It is Leon Seidman and we’ve got another Roku to take a look at. Today, it’s going to be the Roku ultra and this is their top-of-the-line model, so our last Roku review was their entry-level device, this one is all the way at the top of the line. There are five products between the low end and the high end, so I figure what I’ll do in this review is to give you an overview as to which one you should be looking at that may be based on what your particular needs are.
And if you want to go for the gusto, the ultra has just about every feature, you could ask for a set-top box at the moment. But there are two other Rokus that also support many of the things including 4k playback that like this one does. I do want to mention though in the interest of full disclosure, this comes in free of charge from Roku.
Comparison to other Roku devices (Stick and Express)
However, all the opinions you’re about to hear are my own, nobody is paying for this review and no one is reviewing this content before it is posted and before we get into the hardware of the ultra. I did want to give you a brief overview of the Roku product line, because we now review their low end, their mid-range one and we’ll do the high end one. Now there are six different players that are currently sold on the market at the moment.
It starts all the way on the low end of the scale at 30 bucks and it goes up to a hundred and thirty dollars for the ultra that you’re about to see here. And there’s a player at every ten or fifteen dollar increment along the way. If you have a 1080p set, my recommendation is to look at this one called the Roku and it performs a lot better than I expected it to be given.
It is a small and good 1080p player. In my opinion, it has very good performance and certainly adequate for what I think most consumers will want from a 1080p set. This is about 40 or 50 dollars. And if you are really looking for something low-end and inexpensive, the slower Roku Express might be the entry point, you can get these start at 30 bucks for the HDMI version.
They do 1080p at 30 frames per second, they also have the Express Plus, which I reviewed a few weeks ago and that allows you to hook. This is up to a traditional CRT television, so if you have an old standard definition TV, you can get Netflix and YouTube delivered to it with one of these. And I think this might be the only choice out in the market, at least the mainstream consumer market, which does work with older televisions. So if you’ve got an old TV, you don’t need a lot of performances, then the Express is a good entry point. I think this thick is very good for those who are looking for basic 1080p.
Premiere vs. Premiere+ vs. Roku Ultra Features
Now if you have a 4k television, you’ve got three different options of Roku players, you have the ultra here as well as the premiere and the premiere plus. They all look about the same, but in fact, they look a lot like the Roku which we saw last year. But unlike the Roku 4, these are fan lists and a lot quieter, as a result, they’re a lot cooler as well.
So this is definitely an improvement in hardware, although they’ve added three different versions of it depending on what you’re looking for, so the premiere starts at $78. It supports 4k and up to 60 frames per second, depending on the service provider that you’re running on the box at the time.
But it does not support HDR, which many new 4k TV (TVs) support. It adds better color depth to your images and for things that support HDR, you’ll get a much higher quality image than something that doesn’t support HDR. However, the premiere at $78 does not support that, so you have to go up to the premiere plus at 93 dollars to get the HDR support.
When you do it, go to the premiere plus, you gain a few other things like a micro SD card slot, which you have here on the back of the Ultra. You also get private listening mode with your remote, so you can plug a pair of headphones into the remote on the premiere plus or on the ultra and when you do so, it kills audio out of its outputs here and it will give you that audio on your headphone.
So if you have someone next to you, you can just plug the headphones in and continue watching television, they won’t hear it once those headphones are plugged in. It’s a great feature of the Roku and it works quite well. The remotes on the ultra in the premiere plus can work in radio frequency, so you don’t need to have the remote pointed directly at the device in order to get it to work.
The premiere, the entry point of the 4k series has an infrared remote which is very similar to what we saw on the Express earlier, you have to point it directly at the device or use the mobile app. And I’ve got a full overview of the mobile app link down below, in the video description as well.
The Premier Plus adds Ethernet which you’ll also get on the ultra here, so if you want to connect it up to your wired network for a better performance, you can do that. However all three models, the premiere, the premiere plus and the ultra support wireless AC. So the big question would be what the ultra gets you over, the premiere plus. So the big question is how the ultra exceeds premiere plus.
So the premiere plus costs 93 dollars. The Ultra is 129 dollars and for that extra price, you get a USB port here on the side, you also have an optical audio output on this one. So if you have optical on your particular home theater system, it will support that the remote on the ultra, which gives you two or three things more than the other one including a voice search. So you can click here and speak into the microphone to search with your voice on this one.
You can gain that functionality with their mobile app if you want. So if you are looking for voice search on the other models, including all the way down to the entry level, you can do that on your phone, but you can do it on the remote on this one. And you can also get some gaming buttons for playing some games which are few.
