Published On: September 12, 2022

Samsung Odyssey ARK 4K 55" Gaming Monitor Review

Published On: September 12, 2022
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Samsung Odyssey ARK 4K 55" Gaming Monitor Review

It's a radical mega-monitor with 90-degree rotation

Samsung Odyssey ARK 4K 55" Gaming Monitor Review

By Author: Mark Henninger

The new Odyssey ARK monitor ($3499) pushes the boundaries of personal 4K display design. You won’t mistake it for anything else, thanks to the enormous 55” curved, rotatable screen. If you love visual immersion, this is the display that gives you a true cinematic perspective and beyond, with astonishing 4K detail and unreal HDR lighting and color.

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There’s no hyperbole in the above paragraph, and all that would be impressive enough taken on its own. But the Odyssey ARK has another trick up its sleeve: You can rotate the screen and go vertical. Samsung calls it Cockpit Mode, and with this mode, you get a 9:16 aspect view that you can leverage in several ways. either as a novel aspect ratio for gaming or as a huge vertical screen where you can view multiple sources simultaneously.

Simply rotating this huge curved screen vertically turns it into a striking, futuristic, sculptural object. It’s the only monitor I’ve ever found interesting when it’s turned off, just to appreciate the aesthetic. Finishing off the futuristic vibe is the ARK Dial wireless controller, a desktop tool that offers interactive control of various display-related functions. It offers useful menu navigation, source selection, as well as resizing the main view when in landscape mode. The Odyssey ARK also ships with a standard Samsung remote.

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Features & Specifications

Neo QLED monitors are the latest and greatest in HDR display technology, offering numerous advantages for PC gaming. Incredibly vibrant and realistic colors along with high brightness make games look more immersive than ever before. This is easy to understand. But the value of a curved screen is something that's less commonly understood, yet key to the performance of the Odyssey ARK.

This monitor has a 165 Hz refresh rate with 1 ms GTG, uses Quantum Mini-LED backlighting and even offers built-in 2.2.2 Dolby Atmos sound with 60 W of power total. Its 1000R curved screen has a glare-free “Matte display” utilizing sAGAR (Super Anti-Glare, Anti-Reflection) film, so all you see are the pixels, not a reflection of your room.

Odyssey ARK presents gaming graphics in perfect clarity. This is backlit by a mini LED array that Samsung classifies as HDR32X and benefits from 14-bit processing, just like Samsung's top-tier Neo QLED TVs.

The curve allows one viewer to sit at an optimal distance, which is around three feet away, from where they can enjoy near-complete development within the striking 4K HDR visuals. In this display, there's not a lot of concern for ultra-wide viewing angles, like on a TV. Instead, Samsung leverages the intrinsically high contrast of VA LCD panels, and the fact you're seated centered to a curved screen that keeps the surface perpendicular to your retinas, all add up to a sublime viewing experience where there is no off-axis loss in fidelity, which is an issue when sitting close to any non-curved screen.

When the screen is vertical, you cannot adjust the screen height, but you really wouldn't want to anyway because it's quite tall. You leverage what is normally the swivel function (when it's horizontal). But when it's in Cockpit Mode (vertical), the tilt optimizes the view, because the screen's physical curve is now also vertical.

Part of the Odyssey ARK's magic is a result of Samsung using its One Connect box to run the show. It is a separate box that also houses the processing and power supply. The best thing about the One Connect is it's easily accessible, and you can put it where you want it, so you never have to fiddle with finding inputs on the back of the monitor.

The chassis of this imposing 55" monitor has embedded color-changing LEDs on the rear, a feature Samsung calls Eclipse Lighting. It can be static color, set to a pattern, or run in Dynamic mode where the ambient color changes with the content. It reinforces the idea this is a gaming monitor, not a TV. Still, you can also use the static mode to create what's known as a "bias light" i.e. 6500K ambient light coming from behind the screen, which is a technically correct way to watch HDR content that is used in mastering.

The picture settings menu offers a deep level of configurability and adjustability. There are multiple picture modes including a couple dedicated to PC, Gaming and also a Dynamic, Standard, Movie, and FilmMaker mode, for when you are not gaming.

Perhaps most importantly, at least for image quality-obsessed AV enthusiasts, this display supports Smart Calibration. With this feature, you use a compatible smartphone to optimize picture quality. Getting started is easy enough, so choose the feature from the menu and scan a QR code with your phone. Once configured, the Odyssey ARK executes an automated calibration routine that measurably improves the color temperature and gamma performance, without needing to call in a pro or specialized gear. I ran it with a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

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Unpacking and Setup

The Samsung Odyssey ARK arrived in a large and sturdy box. This is a necessity both to accommodate the curve and the large stand. I recommend having somebody help you assemble this monitor, it is a bit beyond what one person can do on their own. However, the actual assembly is quite simple and only takes a couple of minutes, tightening a few screws.

