If you own a 4K TV set but happen to hate the smart system that came with it, then you're going to love the Chromecast Ultra.
Improvements like 4K and HDR support on top of a built-in Ethernet port and dual-band Wi-Fi make the Chromecast Ultra one of the best streaming devices on the planet.
That said, without a remote or a user interface it's still missing many of the utilitarian features that some other streaming options have.
To be fair, it isn't too difficult to operate the Chromecast through whatever app you happen to be casting from.
But how does it stack it against the competition? Here's what we've pieced together.
Chromecast Ultra vs. the competition
The Chromecast's calling card has always been the ability to sync up with your mobile phone, tablet and PC, and that continues with the Chromecast Ultra. Few devices work as seamlessly with your electronics as Chromecast does, and any that do require you to be bought into a particular family of products.
Chromecast Ultra vs. Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick: While Amazon might offer a cheaper streaming stick at $39 (£35, about AU$56), keep in mind that it only supports 1080p, SDR video. Amazon’s $99 (£79, about AU$140) Fire TV, on the other hand, supports 4K but not HDR. Finally, the Amazon Fire TV Cube ($119.99, US-only for now) gets you both 4K and HDR.
All these Amazon products rely heavily on a subscription to Amazon Prime to function at their fullest potential. That said, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber you won't be able to watch the service natively on Chromecast, as Amazon's mobile app doesn't support Google Cast functionality.
Chromecast Ultra vs. Roku Premiere and Roku Streaming Stick: Here's a story of David and the Goliath. The circular Chromecast does much of what the $99 (£79, about AU$140) Roku Premiere does, though it depends more on your phone, tablet and PC to keep pace. That said, Roku is known for having thousands of channels of content and universal search functionality that allows you to search multiple sources at once as well as a pretty svelte remote.
Google has adopted the latter into the latest version of its Chromecast app, but doesn't have near the amount of channels Roku has. If you're looking for full-size streaming device with access to any and every streaming service, Roku can't be beat. If you're looking for a 4K solution to putting audio and video on your TV, however, Chromecast Ultra is the way to go.
Chromecast Ultra vs. Apple TV 4K: The Apple TV 4K, like Amazon's streamer, favors its own ecosystem, at least in terms of hardware. On the software side of things, Apple opened up its app store to every developer for the first time in the history of its home entertainment device, making it a bit more well-rounded than the Chromecast. It also includes a new remote and support for 4K and HDR, though at $179 / £179 it's a lot more expensive than a Chromecast Ultra.
It's easy to criticize the few missteps Google has made here (see below), but by and large the Chromecast Ultra is an impeccably pristine streaming device capable of procuring gorgeous 4K HDR streams for less money than the competition.
Minor improvements like the Ethernet adapter improve upon last year's Chromecast, while Google Home integration helps make the Chromecast feel right at home at the epicenter of our burgeoning smart home.
That said, for all the positives here, there are still a few lingering issues. The first is its price – $69 / £69. It offers a heck of alot for that sticker price, but it feels like less of a value here than the $35 / £30 Chromecast does considering that it shares nearly all of the same functionality and feature set.
That's due, in fair amount, to the fact that Chromecast really doesn't come with any modern conveniences – both Roku's Streaming Stick and Amazon's Fire TV Stick offer a remote and have a centralized user interface.
Chromecast Ultra: final verdict
All things considered, there's little reason not to buy a Chromecast Ultra if you're a 4K TV owner. At the same time, if you want 4K and HDR video and you have a compatible TV, there's a good chance it already has the built-in apps you need (though maybe not in a very polished interface).
For the most part the Chromecast Ultra offers exceptionally smart, powerful and fast streaming in a device the size of a wafer. There's not as much benefit for the 1080p crowd, but for 4K TV owners, it's hard to find a device that offers as much as Chromecast Ultra for the price.