It is available on the Roku channel store, so you do have that as an option and there’s also a remote finder. So you can push this button, I’ll show you how it works in a minute and beep the remote. So those are the bigger differences between the premiere plus and the ultra.
If you have your own media that you’d like to connect to your device, you can plug it here with USB. I can see that it might be one of the primary reasons to focus on the ultra, but I’m not seeing a huge difference in other features beyond the optical audio and the USB which you can’t get on the premier plus.
If you’re looking for something under $100, which has all the 4k functionality. I think they’ll perform about the same that is based on what you’re about to see, with our overview of some of the ultras features. So there is a lot of confusion out there, but each one incrementally adds more features and if you want every feature, then the Ultra will probably get that for you now.
HDCP 2.2 warning
Before I plug this in, I do want to give you a bit of warning about the HDMI port, these Roku’s require HDCP 2.2 to be supported by your devices and that means that your television or your receiver has to support it. If you’re plugging it into an audio receiver and it doesn’t support that, you won’t get 4k out of this just 1080p and a lot of folks went to my Roku for review writting that they were frustrated, they couldn’t get the road crew to work with their 4k TV.
Because it didn’t support that level of copy protection. It’s not Roku’s fault, it’s the industry that continually puts these copy-protection requirements on these manufacturers. So make sure your television or your receiver supports those things. I have an audio receiver down here in my studio that is working fine except when I try to plug in some of the new 4k devices, it has to replace the entire audio receiver to get something that is HDCP 2.2 compatible.
It’s a real pain to have to upgrade hardware to meet the industry’s copy-protection guidelines, but that is the world we live in, let me go to get this thing hooked up and we’ll see how the Roku ultra performs, you remember that you’ll see the same performance more or less out of the premiere and the premiere plus. Let’s get started.
Roku Ultra general performance / Netflix
So here we are on the main screen of the Roku ultra and you’ll notice if you watch my other Roku videos. So this doesn’t seem all that much different, in fact it doesn’t look different at all. They’ve got the same interface across the entire product lines, I’m going to lead you to my review of the Roku stick, and so you can see exactly what these Roku devices can or can’t do, because the context will be the same.
What I will do is to show you how much faster this one is than the Express that we looked at recently. So I load up Netflix, here you can see the app will load up a lot faster and get a streaming quicker than we saw on the other device. I have found that this is slower than the Apple TV or perhaps the Android TV devices that we’ve looked at insofar as loading the apps up.
But once things get loaded, they do get working pretty quickly, so I can go in and start streaming a show at 1080p, just because we’re only doing high-definition right now and you can see how fast your streams get up and running. And having Ethernet plugged in really helps get us to that point a lot quicker. It is faster here on the 4k devices, a little faster than the stick and a lot faster than the entry-level Express.
Roku Ultra voice search and remote finder
And I’ve mentioned this in my other Roku reviews, but I will bring it up again. That Roku does have a much better channel selection than many of the other boxes, because they are not in the content business, and therefore they are not competing. So you get Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, even Google Play and a number of other services are all on this box, whereas other services are not showing up on some versus others due to commercial and competitive reasons.
So that is one of the reasons why you might want to look at Roku. If your Smart TV doesn’t offer as much as you’d like, you will probably get the most available channels on one of these boxes versus something else. I just know that these do not support Apple. You have to get an Apple TV or an iPad or something for that, but these do support everything else.
A couple of other features here that are unique to the ultra, you do again to get that voice search, so I can hold press down the search button here and say Star Wars. And it will then go into the Roku universal search, so I could see here that the force awakens is available from all these different providers that I have installed on the box and I can pull those up which great Amazon support on this box.
By the way, which I will cover in just a second is that we get into some of the HDR stuff, you also have that remote finder. So if I push this button here on the top of the console, I will get my remote beeping here, so I can find the nice thing, it stops after a minute, so you don’t have to have it beeping in perpetuity. You can just wait for it to finish off in case you really can’t find the remote at all. There is a time limit.
Gaming on the Roku Ultra
Here is the gaming and you saw it before, there are two gaming buttons on here. The games aren’t that much of a focus of Roku. In fact, I’m surprised you’re still offering them as a feature, but you can play things like Tetris, a couple of other things on the box and some very casual gaming that might be something to play with.
