Roku Ultra Review 2020
Roku Ultra is the best $99 streamer on the market.
Bottom line: Roku Ultra is powerful but not pricey
As the name suggests, the Ultra is Roku’s top-of-the-line streaming device—and it lives up to the title. It doesn’t look much different from the original matte-black squares from the dawn of Roku (yes, streaming was a thing back in 2010), but the Ultra is a fully-loaded modern powerhouse.
Streamers like Amazon Fire TV Cube and Apple 4K TV pose serious competition, but the Ultra is equal to either of them (minus exclusive Amazon and Apple features) and yet still cheaper. If you’re past the rookie cord-cutter stage and ready to go all-in on streaming, the Roku Ultra could be for you—especially if you don’t care about those Amazon and Apple features.
Roku Ultra pros and cons
- Easy Roku interface
- Full-featured remote
- 4K and HDR capability
- Limited voice search
- No Dolby Vision
- Almost too many apps
Roku Ultra deals and promotions
When you buy and activate a Roku device, you can get 30-day free trials for Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, iHeart Radio All Access, and DailyBurn (just remember to cancel at the end of the month).
Or, if you sign up for livestreaming service Sling TV and pre-pay for three months, Sling TV will sell you a Roku Ultra at 50% off.
What is Roku Ultra?
Ultra is Roku’s most fully-featured (and expensive) streaming TV device. Unlike other current Roku models, the Ultra packs 4K/HDR capability, hardwired Ethernet internet support, a USB media port, a quad-core processor, and Roku’s much-beloved remote headphone jack into a single unit. It’s the Roku streamer that separates the casual user from the completist gearhead.
The Ultra’s enhanced remote, which we’ll get to later, is one of its strongest selling points—if you’re a dedicated button-masher, that is. If you like to talk instead of click, Roku’s voice-command functionality will be a sticking point: the competition does it better.
What the competition can’t match is Roku’s universe of apps, which it calls “channels.” (A jab at traditional cable TV? Sure.) Roku’s Channel Store offers close to 4,000 streaming apps ranging from big players like Netflix and Hulu to third-party freebie oddities that pretty much define niche (like the Vape channel, which is a 24/7 loop of lava lamps, dude).
Roku Ultra specs
- Price: $99.99
- Size: 4.9” x 4.9”
- Video: 1080p, 4K, HDR
- Audio: Digital stereo, DTS Digital Surround, Dolby Audio and Atmos
- Wi-Fi: 802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless
- Storage: MicroSD card slot
- Other ports: Ethernet, USB
The Ultra is Roku’s largest device, and it’s still under 5 square inches—meaning it takes up as much media center real estate as a CD case (remember those?). The latest models still include the iconic cloth purple tag because, like a pair of Levis, a Roku ain’t a Roku without a splash of color.
The coolest features of the Ultra device are also the simplest: an Ethernet port for wired internet connection, a USB port for outside media (video, photos, audio, etc.), and a microSD port for extra storage.
There’s also a “lost remote” button on top of the Ultra—press it and the errant remote beeps. You never think you’ll need it . . . until you need it.
Roku Ultra vs. the competition
TiVo Bolt Vox vs. the Competition
|Roku Ultra||$99||1080p, 4K Ultra HD, HDR||Included|
|Amazon Fire TV Cube||$119.99||1080p, 4K Ultra HD, HDR, HDR 10||Included|
|Apple TV 4K||$199||1080p, 4K Ultra HD, Dolby Vision, HDR 10||Included|
|Nvidia SHIELD||$179||1080p, 4K Ultra HD, HDR||Included|
|Google Chromecast Ultra||$69||1080p, 4K Ultra HD, HDR||None|
Comparing boxes to boxes, Roku Ultra costs less than the competition while still delivering almost all of the same features (Google Chromecast Ultra, while it does 4K, is technically a stick device). If you’re a video stickler who needs every level of high-definition resolution, Amazon Fire Cube TV or Apple TV 4K might be a better choice. Otherwise, Roku Ultra still looks sharp.
Roku Ultra setup
Besides a streaming box, the Roku Ultra package also comes with an AC power adapter, a remote with batteries, and a pair of black JBL earbuds to use with the remote. We know that packaging space is tight, but would it have killed Roku to include even a cheap HDMI cable? It’s a single missing piece that delays the promised “Start streaming now!” process.
How to set up your Roku Ultra
- Once you’ve secured your own HDMI cable (grrr), the on-screen setup wizard will take you through the steps of launching the Ultra.
- Auto-detect video and audio specs.
- Connect to your Wi-Fi network.
- Sign into or create a Roku account.
- Pick a handful of apps to start with.
- Through your account at my.roku.com, you can rename your Ultra—either to something standard (“Living Room Ultra”) or sassy (“Sparkles the Wonder Unicorn”). Whatever you like.
- Roku Ultra streaming player
- Enhanced voice remote
- JBL earbuds
- 2 AA batteries
- AC power adapter
Equipment you’ll need
- TV with HDMI port
- Wi-Fi network
Roku Ultra apps
Roku’s app marketplace, called the Channel Store, has all of the household-name streaming services you know, as well as a thousand you’ve never heard of. For every paid subscription app, there are seemingly hundreds of ad-supported free services and beta-level third-party experiments. Like YouTube, it can be a virtual rabbit hole (YouTube is available, btw).
