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- The 2020 Roku Ultra is one of the most well-rounded streaming devices on the market.
- The new model features a couple key upgrades over the last version, including Dolby Vision playback.
- Bluetooth connectivity and improved Wi-Fi reception have also been added — all while maintaining the same $100 price tag.
- On the downside, the player lacks HDR10+ and its advanced features make it pricier than cheaper streaming sticks.
- For most buyers, however, the Roku Ultra offers a better value than similar flagship streaming boxes, like the Fire TV Cube or Apple TV 4K.
There are plenty of streaming devices to choose from, but the Roku Ultra has consistently remained our top pick, thanks to its ease of use and robust set of features. For the new 2020 model, Roku has mostly carried over all the elements that made the previous version a winner, while adding a few notable upgrades that should please contemporary home theater fans.
Most importantly, the new Roku Ultra finally includes Dolby Vision support — a feature that competing flagship players from Apple and Amazon already have. Expanded Wi-Fi reception, Bluetooth connectivity, and some slight speed improvements have also been implemented.
As a result, this new model is easily one of the best streaming devices you can buy. In fact, after using the player for a couple of weeks, the Roku Ultra has now become my preferred streaming device.
Updated on 12/18/2020 by Steven Cohen: This review has been updated to reflect the recent addition of HBO Max to the Roku Ultra's channel lineup.
Roku Ultra 2020 specifications
- Dimensions: 1.0 (H) in x 4.9 (W) in x 5.0 (D) inches
- Interface: Roku OS with thousands of streaming channels
- Processor: Quad-core
- Ports: HDMI 2.0b, USB 3.0, Ethernet
- Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay 2, HomeKit
- Video: Up to 4K at 60fps, HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG
- Audio: Dolby Atmos, Dolby Digital, DTS
- Remote: Roku voice remote with headphone jack
- Voice control: Compatible with separate Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri devices
Like the previous model, the new Roku Ultra takes the form of a compact set-top box with rounded corners and a simple black finish. It's slightly narrower and just a bit taller than the 2019 version, but the overall appearance is much the same. Minimalist and unobtrusive, the tiny device should fit nicely atop most entertainment consoles or TV stands without taking up much space.
A helpful lost remote finder button is included on the right side of the Ultra, while the back of the box houses HDMI 2.0b, power, and Ethernet connections. Though the microSD slot found on the previous Ultra model has been removed, a USB 3.0 port is still in place.
Under the hood, the device features a quad-core processor and an 802.11ac dual-band, MIMO wireless connection. Roku says the new Ultra offers "up to 50% more range" compared to the last model but, since I never had any connection issues with the older device, I can't say I notice any difference. Buyers who have to place the Ultra at a greater distance from their Wi-Fi modem or router, however, should see some benefits.
The included Roku voice remote looks almost identical to the last version, with a simple assortment of click buttons. Assigned shortcuts are included for Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and Sling, while two additional shortcut buttons can be programmed to launch any app you'd like. Volume and mute functions are located on the right side of the remote, and a handy headphone jack for private listening is included on the left side.
Setting up the Roku Ultra is a fairly painless process, especially since Roku packs everything you need to get it hooked up right in the box, including an HDMI cable and even a pair of wired earbuds.
After connecting the device to your TV, the Ultra guides you through some basic configuration options. You'll also need to sign into your Roku account (or create one) to finish some setup options on a mobile device or computer.
None of this is too time consuming, and the whole process is more or less the same as other streaming devices. Since I already have a Roku account and use other Roku players, I was pleased to see that my channel selection from my Roku TV automatically synced over to the Roku Ultra so I didn't have to go hunting for all my favorite apps again.
Though the player's out-of-box settings should be fine for most people, I do recommend that buyers make two adjustments right away to ensure proper video and audio playback.
The Roku Ultra defaults to forcing high dynamic range (HDR) on all the time if you have an HDR TV. This can make content that's not meant to play in HDR look unnatural. To fix this, you need to navigate to the Advanced Display Settings submenu under the Advanced System Settings menu. You can then toggle off the "HDR always on" option. This will allow the player to automatically switch between standard dynamic range (SDR) and HDR.
When it comes to audio over HDMI, the Roku Ultra defaults to an "Auto Detect" setting for sound formats. For whatever reason, this setting causes the player to force Dolby Atmos sound on my Onkyo receiver for all content. If you encounter this issue, you can correct it by selecting the "Auto Passthrough" option in the Sound settings. With this activated, Dolby Atmos, stereo, and surround sound content all play in the proper format.
As a flagship streaming player, the Roku Ultra performs incredibly well. In fact, it does virtually anything a buyer could want out of a $100 set-top box.
Video and audio playback
Video performance and format support are fantastic, with full 4K 60fps capabilities, and HDR10 and Dolby Vision playback. That latter feature is especially noteworthy since a lack of Dolby Vision support was previously one of the few drawbacks of older Roku Ultra models.
Dolby Vision can provide better HDR quality when playing supported videos from apps like Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV, and Vudu if you have a Dolby Vision TV. Amazon's Fire TV Stick 4K and Fire TV Cube, as well as the Apple TV 4K, have already been offering Dolby Vision, so its inclusion on the new Ultra finally puts Roku's flagship player on even ground.
In practice, video playback is essentially flawless no matter what format you're watching. I streamed episodes of "The Haunting of Bly Manor" in 4K Dolby Vision from Netflix, "The Boys" in 4K HDR10 from Amazon, live streaming broadcasts in HD SDR, YouTube clips in various resolutions, and more.
