While mooching around Samsung’s Gamescom booth, waiting for their 990 Pro SSD reveal, I took the opportunity to play with an altogether more unusual addition to their hardware catalogue. The Samsung Odyssey Ark, for the unfamiliar, is a kind of all-in-one entertainment screen: a mammoth 55in Mini LED panel that can act as a desktop gaming monitor or living room TV, complete with honking great speakers and built-in support for all the big game streaming services so you can play on it without a PC or console. Unlike other monitors of this magnitude, it can also rotate into portrait mode, leaving the top curve towering over you like an unsympathetic Victorian headmaster.
I actually enjoy a touch of design madness creeping into the occasional piece of PC gear, regardless of whether it can hang with the best gaming monitors that sensible people might buy. What I experienced with the Odyssey Ark, however, was a device that too often veered onto the wrong side of senseless – when it was even working properly.
Although I was curious to try portrait mode, or “Cockpit mode” in Samsung parlance, I started by getting acquainted with the standard landscape view. All good so far – like every other Mini LED display I’ve seen, the Odyssey Ark is vibrant and evenly lit, the latter not always a given on big screens due to the limits of old-school edge backlighting. I couldn’t do much with the speakers in the noise of what, booth or not, was ultimately the Gamescom show floor, but the stand was solid enough and the bezels nicely thin.
With the preflight checks done I twisted all 55 inches of the Odyssey Ark sideways (an unusual, yet satisfying sensation) and checked the Samsung Gaming Hub for something to play in Cockpit mode. Having spied some fellow press hacks trying Tales Of Arise and Fall Guys in landscape, I launched the latter straight into an unyielding black screen.
I hadn’t played Fall Guys before, but was fairly sure that wasn’t supposed to happen. With a hastily erected mental block on the idea that I’d bricked a £2599 / $3500 monitor, I beckoned over a friendly Samsung staffer, who force-closed the game and informed me it wasn’t yet compatible in Cockpit mode – though it would work if I went back to landscape mode.
“So some games just won’t work at all in portrait?” I replied.
I gestured at the Gaming Hub UI. “Do any of these games work in portrait?”
“Do any games at all work in portrait mode?”
“Yes but we don’t have them installed. Sorry.”
I, too, am sorry for this gaming monitor preview that’s not based on any gaming experience. But Cockpit mode, surely, is the Odyssey Ark’s big show-off, set-piece feature, and with only a few weeks until its September 16th launch date, it’s concerning that some games will just get stuck in the void without so much as an incompatible aspect ratio warning. And, that there weren’t any available to actually try – if there are games that launch and run seamlessly in portrait view, why weren’t they ready here?
There are other problems with Cockpit mode too. Being able to stack three good-size windows on top of one another is, on paper, a feasible alternative to multiple monitors – but snapping them into place can feel fiddly. On multiple occasions I saw auto-resized windows seemingly render with messed up text scaling that made them unreadable, even when the on-screen dimensions of the window were correct.
The included Ark Dial controller is decent, and enables one genuinely smart feature: resizing the landscape view from its full 55in down a more manageable 27in, for when you’re right at your desktop and don’t want to be craning for every camera movement. Smaller windows can also expand outward, to 21:9 or 32:9 aspect ratios, for games with ultrawide support. In Cockpit mode, however, the remote is mainly relegated to wrangling windows into place.
There’s also the issue of Cockpit mode simply not being very comfortable to use. I might’ve been the tallest person in that Samsung booth, and I still had to lean back and/or angle my neck upward to see the topmost window in a full stack of three. There is limited tilt adjustment in this mode, but it doesn’t help much.
Again, a little weirdness can be fun, and I do still see a point to the Odyssey Ark when it’s in landscape mode: the panel tech is good, the 165Hz refresh rate works for high-end gaming, and there’s enough real estate to play the role of up to four separate monitors. You could buy four good 1440p monitors for less money, or a couple of 48in, 4K Asus ROG Swift PG48UQ OLED monitors, but still.
The Odyssey Ark might therefore have been better off without its key feature. As far as I could tell, or as far as the polite man in a Samsung shirt could tell me, Cockpit mode seems neither technically reliable nor sufficiently averse to reshaping your spine.
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