Livestreaming and on-demand channels and services
It would be presumptuous to say that every streaming TV app you’ll ever want is available on Roku—we don’t know you, after all—but, yeah, it’s probably there. It’s safe to say that upcoming power streamers like HBO Max and NBC’s Peacock (that name, though) will eventually be on Roku, too.
Roku TV and video apps (partial list)
Roku’s streaming TV and movies game is strong, but gaming isn’t really its thing—you can probably get better apps on your phone. At least you can rock your Spotify or Pandora.
Roku entertainment apps (partial list):
- Amazon Music
- Wheel of Fortune
- Pac-Man Championship
- Downhill Bowling
App and channel guide user experience
Roku’s big-tile interface is one of its most appealing features, since you can customize the array of apps to your liking. Either float your favorites to the top for quicker access, or arrange them by type or name, or even stack them according to color—we get you, graphic designers.
Most mainstream TV apps, like Netflix and Hulu, have their own functionality when it comes to commands like rewind and fast-forward, allowing for preview windows and controlled clicking velocity. The rest default to Roku’s style, which doesn’t allow for previews or much of anything else. You get what you pay for with free apps (including ads).
Unlike other Roku models, the Ultra can connect directly to a router with an Ethernet cable—which, in theory, would allow for a faster and more stable internet connection. It’s a great feature, but we found that the Ultra’s dual-band Wi-Fi performance was just as solid and speedy as a wired connection. If you don’t like extra wires, you can probably skip the Ethernet cable.
Roku Ultra remote
Ultra’s black-and-purple enhanced remote, unlike the remotes included with other models, can do voice command through Roku Voice, and you can program it to power your TV on and off. It also features the “lost remote” beeper we mentioned earlier, plus the ever-handy headphone jack for private listening.
Four branded shortcut buttons are also included (Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, and CBS All Access on ours, but others vary). They’re basically paid ads bought by those services, so they can’t be reprogrammed to your own preferences—but Roku has at least added two shortcut buttons that can be customized. Six would have been cooler, but two will do.
Remote control user experience
Ultra’s slick little clicker works smoothly and quickly, and its basic candy-bar design fits the hand perfectly. And don’t forget the device-matching cloth Roku tag—so cute.
Here are the command buttons:
- TV Power
- OK (Enter)
- A four-direction rocker
- Channel Jumpback
Below all those are the shortcut buttons (two customizable, four preset to Netflix and other services). The headphone jack and separate volume controls are on the side.
If you’re already a fan of Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri, prepare to be underwhelmed by Roku Voice command. Where the other voice assistants can control an entertainment center or even an entire smart home, Roku’s voice command works on the only Ultra—and even that performance is just . . . okay. If you like to talk to your gadgets, just know that Roku Ultra doesn’t bring much to the voice-control conversation.
For more control, download Roku’s free mobile app for Android and iOS, which makes your phone into an instant full-featured remote.
|Roku Ultra||$99.99||1080p, 4K, HDR||802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless|
|Roku Streaming Stick+||$59.99||1080p, 4K, HDR||802.11ac MIMO dual-band wireless|
|Roku Premiere||$39.99||1080p, 4K, HDR||802.11bgn single-band wireless|
|Roku Express||$29.99||1080p||802.11bgn single-band wireless|
If you don’t care about the Ultra’s USB and Ethernet ports, you could save $40 and just go with Roku’s Streaming Stick+. It does everything the Ultra does, and it takes up zero space (except on the back of your TV). The Premiere also does 4K, but it has a slightly-slower wireless antenna, and the Express is the absolute cheapest streamer available at $30.
Compatible devices with Roku Ultra
Any TV with an HDMI port is compatible with Roku devices; older TVs with RCA jacks will also work with an adapter. There’s also a line of Roku smart TVs with the interface built in, as well as Roku sound bars and wireless sound systems, if you want to go full-on native Roku.
Newer Rokus also work with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Our final take: Roku Ultra does it all—almost
As a feature-loaded 4K streaming TV box with a great remote, there’s little to complain about with the Roku Ultra. The simple setup and interface don’t hurt, either—it’s easy for beginners but also still sophisticated enough for videophiles.
Apple TV and Fire TV devotees won’t be won over, though: Siri and Alexa have superior voice-command performance, not to mention interfaces tailored for the worlds of Apple and Amazon. Roku is brand-agnostic—a big plus or a bigger minus, depending on your tastes.
The best plus: Roku Ultra is just $99, meaning there’s no cheaper way to become a power streamer overnight.
Roku Ultra FAQ
Can Roku Ultra record shows?
The Roku Ultra (like all Roku devices) doesn’t record programming itself. Livestreaming services available on Roku come with cloud DVR capability, storing content digitally. There’s no physical DVR built into the Roku Express.
How much does Roku Ultra cost?
The Ultra, Roku’s most advanced and feature-filled model, is also its most expensive at $99. Ultra’s closest competitor in features and price, Amazon’s Fire TV Cube, sells for $119.99.
Is Roku Ultra compatible with my TV?
If your TV has an HDMI port, it’s compatible with Ultra or any other Roku device. Older TVs that use RCA jacks for video and audio instead of an HDMI cable will work with a signal converter.
Is Roku Ultra worth it?
Yes, Roku Ultra is way worth it. You can’t find a more versatile streaming device for the price.
What’s the difference between Roku Ultra and Roku Ultra LT?
The difference is that “LT” stands for light, meaning Roku Ultra LT is slightly lighter on the features. Specifically, Roku Ultra comes with an additional USB port for storage and JBL headphones. But Roku LT is lighter on the wallet, too.