The Roku Ultra is everything the Roku 4 needed to be: quiet, cool, compact, and HDR-capable. [Note: This article has been updated.]
The first thing you’ll notice is the Roku Ultra is a lot smaller than Roku 4, with a 4.9″ footprint versus a 6.5″ footprint. And, the device is a lot lighter than the Roku 4, weighing just 8.0 ounces versus 14.4 ounces.
Supported video and audio formats are pretty much the same as the Roku 4, with the exception of the ability to play content with HDR specifications. HDR isn’t on every title, but through Netflix, Vudu, and Fandango you can find select movies and series with HDR. Roku also offers a 4k Spotlight channel that shows titles available to purchase in 4k and HDR (most are not available to rent in 4k).
The Ultra supports Dolby Audio formats (Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus) including Dolby Atmos, as well as DTS (Digital Theater Sound) multi-channel audio formats over HDMI.
The Roku Ultra has USB, Micro SD for expanded storage, HDMI, Optical audio, and Ethernet ports just like previous models. The USB port is the only one located on the side of the unit rather than the back.
The new remote for the Roku Ultra has a nice matte-black finish instead of the glossy black remote that came with the Roku 4. The remote includes a headphone jack for private listening, lost remote finder sound effect (initiated by the button on the Roku Ultra), and nice soft buttons.
The Roku Ultra is brand new, and yet it will need a software update immediately upon startup. The current system is 7.2.2 (Build 7081). You can set your Roku to check for updates daily or manually update.
Like other Rokus the device must be activated via desktop browser, tablet or phone. The software setup will provide a code to activate, and users will need to go to the HTTP URL my.roku.com/link to enter the code.
After activation the software asks you to log in. Then, you are presented with some suggested free and premium app channels like The CW, MTV, and NFL Sunday Ticket. What’s nice is you can log-in to services like Amazon right through the browser rather than have to do it through the TV — which can be a painful process with a remote control.
Free apps to control your Roku are available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices through their corresponding stores. Just search for “Roku”.
Upon setup the software will automatically detect the best resolution your Roku can display in. For our test, it chose “4k UHD HDR TV” — nice that it can detect an HDR TV through HDMI. From there you can change to other resolutions like 4k UHD TV (in case for some reason you want to run without HDR), 1080p or 720p. By the way, HDMI input must be HDCP 2.2.
Some of things that seemed to be wrong with the Roku 4 revolved around its energy consumption: the device ran constantly (and ran hot); wouldn’t always turn on after a 30-minute energy energy saver; and, once off the Roku 4 wouldn’t turn on via the remote. Roku Ultra, at least in the 24 hours we’ve been running it, doesn’t run as hot as Roku 4.
We are confused though. On the Roku 4 there was a Power option to have the unit turn off after a certain amount of time up to 30 minutes, but we couldn’t find that option on the Ultra. There is, however, the option to sync with other devices (Roku 4 had this too, along with a setting called System Standby) which will, theoretically, switch the TV input (source) to Roku Ultra when its turned on or woken up. Just go to System > Control Other Devices > 1-Touch Play. [Update: Roku rolled out OS 7.6 starting in April and is said to be completed by June, 2017.]
While the Roku is not streaming media you can choose a screensaver Options include default and mobile screensavers, Roku Digital Clock, Analog Clock, Nature in 4k screensaver, and a Facebook screensaver where you can show pictures from your profile once linked.
The remote also includes a microphone with which you can search using voice commands. The voice control is far from perfect though. We tried several times to search for “Transparent” but the results insisted upon “Dance Parent.” Then, when asking for “Luke Cage” the results kept giving us the movie “Caged” (1950).
When we finally got the results we wanted, the software brought us to the service’s homepage (Amazon or Netflix) rather the specific title. After several tries it was easier to just go directly to Amazon or Netflix rather than use voice commands. However, Roku does offer a “Follow” option for titles that you want to keep up with.
If you bought a Roku 4 you might feel shammed by the fact the device may never support HDR, and that you have to fork over $129 for the Roku Ultra or $99 for the Premiere+. But we’ve heard some customers have been sent $50 credit codes for the Ultra, bringing down the cost to just $79. Contact Roku see if your Roku 4 purchase qualifies you for the upgrade discount. Update: Roku is now selling the Roku Ultra for $109.99. The Premiere+ is selling for $89.99. And, the Premiere (no HDR support) is selling for $69.99.
If you never owned a Roku 4 the Roku Ultra is the most logical step up from previous Roku models, especially if you have a 4k TV that supports HDR. However, if your Ultra HD TV doesn’t support HDR, consider one of the lower-priced new Roku 4k models including the Roku Premiere ($79.99) and Roku Premiere+ ($99.99).