The actual quality of the video feed is dependent on the source, of course, but in all cases the Roku Ultra plays everything smoothly. With that said, I've encountered one very minor quirk with YouTube. Sometimes when I start to play a YouTube clip, the screen will remain black for a couple of seconds even though the audio plays right away. Once the video appears, everything plays fine, but this delay isn't something I've experienced on other devices.
Thankfully, when it comes to overall audio playback, the Roku Ultra is reliable and free from any notable problems. Dolby Atmos, stereo, and surround sound tracks are properly sent to my receiver without any drops or audio syncing issues.
Interface and apps
The Roku OS doesn't feature a particularly stylish interface. In fact, its Home Screen is starting to look a bit dated. And yet, I ultimately prefer the simple functionality of Roku's navigation over a lot of other streaming platforms.
Unlike other streaming interfaces, like Fire TV or Google TV, the Roku OS doesn't bombard you with personalized recommendations or video previews right away. Instead the Home Screen is straight to the point with clear access to your chosen services via large icons you can sort.
An ad for a recommended title is displayed on the right of the screen, but I don't find this to be terribly distracting. Navigating to the left pulls up a side menu with more settings, a free content library, a search option, and access to the Fandango streaming store.
Roku's channel selection is massive, and the Ultra supports virtually any video service you could want, including Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, Prime Video, Peacock, Apple TV, and Vudu. Though it was initially missing at launch, HBO Max is now supported as well, resulting in one of the most comprehensive app lineups on the market.
The Roku Ultra also has some of the best HDR/Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos app support I've seen on any streaming player. Though many streaming boxes and sticks technically support these features, individual services sometimes restrict which devices can actually use them for their videos.
Netflix, Disney Plus, Apple TV, Vudu, and Amazon Prime Video, all offer HDR10/Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos support. Movies Anywhere also features HDR10 and Atmos but is currently missing Dolby Vision. Meanwhile, FandangoNow offers HDR10 support. The only notable HDR-capable service that lacks HDR playback on the Roku Ultra is Google Play.
Actual navigation between all of these apps is snappy and smooth, and instances of irritating lag are rare. With that said, though the new Roku Ultra may technically save a couple seconds here and there when launching apps, I can't say that I notice a dramatically faster experience during day-to-day use compared to the previous model.
In addition to basic streaming channel playback, the Roku Ultra also includes a few extra features and quality of life perks.
First and foremost, is the Roku voice remote which offers reliable voice search capabilities, a handy find lost remote alarm, and a headphone jack for private listening. Though the headphone jack is a nice inclusion, I have noticed some slight audio stuttering when watching Netflix with headphones plugged in.
For hands-free voice control for basic functions, the Roku Ultra can be paired with a separate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant device, allowing buyers to choose which ecosystem they would like to use. Apple AirPlay 2 and HomeKit functionality are supported now as well, enabling compatibility with Siri devices.
Bluetooth connectivity is also featured, which is something that was missing from the previous Roku Ultra model. This allows you to stream music and podcasts from a Bluetooth mobile device or computer to the Roku Ultra so you can listen through your TV speakers or connected sound system.
Finally, the included USB port is also a nice touch, enabling the Roku Ultra to serve as a media player for your personal files on a connected external hard drive or flash drive. The player offers support for many file types, including .MKV, .MP4, and .MOV videos, as well as MP3, WAV, and FLAC audio.
Should you buy it?
If you're looking for a well-rounded flagship streaming box with support for Dolby Vision, Bluetooth, USB files, and voice control from external Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri devices then the Roku Ultra is your best option. It performs well, offers a sizable selection of 4K HDR apps, and offers good value for the price.
If, however, features like Dolby Vision, USB media, Ethernet, Bluetooth, and a voice remote aren't a priority for you, then the much cheaper $40 Roku Premiere is a better option.
What are your alternatives?
When it comes to flagship streaming boxes with similar features, your main alternatives are the more expensive Fire TV Cube and Apple TV 4K. Both are good devices in their own right, but the Roku Ultra provides better value for most people.
The Fire TV Cube includes Dolby Vision support while also adding HDR10+ and integrated hands-free Alexa voice control for $120. On the downside, it's missing a few notable apps, like Peacock, Vudu, FandangoNow, and Google Play. It also lacks official support for external digital assistant devices other than Alexa.
The Apple TV 4K, meanwhile, offers similar functionality, app, and format support as the Roku Ultra, but it lacks a USB port and official support for non-Siri digital assistant devices. At $179, it's also quite a bit more expensive.
If you want to save money and are open to a dongle device rather than a streaming box, the new Google Chromecast is also a solid alternative. It offers Dolby Vision and HDR10+ support. On the downside, it lacks USB for external sources, Ethernet for wired internet, or official support for non-Google Assistant voice control devices. Actual app support for 4K HDR is also limited at the moment, so if you want to use services like Vudu and FandangoNow to watch movies in the best quality, you'll need to look elsewhere.
The bottom line
The new 2020 Roku Ultra improves upon the previous model with a few key upgrades, like Dolby Vision and Bluetooth — all while keeping the same $100 price tag.
Some buyers may prefer one of the more modern and content-focused interfaces found on other devices but, for me, the Roku Ultra presents the best value of any flagship media player when it comes to ease of use and home theater performance.
Pros: Compact set-top box design, reliable voice remote, 4K HDR and Dolby Vision support, huge library of apps, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port, support for separate Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri devices
Cons: Doesn't support HDR10+, some buyers may find the interface to be dated
Source : https://www.businessinsider.com/roku-ultra-2020-review
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