Once together, you'll also want help moving it to its final position. Note that whatever you place it upon, you'll want to ensure it is strong enough to support that weight in the long term; you don't want to put it on a desktop that starts to sag! For this review, I placed it on a TV stand and sat in a chair placed right in front of the screen, one thing is for sure the stand allows for an extremely wide range of height adjustments, a practical necessity to give the screen clearance to rotate into the vertical. When you have it in the horizontal orientation, you can leverage nine inches worth of adjustment to get it just right.

Connecting the One Connect box is easy enough; there's just one cable that goes to the display. This is what makes it so easy to rotate; imagine if there were multiple HDMI cords and a power cable instead, it would be cumbersome and aesthetically challenging to say the least.

While I did use the Odyssey ARK with both my Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5, and with these consoles frame rates of up to 120 Hz are possible, the real satisfaction came from my gaming PC, which has an NVIDIA GeForce RTX 3080Ti graphics card and 12-core CPU. As soon as I made that connection, the 165 Hz refresh rate became available, which is faster than what Samsung offers on any TV and is squarely is high-performance gaming territory. The fantastic thing is, you get high performance on top of the excellent image quality.


Hands-On Impressions

Using this monitor as intended is a bit like riding a sports motorcycle. The performance is second to none, but it is a one-person experience. But here's the thing, the experiences you get out of the Odyssey ARK are a lot like going to an IMAX movie theater to see your favorite movie.

First things first. Although the Cockpit Mode is novel, this monitor has a ton to offer when it's in the more familiar landscape orientation. The reason for this is a little bit technical, but it all depends on how you get the best performance out of the screen technology employed here. The video geek in me loves seeing such an unrestrained expression of raw performance, a monitor that genuinely aims for the fences.

The result of Samsung's effort is a whole other level of visual fidelity for gamers. That's because unlike a regular TV, or a small gaming monitor, the picture on the Odyssey ARK fills your field of view. It overwhelms your sense of sight so that you start to feel as if you are within the worlds it presents to you. And at this scale, you can see fine details that escape notice when seated further away from a screen this size.

This sense of immersive envelopment extends beyond gaming into watching 4K HDR content; with this monitor, you can experience 4K UHD movies in a level of fidelity that is rare for any consumer display, whether TV, or projector, or monitor. Yes, it's "personal home theater" for one, but if you want to experience "director's intent." And to my eyes, what Odyssey ARK delivers movie lovers is nothing less than one of the best viewing experiences Samsung offers. Looping back to the motorcycle analogy, if you go for a ride on this high-performance machine—for example, if you watch Top Gun in 4K UHD streaming—yes, it will blow you away.

After years of playing Grand Theft Auto Online, one of the characters has reached level 300, and I know Los Santos through and through. The game may not be new, but it continues to impress thanks to the incredible level of detail, which was recently enhanced in the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 editions of the game. But, unsurprisingly, it's the PC that blew me away with GTA V Online. That's because I can push it to run a lot of the time at 165 Hz, and with VRR it also ramps down smoothly when things get complex, with some very high-quality graphics settings dialed in. It puts the gaming consoles to shame and I can say, without reservation, that the Odyssey ARK is my favorite way to play GTA.

If you feed it an immaculate source, like a 4K UHD Blu-ray, it gives you an immaculate picture. When scrutinizing 4K footage (shot in 4K/30p and 4K/60p) I captured on Cape Cod with my drone, this monitor's picture quality brought me right back to those spectacular scenes. The big advantage is that I saw the landscapes on screen with my own eyes, just a couple of days earlier, so it's fresh in my mind. I know what the footage is supposed to look like and this Samsung does it justice!

As for Hollywood and professionally produced entertainment, I can assure you, based on discussions with actual Hollywood film directors, that what they want you to do is have a visual experience that is akin to sitting in a movie theater. In a real theater, that's sitting near the front, with a huge screen. They don't want you to lose the sense of scale. And if you can get that at home, using this monitor, then the cinematic visual aspect of the experience is just as valid as seeing it on a big screen.

And I'm telling you, watching your favorite flicks on this monitor is like having your own, personal IMAX screen. What you see playing on it is far more vivid, with higher contrast, than what you'll see in any movie theater. I marveled at how The Batman looks on this monitor; even with light in the room, you get sucked into a picture that is immaculate, rich in color but dark, with shadows that are ultra-deep and rendered as such thanks to the anti-reflective screen.

Turn out all the lights and the image fidelity of the Odyssey ARK still holds up. The optimal viewing position keeps the native contrast high, so it can work in conjunction with the FALD local dimming of the Neo QLED array and give you deep blacks and incredible sparkling highlights. The intensity of this display is something special to behold whether it's reproducing neon lights at night or a vivid outdoor scene, like in a nature documentary.

Mind you, it's not like you can't use this monitor like a regular 55-inch TV; it's just that the curve serves a purpose in optimizing the view for one single user sitting in the sweet spot. It's like high-end audio systems, you need to be in the ideal spot to appreciate the three-dimensional imaging that such systems deliver, except here it's visuals instead of sounds that come through with perfect clarity and definition.



