Roku Ultra Streaming Device Review

The Roku Ultra is a workhorse for streaming everything under the sun.
Overall Rating 4 out of 5
Amazing search for free content
Finds unusual shows and movies
Includes most apps
A bit of a dated interface

Welcome to the workhorse of all media streaming gadgets. The Roku Ultra is an affordable, powerful, and all-purpose streamer that is not quite as trendy and cool as the Apple TV or the Google Chromecast, and lacks the backing of both of those companies. Yet, the Roku Ultra comes with an intuitive remote control, offers tons of free content, and is arguably faster and more (ahem) streamlined than most media devices.

Roku Ultra most important specs
Roku UltraDetails
Price$99.99
Resolution4K
Learn moreGet a 7-day Trial

*Data effective 11/4/2020. Price and channel inclusion vary according to location.

Pros

  • Exceptional remote
  • Fast and powerful
  • Wireless works fast

Cons

  • No original shows
  • Kind of old school
  • No HBO Max app
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Low cost
Roku is the best way to find free movies and shows.

How much does the Roku Ultra cost?

A workhorse streamer at a solid price

The price for the Roku Ultra is quite interesting. It’s far more affordable than the Apple TV, which costs $179 for the model with 32 GB of local storage. Yet, the new Google Chromecast streaming device costs only $29 and provides many of the same media entertainment options including fast and reliable Wi-Fi access. In the middle is a workhorse device that offers multiple ways to watch your favorite shows and movies with the glitz and glam of the more high-profile gadgets from Apple and Google.

Roku Ultra package details
ProductMonthly priceDetails
Roku Ultra$99.99View Plans

*Data effective 11/4/2020. Price and channel inclusion vary according to location.

What are the specs?

The Roku Ultra is a powerful media streaming wunderkind

In terms of the actual hardware, Roku likes to keep things simple with the Ultra device. It has only one HDMI port and an Ethernet port on the back (plus the power connection). No fuss here. If you happen to have an Ethernet connection for your internet, using that port will provide a consistent streaming experience. However, the Wi-Fi is also much improved from early generation streaming gadgets. (Roku claims 50% better wireless throughput.) The Roku Ultra shines brightest when you power it up with an interface that has everything you need to find media, watch free shows, and use apps.

Check out this handy list of the main Roku Ultra specs:

Roku Ultra specs
SpecificationDetails
Standards supportedHDMI 2.0, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and Bluetooth
PortsHDMI, Ethernet
Simultaneous streams1
Total originalsNone
Resolution4K HDR
Learn moreView Plans

*Data effective 11/4/2020. Price and channel inclusion vary according to location.

What are Roku Ultra’s most unique features?

A solid offering for those with a need to stream

The Roku Ultra means business. It is meant to be an all-purpose streamer. It offers dozens and dozens of apps available to install, an easy search mode that emphasizes free content, and a solid user interface that is trim and tidy.

During our testing, we found most media was easy to find with a simple search and apps were easy to install. It’s fun to see how Roku changes the background image to match events of the day. On Halloween, for example, they used a simple spooky theme. On election night recently, the interface took on a presidential theme. This all happens automatically.

For unique features, it all starts with the remote. It’s thick like a candy bar and has an earbud jack on the side so you can watch The Mandolorian in peace with your own audio delivered right into your ear canals. There are four obvious buttons to access Netflix, ESPN+, Hulu, and Sling with one click. (Another reviewer here at Reviews.org is a major sports fan; it’s unusual to see a dedicated sports button on any remote.)

Roku Ultra specs
SpecificationDetails
Earbuds supportedYes
Remote finderYes
Parental controlsYes
VoicebotRoku only
Expandable storageNo
Learn moreView Plans

It’s hard to call this a unique feature per se, but the Roku Ultra is one of the fastest media streamers we’ve tested. Apps (which Roku likes to call channels instead) pop up remarkably fast. Unlike the HiSense Android TV we’ve tested, when you run apps on the Roku Ultra they tend to run smoothly, and apps never crashed during our testing.

