such as the extent of IPS glow- well within reason, and the curved panel helps here a lot. Used as intended, I did not have any problem with glow when working on a mostly dark screen. That said, I have been used to working on IPS displays for years so perhaps when OLED screens become more popular and obtainable my opinions will also change. The panel displayed 256 shades of a black to white gradient very well as well, and there were no hot/dead pixels to be seen anytime during the test period of 5 weeks. Viewing angles were fantastic as well, although here too the curved nature of the panel plays a role as does the limited movement of the monitor in realistic scenarios. As such, I did not go out of my way to view/monitor viewing angles (as seen by the retention of the shape of the circles on the screen) at the most extreme angles from the top and bottom. Suffice to say that in practice, the IPS panel does it is supposed to with a rated 178° viewing angle on the horizontal axis- with the caveat of brightness reduction in the perceived picture, of course. I do not have the proper testing tools for input lag measurement, and so I will refrain talking about it here.
The 12:5 aspect ratio employed here is close enough to the more common 21:9 ultrawide ratio to where content that works with the latter will work well here too, especially movies. Similarly, a lot of games today have support for 21:9 displays, and some such as Dishonored 2 pictures above natively support the 3840x1600 resolution here. It is an absolute dream when dealing with content that simply works, but unfortunately that is more the exception than the norm.
You will have content that does not go past a 16:9 ratio, and here is when you have to decide if wide mode scaling is to be used or not. When used, content either gets zoomed in or stretched as seen above with the screenshot of Dishonored 2 to be compared with the one above. Leaving it off means having to deal with big black bars on either side of the content, and it gets worse if you are working with older 4:3 aspect ratio content.
I did not have a second signal source readily available, so I ended up cloning content to demonstrate PBP and PIP modes here which are.. disappointing. There is no way to get two separate 1920x1600 resolution displays going here, so you end up with a huge compromise in PBP mode where a lot of the screen goes wasted as seen in the first image above. The next two demonstrate PIP mode, which works as expected, but there are limited options here too. You can control which corner the second display is located, as well as whether it should be small or large. You can not move it or scale it freely. Acer had an opportunity here to go with a great PBP mode here to essentially mimic a dual monitor, dual input setup for those wanting it but they did not, and from what I have seen in the last month and a half I am not the only one missing this option.
You do get the game aim point and ambient light, as mentioned above, and I will say that it was fun trying it out. The novelty does wear out soon, however, especially for the ambient lighting if you do not have a FreeSync-compatible graphics solution. If you do, this is functional as well wherein you can set the MNT option for ambient lighting and it will toggle from white to red when you go from normal mode to an Adaptive Sync/FreeSync mode, and back to white when not in it.
Speaking of FreeSync, the increased refresh rate here of 75 Hz (compared to the stock panel at 60 Hz) means Acer were able to implement and certify this as a FreeSync monitor with a 48-75 Hz range. Given the high resolution here, it would have been nice to see the lower end go further but during the test period AMD released their Radeon Crimson ReLive Edition 17.7.2 which brought along with it Enhanced Sync. This, coupled with FreeSync, made this monitor a lot better for everyday use and also in gaming to where I definitely encourage users leave Enhanced Sync on with compatible hardware. Unfortunately, given the absence of reproducible, quantitative measurements of the FreeSunc/Enhanced Sync effect, I can only talk about it subjectively here. The panel is bandwidth limited to 75 Hz at 3840x1600, and the factory overclocking of the refresh rate is to its max already even at lower resolutions. So while some may see this as a disappointment, I would encourage you to see it more of an inherent connection limitation at this point combined with a pre-set factory overclock.
Productivity is by far where the Acer XR382CQK shines the most, at least for me. The ability to have such a massive screen at 100% scaling in Windows 10 away just enough to have it fill my entire cone of vision was exhilarating, and writing this very review on this monitor saved a lot of time by having the OCN tab open on a 1920x1080 window with a file explorer and image viewer right next to it. Plotting the brightness % vs cd/m^2 plot also was a piece of cake with the plotting software open at the same time I was double checking the numbers on an Excel file from a few weeks ago.
Before we conclude, I will point out that since I had to return the monitor I did not take the risk of disassembly and potentially causing an irreversible change to the monitor components inside.
The Acer XR382CQK bmijqphuzx has a lot of things going for it, if that long name is anything to go by as well. The real estate available on this monitor is simply something you have to experience in person, and dismiss as a gimmick anymore. The curved display also actually helps here vs being next to useless on larger TVs placed further away, to where the gentle 2300 mm radius of curvature helps minimize strong screen regional variation in color reproduction and also giving an immersive feeling to the user. It is rich on I/O as well, supporting HDMI 2.0 and DP 1.2 as with any other high end monitor today, but also going more future proof with USB Type-C connectivity options as well as support for MHL-compatible devices. The four USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports on the back, as well as the headphone jack + hook/holder are appreciated as well. I also am a fan of Acer taking LG's 3840x1600 UW4K panel and giving it a factory overclock to 75 Hz out of the box, adding in FreeSync certification- a must, given the panel itself is compatible with Adaptive Sync, but Acer could have just stopped at 60 Hz as well. Instead, combined with AMD's Enhanced Sync technology and the 48-75 Hz FreeSync support, the monitor does very well in games. Now we just have to wait for AMD to release a graphics solution capable of driving all games at this resolution and FreeSync range without compromises. That's on AMD though, not Acer.
What IS on Acer is the factory calibration, or lack thereof. I got tangible, visual improvements almost everywhere by doing my own calibration- especially in the color accuracy section which is key for an IPS panel. Expecting end users to have their own colorimeter is a folly, and so Acer needs to step up their quality control here. While doing so, improve it also in the panel selection phase where this did not do very well in luminance uniformity no matter what. The stand too is not something I prefer, especially after used a lot of well built monitors over the years with stands that were function primarily over form. PBP and PIP modes are also lacking, and this is where Acer should have considered many would like to have two source signals fill in an entire 1920x1600 screen each rather than the same 12:5 aspect ratio with a lot of black screen above and below.
There are things about the monitor that can go either way depending on if it interests you or not, such as the ambient lighting, DP out/daisychaining, the DST-enabled dual onboard speakers and the aim-point OSD. I liked some of these myself, and could not care less about the others, so I leave it to you to decide if these help make your decision. The biggest factor here of course is pricing. Acer introduced the XR382CQK at $1299 a few months ago, and street pricing is down to $999 at many reputable resellers as of the date of this article for customers in the USA. The LG 38CU99 sells of over $1600, the Dell U3818DW goes for $1169, and HP's Z38c will cost $1200 when it is out later this year. By sheer direct comparison to the (very) few other 38" UW4K class monitors out now, the Acer option is the least expensive and with it also comes the small question mark on whether compromises were made on panels or other items relative to the larger brands, or whether Acer were simply able to hit a more aggressive pricing as a result of less bloat in the retail channel. Regardless, it has done enough to interest me strongly and I will definitely miss the monitor after I have packed it up to return it to Acer. At the very least, it has convinced me to check out an ultrawide monitor in the future more seriously- perhaps even this very one.
The Ace XR382CQK gets: