I am going to break from my usual review format and start with a rant.
In recent reviews of Roku devices, I see people complaining that the interface is “stale.” The basic look (which can be themed, people, check your damn settings) has not changed since my beloved Roku 2 XD (2011, for those asking). This is touted as a bad thing. To which I say: nonsense.
One of the great things about Roku is they have a formula that works. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a set-top box, a stick, or a TV with Roku baked in, it’s always the same. Compare that to Apple’s constant shuffling of formatting on the AppleTV and all the various ways an Android-based TV can look. No, sorry, that’s a huge selling point for Roku. Especially for non-power users. The only issue can be if you have a ton of channels and don’t want to scroll, and there are voice commands now.
Thus ends the rant.
As for the Roku Ultra itself, the new hardware inside makes it faster than my 4th gen AppleTV. I was a little sad that they didn’t include an HDMI cable (at over $120, I would kinda like one), but I did like that it automatically sensed that the cable I was using for the AppleTV did not support the full range of HDR that my TV supports (which didn’t matter for the AppleTV, since it only got 1080, not 4K). One cable swap later and, boom, full range. Once I logged in and got going, everything worked perfectly. I love the addition of a MicroSD port alongside the HDMI, optical, and Ethernet jacks. A really nice touch for people who want to load their own content. It’s also kind of crazy how small this powerful little thing is. Fanless, the Ultra takes up no space.
Little touches like the headphones in the remote, voice searching (which is also in the mobile apps), and the remote finder round out a really great package. The remote also doubles as a game controller, but I didn’t have time to play games; I had Sherlock to watch!
I tested Netflix, Plex, Amazon Prime, and a few other services, and they all worked flawlessly. Truth? I love that Roku exists to push out other people’s content, not their own. It lacks the Apple or Google centric-ness of other devices. Instead, they want to be the best possible media streamer for a host of services. That level of agnosticism feels rare these days. Roku is the brand for people who want to just watch TV, not play with brand name politics (pre-marked buttons aside, which I kinda do hate).
At the end of the day, that’s who the Roku Ultra is for. People who want power, speed, and choice. Is that you? Then get one.
Note: Roku sent me the Ultra to review. After one day, I sold my AppleTV to a friend. THAT good, people.