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Roku Ultra review: A high-end streaming box at a reasonable price
Deciding to add a Roku to your smart home is only the first step of what can be a long process. You’ll have to decide just how premium you want to go, and the Roku Ultra is the most powerful option. It packs the most punch and the most features, but is it worth your money? Let’s find out in our Roku Ultra review.
The streaming device market is increasingly crowded these days, but Roku is one of the originals. We’ll run you through the good, the bad, and then give you our final verdict.
See also: Roku buyers guide
What you need to know about the Roku Ultra
- Roku Ultra: $99.99
The Roku Ultra is a small set-top box that plugs into one of your spare HDMI ports on your TV. It lets you tap into nearly every video streaming service, both free and premium. As the most powerful Roku device, the Ultra also includes 4K support and crisp HDR options.
You’ll have to use the included remote to control the Roku Ultra box, but it can manage your TV’s power and volume as well. The Ultra comes bundled with a pair of JBL earbuds that plug directly into the remote, which is a perfect way to catch up on late-night binges without waking anyone up.
The Roku Ultra is packed with premium features that reward users for taking the premium route. Dolby Vision HDR support is a huge plus if you have one of the few TVs that support it. You can also pair that up with Dolby Atmos audio support and tap into an Ethernet port for top streaming speeds.
Pair up Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos for a premium streaming experience.
Roku’s included remote supports voice commands via Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant for hands-free navigation. It supports Bluetooth connections as well, so feel free to stream your tunes straight from your phone. If you misplace the remote, simply press a button and the remote will emit a chime, much like a Tile tracker.
The Roku Ultra has a USB port so you can bring your home movies and photos right to your TV. Roku amped the 2020 version of its Ultra up with a faster quad-core processor and improved wireless support for 50% more range compared to earlier Roku Ultra boxes.
Finally, Roku OS is easy to navigate. It packs nearly all major streaming services on the service, including the free Roku Channel of TV shows, movies, and even live programming. If an app is not available, you can use its screen mirroring feature to mirror your smartphone or tablet’s screen to the TV. Apple users can rejoice thanks to a recent AirPlay 2 update that brings iPhone and iPad support for all Roku devices at last.
What’s not so good?
The Roku Ultra is by far the most expensive member of the Roku family. It costs nearly $50 more than the Streaming Stick Plus, for example. You won’t be able to stow the Ultra in a pocket and take it on the go as easily. In fact, it’s a bit more like a hockey puck in terms of shape and size.
Unfortunately, Roku did away with the microSD port from earlier editions in 2020, so you can’t add extra apps. You’ll also need to rely on Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant to deliver voice commands. It’s not a huge issue, but it is strange to need a third party for commands instead of integrating such a feature.
Say goodbye to the flexibility of microSD storage.
Finally, be prepared to see lots of ads on the home screen and screen savers. Ads are nothing new in this day and age, but it’s unfortunate to see when you spend $100 on a streaming device plus more money on services.
Roku Ultra review: Should I buy it?
If you have the money, the Roku Ultra is an excellent high-end streaming video box. The box, with its speedier processor, takes Roku OS to entirely new heights. Features like the Ethernet port, support for Dolby Vision TVs, and Bluetooth are great to have as well. Even the remote finder is handy if you happen to lose your remote a lot.
Of course, you may not need all those extra bells and whistles for your streaming device. If you do have a 4K TV, you should consider either the Roku Premiere, which offers 4K streaming at just $39.99, or the Roku Streaming Stick Plus if you want to add voice support for $10 more.
If you have some extra money and want to get away from the Roku OS, there’s the Amazon Fire TV Cube. It costs $20 more, but it has far-range speakers that let you deliver voice commands without the need for a remote. For $150, you can get the Android TV-powered NVIDIA Shield TV, which adds high-end Android gaming and PC cloud gaming via GeForce Now. Finally, there’s the Apple TV 4K box for $180. It has 32GB of storage, Siri voice support, and you can play iOS games on it.
At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with the Roku Ultra. Just be aware that if you don’t care about all the extras, you have plenty of less expensive options out there.