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Samsung Odyssey Ark review: When bigger isn't always better

Engadget logo Engadget 12/8/2022 Devindra Hardawar

The idea of sitting in front of a massive 55-inch gaming monitor all day sounds like heaven. Being able to twist it into a towering portrait mode? The stuff of my multi-tasking dreams. That's the pitch behind Samsung's 55-inch 4K Odyssey Ark Monitor. As we saw during our first preview, it's a genuinely unique behemoth of a display, one that can easily immerse you in both Microsoft Flight Simulator and towering Excel spreadsheets.

Sure, you could just plug a 55-inch TV into your PC, but without the Ark's extreme curve, it would be too wide to comfortably use as a monitor. You also won't find any 4K TVs with the Ark's blazing fast 165Hz refresh rate and 1ms response time, let alone its surprisingly solid sound system. The Odyssey Ark stands alone. But is it actually worth $3,500? That depends on if you're able to live with its many annoyances (and if you don't think too hard about the price).

Annoyance number one? This thing is a bear to set up. Even with the help of two delivery workers, it took around 20 minutes to get the (very heavy) Ark monitor correctly attached to its (equally heavy) base. The entire unit weighs 91.5 pounds when put together, so be sure to have a sturdy desk at the ready. If that sounds a bit obscene, well, you'd be correct. Samsung's 55-inch QN90B NEO QLED TV weighs almost half as much (48.3 pounds), while LG's 65-inch C2 OLED TV clocks in at 72 pounds. Extreme heft is the unfortunate price you'll have to pay for a rotating monitor stand.

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As soon as I sat in front of the Odyssey Ark, I understood why Samsung dared to build it. We've already seen its extra-wide 49-inch gaming monitors in action. And, of course the company that pushed the limits of phone screens would do the same for PCs. Given Samsung's robust TV business, it makes sense to explore the many other ways it could use 55-inch Mini LED panels. (The TV side is where we also saw Samsung debut screens that could rotate into TikTok-friendly portrait mode.) The Ark may not be entirely practical, but for Samsung it serves as a showcase for many of its display innovations.

Design-wise, the Odyssey Ark resembles Samsung's TVs more than its gaming monitors. It has a sturdy metal base (as it should, given its size), as well as a smooth metal case surrounding the curvy screen. It even comes with Samsung's One Connect breakout-box, one of the company's more intriguing TV inventions. It connects to the Ark over a single cable, while the box itself handles power and all of your typical connections (four HDMI 2.1 ports, an optical audio connection, 3.5mm headphone jack and two USB ports). While it was originally meant for screens you'd be mounting on walls, it's a welcome addition to the Odyssey Ark — nobody wants to push a near 100-pound beast around just to get to HDMI ports.

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Samsung includes two ways to control the Ark: A simple remote with a directional pad and shortcuts for streaming apps like Netflix, as well as a dial for quickly managing the Ark's many different viewing modes. Both controllers are solar powered, so you'll just need to make sure they get a bit of light to keep running. I'd imagine that could be an issue in window-less offices like mine, but it wouldn't be that tough to place the remotes by a window every few months. On the plus side, they should be able to run indefinitely if you're lucky enough to have some light. (Solar cells can be charged by artificial lighting, but not very efficiently.)

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The Ark's odd shape, as well as a few LED lighting strips on the rear, are the major signs that it's not a mere TV set. I've been in front of plenty of curved screens before, but nothing this extreme. The sides of the display almost seem like they're trying to embrace you with 4K Mini-LED goodness. It's an effective bit of immersion while you're viewing the Ark in its standard widescreen mode, reminiscent of specialized theaters like LA's Cinerama Dome. And unlike most TVs and monitors, the Ark's large frame allows it to house a six speaker sound system (four tweeters and two woofers), which delivers the audio punch of a medium-sized soundbar.

The combination of expansive sound and a wonderfully immersive picture make the Odyssey Ark a truly unique viewing experience. Movies, TV shows, and even trailers felt like they were drawing me into the action, so much so that I barely noticed the slight distortion from the curved sides of the screen. But while the Ark's sweet spot is indeed very sweet, showing off the added brightness of Mini-LED and the expansive color range from its Quantum Dot display, its viewing angle is incredibly limited. Just a few steps off the center and you immediately lose color and clarity. The curve giveth, the curve taketh away.