Perhaps the most impressive feature, though, is the search. We used the remote to ask about shows and movies by pressing the microphone button. Quick note here that we’re not talking about Amazon Alexa or Google assistant here. You can’t ask the Roku Ultra to dim the lights, sorry. You can find movies and shows with lightning precision, though. We’ll explain how that all worked in the next section, but know this: the best feature on the Roku Ultra is the ability to find content fast for multiple apps.

What about the Roku Ultra content?

Roku excels at finding free content and searching multiple apps

The crazy thing about the Roku Ultra that’s important to mention right away is that this is a flexible media streamer. We found every app under the sun, including Pluto TV, HBO (but not HBO Max), Disney+, and just about every other popular option.

If that doesn’t salve the soul when it comes to popcorn night, there’s also the Roku Channel, which contains free shows and access to premium content. It’s amazing. (By the way, you don’t even need a Roku Ultra to access the Roku Channel app—it’s available for phones and tablets.)

We decided to do a little content test on the Roku Ultra to see if it was the content maven we imagined.

On the Rotten Tomatoes list of Certified Fresh movies, we searched for dozens of recent entries. To our surprise, we found many of them. In fact, we discovered several of them are free on Hulu. (Roku shows many popular apps like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video when you search for shows and movies including the price to rent them.) We even found a movie called Driveways which became an instant favorite of the year.

Are there any gripes here? Sure. The biggest one is that Roku is not known for creating any original shows or movies. Maybe that will change someday, but if you purchase an Apple TV or an Amazon Fire Stick you can expect to access plenty of shows and movies made by Apple or Amazon. That content is available on the Roku Ultra but it doesn’t feel like you are getting a great value, and it doesn’t help the Roku brand.

A smaller gripe is that, by default, the Roku Ultra beeps too often. Almost every menu, search, and back button produces an annoying beep. You can turn it off, and it’s easy to find in the settings menu, but it’s a bit obnoxious. One of the downsides to pristine, loud, and room-filling audio with a soundbar (we tested the Sonos Arc) is that every beep and error message is also louder and more annoying.

How does Roku Ultra quality compare?

With 4K HDR quality, movies and shows look super crisp

What a wonderful surprise to find the Roku Ultra is not only a great way to find content, it is a great way to watch content as well. Who knew? Not us. We found the Roku Ultra to stream smoothly and reliably, playing most of the content we consumed in 4K HDR with Dolby Vision or Dolby Vision surround-sound audio.

Roku Ultra specs
SpecificationDetails
HD quality4K HDR
PortsHDMI, Ethernet
Standards supportedHDMI 2.0, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and Bluetooth
Learn moreView Plans

Are there any gripes here? Sure. We found some of the free content to be a little underwhelming. Movies that came out in 2002 we’ve seen a few times, BBC shows that were not exactly that compelling when they debuted. The problem is that free content is great for those who haven’t watched too many movies or shows, and it’s not at all interesting if you’ve already seen every older Denzel Washington movie ever made. Many of us are more interested in the halo shows that just came out on HBO Max or Hulu, and those are easy to find as long as you have a subscription.

Which means: quality is inconsistent. Older movies and shows looked a bit dated in how they look, not to mention the plot lines and acting. Newer shows on HBO Max, meanwhile, look stunning because they were filmed at higher quality. While some older movies are in 4K, the quality of the 4K doesn’t look the same as it does now. (Technically, 4K is always the same resolution, but trust us—older movies still look a bit obsolete.)

Recap: Is Roku Ultra worth it?

In the final analysis, this is a solid streaming device

Maybe this means we can highly recommend the Roku Ultra while also wondering a bit about other devices holding our attention more. There’s something cool about using an Apple TV to watch brand new Apple-produced shows and movies, especially if you already use an iPhone or a Mac.

If you love the Amazon ecosystem, the Fire Stick also fits right in. It’s not a knock against Roku, it’s just that the Ultra does seem a bit like an empty black box that plays other apps. It works extremely well, and we’re impressed. There’s a nagging sense that the device is not quite keeping up with the best of the best.

What do you think?

Do you have Roku Ultra? What’s your experience with it been? Or do you like a different streaming service better? Drop us a comment below!

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