Sound for the Visuals

Of course, there is also an audio element to Odyssey ARK. The monitor has six built-in speakers and sophisticated onboard audio processing. This monitor possesses audio capabilities beyond what you find on other gaming displays, a capability that is aided by its sheer size.

Odyssey ARK has what Samsung calls Sound Dome audio, which includes Dolby Atmos decoding. It's able to put you in a surround-sound bubble, as advertised. It does immersion particularly well because if you are sitting the proper distance from the screen, that creates a fair amount of separation between the speakers, which in turn enhances the spatial quality of the Atmos sound. Call it a dom or a bubble, the Odyssey ARK puts you inside the action, both visually and audibly.

However, IMO it is too bad there's no option to easily add a subwoofer, i.e. a dedicated subwoofer output on the One Connect box. That alone would elevate the sound to a next-level experience. But as far as built-in sound and gaming monitors go, it's unlikely you'll find a monitor that offers a better listening experience than the Odyssey ARK.

Because the Odyssey ARK has eARC, you can easily connect it to an AVR-based system or soundbar that also has eARC, and have it send lossless surround sound including Dolby Atmos. If the AVR is limited to standard ARC, you won't be able to send the lossless Atmos so look for HDMI 2.1-equipped audio gear if you plan to upgrade the sound on this monitor with an external system.

Going Vertical

So here's the funny thing. I already own a monitor that rotates. I already use portrait orientation display on more than just my phone. But I currently do it with a flat 32-inch monitor that is not nearly as capable in terms of brightness and contrast. However that Lenovo is 4K, calibrated, and it does have a wide color gamut. Anyhow, my personal use for a 9:16 aspect display is photography and art.

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For many years, dating back to the turn of the millennium, I have pursued I create poster-size prints of photographs and digital artwork. Creating high-resolution digital artwork, which I print out on large-format printers.

Capturing the imagery and processing it for this art introduced me to concepts like wide color gamut, 4K and 8K resolutions, and HDR tonemapping. The only difference is it was still imagery, not video like today’s movies, shows and games. But the color science behind it all is the same.

Anyhow, I still work on creating this type of artwork, but I now enjoy the distinct advantage of being able to utilize a 4K screen to preview what the artwork will look like as a poster-size print, without having to make the print. Proofing posters was never as easy as it is with this monitor. And for anyone concerned about the curve adding distortion, consider this: When proofing, it's more important (to me) to see utterly accurate color and consistent contrast, while scrutinizing all the fine details from an optimal viewing distance for 4K. You get that with the 1000R curve on a 55" screen, not without.

If you use it correctly, the final proofing capability on this monitor gives you an experience that is truly technically accurate, if you leverage the curve properly. And that works in landscape and portrait modes!

Since I like creating artwork that is portrait orientation and not just landscape, it is extremely helpful to be able to preview it. This is impractical with a regular 55” TV, but with Odyssey ARK it’s trivially easy.

When it comes to gaming, support for Cockpit Mode is something that you'll likely see added to more and more games. It's not something I specifically sought out but what I will say is this: I hope someone creates a pinball simulator that's optimized for vertical. And speaking of old-school video games, there are plenty of arcade classics that are in fact vertical. Am I saying you should buy the Odyssey ARK to play Pac Man or Donkey Kong? No. But you should at least be aware of the possibilities!

Going Ultra-Wide

Another option with this monitor is to go ultra-wide, i.e. 32:9 aspect ratio. For those who are not familiar, the reason you want to do this when PC gaming is because when you go ultrawide, it does not crop the top and the bottom of your view. Instead, you get a wider perspective. And while this feature is available on Samsung's QLED TVs, to have an optimal viewing experience, you do need the curve to wrap those far edges around you. It's a perfect way to experience car racing, which for me is either racing in Grand Theft Auto V Online or Forza Horizon 5 with the Hot Wheels add-on. Either way, you feel the speed extra intensely when you have the scenery flying by in your peripheral vision.

As a matter of fact, the 1000R curve of the Odyssey ARK offers essentially the same ultra-wide viewing experience as the 49”, 1000R curve Odyssey G9 gaming monitor. It's just that Odyssey ARK can do so much more, in addition to perfect ultrawide.


Conclusion

If you grew up a gamer as I did, then the Odyssey ARK is nothing less than wish fulfillment. It is 40 years of patience since I got my first gaming console, an Atari 2600. It is an outrageous piece of gamer technology that puts you inside the game like no other monitor.

While the popular word of the moment is immersion, what this monitor gives you is best defined as full envelopment. When you are seated at the precise, optimal distance for the curved screen, centered to the image with the perfect tilt to make it perpendicular to your vision, the viewing experience takes on a new dimension: You get the full visual effect the engineers at Samsung intended, you see every pixel’s worth of HDR detail in your PC or gaming console’s 4K graphics.

Odyssey ARK is an easy Editor’s Choice, this is the top gun of gaming monitors. It's a no-compromise personal portal into reference-level 4K HDR entertainment.



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