Entertainment

Roku Ultra - Is it worth it?

2020-07-24

Daniel Martin

The Roku Ultra is the top of the line stand-alone streaming TV set-top box from Roku. In this review we look at what are the streaming options available and whether the ultra is worth going for.

When it comes to TV streaming there is no shortage of options nowadays.

It seems like everybody: Apple, Amazon, Google, Roku wants a piece of the market.

Having a smart device in consumers living rooms in the era of streaming wars and digital assistants could prove to be a huge advantage for all players involved in the years to come.

"The Roku Ultra is the higher-end streaming box from the industry leader."

The main options available are:

  • Smart TVs
  • Roku players and Sticks
  • Amazon Fire TV
  • Google Chromecast
  • Apple TV box

Roku Ultra 4k Media Streaming Player
Roku Ultra 4k Media Streaming PlayerRoku Ultra with remoteRoku Ultra what's in the boxRoku Ultra available channels

Should I buy a smart TV from Samsung or LG? Should I get a streaming box?

I have been a long time user of Roku streaming players. I had 2, and recently bought the latest iteration of the Roku Ultra for my living room TV.

The Roku Ultra is the higher-end streaming box from the industry leader.

What makes this box stand out among its peers and other streaming options?

Pros
  • 4K UHD
  • Power and Performance
  • Channel availability
Cons
  • Pricier than other models
  • Less portable than a Stick or USB player
  • HDMI Cable not included

1. 4K UHD

I don't think 4K UHD is a luxury today.

If your TV supports 4K UHD you should definitely use a streaming option that supports it and also one that has the latest specs in terms of processing power and network connectivity.

Make sure your internet connection is fast enough that you can take advantage of this. You will probably need 20 mbps per each 4k stream you want to have on.

The Roku Ultra has an Ethernet interface that you can plug into your router for 1 GBps if available. If not, wifi is probably ok as long as you are willing to wait a few seconds more.

Netflix, AppleTV (the app), Youtube, Amazon Prime Video all have 4k UHD content and is something that will probably be more common from now on so it's good to have a streaming option that is good at it. In the case of Netflix you also need to be on the Premium Plan to have access to UHD content.

2. Responsiveness

The Roku Ultra is very fast.

You would notice this on apps like Netflix and Youtube.

The latest versions of these apps will always be more demanding. Older, smaller players will feel sluggish when trying to search of fast forward or just simply navigating the app.

Thanks to a quad-core processor and the best wireless, Roku Ultra is perfect for heavy streaming in HD, 4K, and HDR

3. Channel Availability

Channel Availability is the main reason why I bought a Roku for my living room.

I have a Smart TV from LG but there were some channels that I couldn't watch there like FuboTV, HBO Go and Hulu.

Everything is available in the Roku platform and with the Ultra this is not an exception.

Netflix, HBO, Disney+, ESPN+, Youtube, Amazon Prime, Hulu, Apple TV, etc.

All Apps come best and first in the Roku platform since it is the most widely used.

While other manufacturers favor their apps, Roku plays only by selling their hardware and creating a great platform.

There is of course the App Store with lots of other streaming options both paid and free. There are also other types of apps like games and screen savers, but I can't say I use them much.

There is the Roku Channel which is a free channel where you can find free premium content and live TV.

"While other manufacturers favor their apps, Roku plays only by selling their hardware and creating a great platform."

4. Remote

I didn't look much into the remote before buying it.

Now I appreciate the improvements on this iteration: like the shortcut buttons for some of the main Apps, the voice search feature and the Headphones.

There are 4 predefined shortcut buttons for Netflix, Hulu, ESPN+ and Sling TV. I get that Roku might be getting a kickback for promoting those apps but is seems to me that maybe keeping all buttons programmable might have been a better user experience in the end, since most people probably don't use all these apps.

The Roku remote feels very sturdy and intuitive.

The box features a nice remote finder that comes handy when you need it the most.

How long will it last?

I have, with this one, 3 Roku players. I have a Roku 2 from 2012 and a Roku 3 from 2014. The 2 is already showing its age, some apps are too slow to run on it even though it still works. Also, some channels/apps never upgrade to the later versions on the old players but I guess that's somewhat expected.

The 3 it's still pretty good, so I expect this 2019 Ultra to last for a long time.

I have never had any issues with my Roku players.

Software

The Roku operating system is very stable.

Most routine tasks perform without issues. Apps and Channels update automatically as well as the OS itself.

Sometimes they crash and restart automatically which is a little bit annoying but is not often. As with any software platform is hard to maintain quality consistent across 3rd party apps.

One thing I've always liked about the Roku OS is the global search function that allows you to search for movies and TV shows across channels and rental services. It not only gives you information but also tells you where it is available if it is included with your subscriptions and other viewing options.

There is also the Movie and TV store by Fandango that comes bundled in the OS. It's just a regular streaming rental store with pretty much the same options and prices that you will find in others.

Specifications

  • Access to 500,000+ movies and TV episodes, with search across 1,000+ top channels
  • Connect to TV via HDMI
  • Picture quality: 1080p HD, 4K UHD up to 2160p at 60 fps, HDR 10, HLG
  • Supported Audio: DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio and Dolby ATMOS pass through over HDMI, Digital stereo over HDMI
  • Voice remote with TV power and volume buttons
  • Works with Alexa and the Google Assistant
  • Internet connectivity 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless
  • JBL headphones, remote finder, personal shortcut buttons, headphone jack, microSD/USB/Ethernet ports
  • Free Roku mobile app to control your player, watch The Roku Channel, use private listening

Bottom line

Smart TVs don't offer the same Channel availability that Streaming players have.

Of these, Roku is the only player not sporting a video content offering of their own and are focused solely on the platform itself.

Apple TVs have the iTunes store and AppleTV app but for instance don't have Amazon Prime Video.

The Ultra is Roku's premium offer, for the best streaming experience.

Sure, the price is a bit higher than other models but you get a player that will last you for years and still is almost $100 cheaper than the Apple TV 4K.

You can buy it almost anywhere including Amazon.

Price History

FAQ

Is Roku Ultra worth the extra money?

For most, the Roku Stick+ will be fine. But for the best streaming experience and long term investment, the Ultra is worth the extra money.

Is there an activation fee?

No. Roku is free to set up. You might have to pay for some of the services and channels that you might want to install.

What Channels / Apps are available?

Pretty much all streaming services are available: Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Showtime, Starz, Prime, ESPN, Disney, etc.

What's the difference between Roku Ultra and Ultra LT?

The LT comes with generic earphones as the Ultra comes with JBL headphones. Also the Ultra has a USB port that can be used for storage. The LT is sold new exclusively at Walmart.



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