Samsung Ark Odyssey multiview © Provided by Engadget Samsung Ark Odyssey multiview

When it comes to software, the Ark is a curious device, sitting somewhere between what you'd expect from a smart TV (it has apps for Netflix, YouTube and everything else you'd expect), and a computer monitor. On the PC side, it can reach up to a 165Hz refresh rate, allowing for frenetic gaming at incredibly high framerates. Samsung has baked in multiple ways to take advantage of its massive screen size: Its "Multi View" mode lets you display up to three different apps at once. That can include a single HDMI video input, as well as a device mirrored wirelessly (using AirPlay or the Android equivalent). Additionally, there's a "Flex View" mode that lets you shrink an input down so it doesn't fill up the whole screen.

Now why would you want to do that? I quickly learned that playing fast-paced shooters like Overwatch 2 and Halo Infinite were overwhelming when sitting a few feet away from a 55-inch screen. Sure, I could see more detail, but moving the camera around quickly and trying to track potential enemies was nausea-inducing. I didn't mind sitting close to the screen for slower-paced games like A Plague Tale: Requiem, but for shooters I'd prefer moving the screen further back. Unfortunately, that just wasn't possible in my cramped basement office, so I occasionally used Flex View mode to shrink faster games down to size.

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The Ark also features built-in apps for every major game streaming service: Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, Geforce Now, Amazon Luna, and yes even Google’s short-lived Stadia (that dies next month). You can easily pair Bluetooth controllers with the Ark directly, allowing you to treat it like an oversized console. I had no trouble signing into Game Pass and going through a few races in Forza Horizon 5, but as usual, your streaming experience will depend on the quality of your internet.

On the non-gaming front, I learned that moving to a 55-inch screen still required a bit of an adjustment. I typically use a 34-inch ultrawide monitor, which gives me a decent amount of horizontal space without being too overwhelming vertically. But sitting in front of the Odyssey Ark almost felt like sitting directly in front of the monolith from 2001 — there's just so much screen. After 30 minutes or so, I got used to using Slack, Evernote and my many browser tabs on a big screen. But when it came to focused writing and other work, the Ark was overkill. I wrote this review on the Ark during small sessions, but I just couldn't stick with it for too long.

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Samsung's unique portrait view, or "Cockpit Mode," was similarly overpowering. It's easy to rotate the Ark between that and its typical landscape mode — you just have to push the screen to the top of the base and push along its left side — but I found the taller view genuinely off-putting. Instead of a warm embrace, it was honestly a bit threatening, as if my body was instinctively worried about the Ark toppling over.

It's easy to make Windows 11 recognize a portrait display, but I didn't find it too useful for my typical work. (Though I'd imagine some Flight Simulator fans may enjoy trying to tweak the game for a genuine cockpit view). Instead, the portrait orientation was better suited to the Ark's Multi View mode, allowing me to play a PC game in a small 31-inch square while I left a YouTube video running in another window on top, and my phone mirrored right above it. It's just a shame that Multi View mode doesn't currently support streaming video apps like Netflix. Also, you can only hear audio from up to two sources at once. (And if this sounds like pure information overload, well, it is.)

Samsung Odyssey Ark desk view in portrait mode © Provided by Engadget Samsung Odyssey Ark desk view in portrait mode

For whatever reason, the Ark did an awful job of downscaling my PC's desktop in Multi View mode, even after tweaking the resolution several times. Text was hard to read and images were blurry, as if I was looking at everything through a pair of dirty glasses. Fighting with that feature also made it clear how the Ark often pales in comparison to having a typical multi-monitor setup. It's not that hard to have another monitor sitting beside your standard screen, and that also wouldn't involve any sort of distortion. You're also more free to tweak the way external monitors are positioned and laid out, rather than working within the confines of Samsung's software.

Most importantly, though, a multi-monitor setup would be vastly cheaper than the Odyssey Ark's $3,500 retail price. (It's currently marked down to $2,500 for the holidays, but it's unclear if that will stick.) You could easily pick up a 55-inch OLED TV and a few PC monitors for less than $2,5000. Or my personal recommendation: Get Alienware's fantastic QD-OLED ultrawide monitor for $1,299 and an assortment of other screens. Whichever direction you go, it'll be far more practical than having a single 55-inch display on your desk.

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As my honeymoon period with the Odyssey Ark faded, I was left with nothing but questions. Where are the DisplayPort or USB-C connections on Samsung's breakout box? Why, exactly, can't it display more than two HDMI connections at once? Is the extreme curve worth losing any sort of off-angle viewing? Really, who is this thing actually for? Will gamers be able to live with its downsides to take advantage of a 55-inch monitor? Can they stomach a $3,500 price? And how many people will have desks sturdy enough to hold this thing?

Anyone buying the Odyssey Ark is basically paying to be a beta tester for Samsung. In general, we recommend against serving as consumer guinea pigs. But if you've been dying to have an impossibly gigantic curved gaming monitor, your wish has finally been granted.

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