4k & HDR: Amazon, Netflix, YouTube
So let’s take a look at the 4k support. Remember the Ultra here supports 4k as the premiere and the premiere plus do. However, the premiere plus and the ultra are the only two models that get the HDR support, which I’ll cover in just a second. They do have a very nice curate app here called the 4k spotlight, and they give you 4k content across a bunch of different service providers that are supported on the Roku, which are helpful.
So you can track down some 4k content that way. I did find that Netflix and Amazon had a bunch of stuff available. When I was poking through, a lot of that did not get any drop frames or stuttering playback or anything. It seems like the hardware here can support a 4k stream very well, so that is a good thing.
HDR was a bit of a mixed bag, so Amazon support for HDR was great. I played back a couple of different HDR supported shows on Amazon video and had no issues getting those to play back, my TV switched into the HDR mode without any problems whatsoever.
However Netflix was another story. I could get things to play back in 4k just fine, but the TV was not switching into the HDR mode, and I have a low-end Samsung device. Maybe there are some kinds of crazy compatibility issues going on between my TV and the box but nevertheless in my testing, HDR works fine in Amazon, but not in Netflix.
Although these are software things that I think these software things could probably get resolved a little bit later. YouTube also supports 4k on the box, however, it was not switching into the 60 frames per second mode for videos which supported that. So I was not able to playback 4k content higher than 30 frames per second, and incidentally that 30 frames per second cap could also apply to lower resolution files as well.
So I could not playback 1080p 60 content at 60 frames per second, just at 30 frames per second. I think these are more software issues than hardware issues. I think the hardware can clearly support that level of playback, but just be aware that your 4k HDR performance will be a mixed bag, depending on your TV. And what application you’re trying to use for it again. Amazon worked fine for me, but Netflix didn’t work fine.
Roku ultra gets you that the other device is not an external USB ports. If you have an external hard drive like the one I have, you have some of your own media that you’d like to playback on your box, you can do that through the network port there. There’s an app called media player, which is available for free through Roku’s app store that allows you to playback media from either that SD card slot, that’s on the ultra here or the premiere plus or through the USB port, that is only on the ultra media player, which also works over your network.
So if you have a network attached storage device in your house, you can pull media over it in that way. So I’ve got two different files here, this is an a PVC file, that’s a 4k file. It seems to be playing that back just fine, so you’re able to get some of the HEV C stuff done there. I also have a blue-ray MKV file that I can play back as well, it just takes a little bit longer for it to spin up.
Conclusion and final thoughts
I found no issues with playback performance, but I’m not going to recommend Roku to enthusiasts, even though it can playback this content. There are things that enthusiasts want to go to the home theater, but these boxes don’t support. So if you want to do a higher end lossless audio like DTS HD or Dolby true HD, these won’t do that, nor will they support the 24p playback mode that a lot of home theater enthusiasts want to use as well.
The box actually can do 24 P, I think, and do that with a few of the Amazon videos, but in the media player here, it will not switch down into that mode. So if you are playing back your own media, I don’t think you’re going to get the best home theater experience. If you are an enthusiast, my recommendation still stands with the Nvidia shield TV, it costs a little bit more, but gives you a lot more flexibility as well.
As the ability to run, Kodi, which is something a lot of home theater, people want to use, but you can run Plex on these Roku boxes, and they do work pretty well. So I think this is really best suited for consumers who are looking for a decent 4k playback experience. And I think if you’re an enthusiast, the Ultra is an option, you may not really want to go in this direction, just because of those issues I just mentioned.
And you may want to run Kodi and some other apps on here that you can’t get on the ultra. So I think the premiere plus at $93 is probably the best 4k consumer entry-level playback device, you can find out there at the moment, just because of its compatibility. The fact is that it supports HDR, it’s under $100 and gives you all the Roku functionality that we are covered in the other videos and it might be the one to take a look at.
Because I think if you’re seeing some of the advantages of this device line in its external USB port, you might want to look at something that might give you more flexibility on the playback side, especially if you’re playing back your own media. And when you get into something like the Nvidia shield TV, you will get 60 frames per second playback in YouTube, and perhaps better than Netflix HDR compatibility as well.
So overall, though I’m very pleased with what Roku has been doing, this is a vast improvement over the Roku 4. And I think, for a lot of folks, the premiere plus is probably the best way to go because the ultra is good. But I think the premiere plus will do everything for a consumer, And as you might be attracted to some of the higher-end features on this box, you might want to look at something else that might deliver more enthusiast horsepower.
This is LAN Simon, thanks for reading it, which brought to you by my patron supporters. If you want to help the channel, you can contribute as little as a dollar a month, head over to London TV slash patron to learn more.