The streaming device market is more competitive than ever, with a plethora of devices to choose from. And with 4K becoming more popular, you should invest in a device that supports 4K video.
With that in mind, in this article we pitch the Chromecast Ultra vs the Roku Ultra vs the Apple TV 4K vs the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Which is the best of the big-name 4K streaming media devices?
Comparing Like for Like
The devices we are looking at aren’t necessarily all competitors; they are filling slightly different roles in the marketplace.
That’s because the Chromecast Ultra and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K are both take the dongle approach, whereas the Roku Ultra and the Apple TV 4K are set-top boxes. Naturally, that means the Roku Ultra and Apple TV 4K are more powerful, but they are also more costly.
A more suitable comparison for a buyer, therefore, would be the Google Chromecast Ultra vs. the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the Roku Ultra vs. the Apple TV 4K. If you’re interested in something else, have a look at the best 4K streaming devices.
Of the two dongles, the Chromecast is more expensive than the Amazon Fire Stick. A Chromecast Ultra costs $69 whereas the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K will set you back $49. We’ll take a look at whether the $20 price difference is worth it later in the article.
And what about the Apple TV 4K vs. the Roku Ultra in terms of price? The Roku Ultra is $99 whereas the Apple TV 4K costs either $179 for 32GB or $199 for 64GB.
So, let’s run through the technical specs of all four products. It will help you to crystallize which one offers the best value-for-money.
In ascending price order…
Chromecast Ultra Specs
Chromecast Ultra supports all 4K and HDR video. There’s also an ethernet port; you can use it to create a wired connection between the device and your router for a faster and more stable connection.
Under the bonnet, you will find a Marvell Armada 1500 Mini Plus 88DE3009 chip, 256MB of RAM, support for 802.11 b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks, and support for both 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. The Chromecast Ultra weighs 1.66 ounces.
Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Specs
Aside from 4K and HDR video support, the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Specs boasts 8GB of storage, support for Dolby Atmos audio, and support for 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi.
Bought a Amazon Fire Stick 4k & I gotta say that little sucker is fast, you can’t beat the price for what your getting that’s for sure ?
— Christina Little (@jclittle94) March 8, 2019
Unlike the Chromecast, the Fire TV Stick 4K lets you listen to your TV using headphones if they are Bluetooth enabled.
And if you wish, you can buy an optional Amazon Ethernet Adapter to connect your Fire TV Stick 4K directly to your router.
Roku Ultra Specs
As you’d expect, higher prices bring you more features. The Roku Ultra has a quad-core processor, 256MB of internal storage, and a USB port. This allows you to play video content direct from your memory stick or external hard drive.
There’s also a voice-control remote (complete with alarm for when you misplace it), and the device comes with an IR receiver for use with universal remotes. And for the first time, we see an SD card slot appear. You can use it to increase your space available for extra channels.
Apple TV 4K Specs
As with all Apple products, you’ll pay a premium for the Apple TV 4K, but it’s worth the money. As mentioned, the device comes with either 32GB or 64GB of memory; then there’s also a gigabit ethernet port, an A10X Fusion chip with 64-bit architecture, and support for Bluetooth 5.0.
Away from the device itself, the remote also has some premium features, including an IR transmitter¸ an accelerometer, and a three-axis gyro.
You can charge the remote using a lightning cable.
Content and Channels
The technical specs are only half the battle. Many people won’t even place that much importance on them. What really makes or breaks a streaming device is the availability of content, apps, and channels.
The Chromecast Ultra is unique in this regard. You don’t install any channels on the device itself. Instead, it acts as a bridge between your mobile or laptop and the TV. As such, it relies on apps making themselves Chromecast-compatible. You can even watch Amazon Prime Video with Chromecast.
Some apps have a built-in cast button; others require you to cast your entire Android screen. Unfortunately, some apps don’t work at all, even with full-screen casting.
Almost every large TV network and streaming app has an app for the other three devices. The big exception is YouTube on Amazon Fire TV 4K. An ongoing dispute between Amazon and Google means it’s not available, though you can use one of the Amazon Fire TV browser apps as a workaround.
If you watch a particularly niche streaming service, make sure you check its availability on the various devices before you make your choice.
Smart assistants are playing a growing role in streaming dongles and set-top boxes.
The Roku Ultra does not come with a smart speaker built into either the device or the remote. It is, however, compatible with Google Assistant. If you have a nearby smart speaker (or even just using your Android phone), you can control the content.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is Alexa-enabled; you can use Alexa through the device’s remote control. Unsurprisingly, the Apple TV 4K supports Siri.
The Chromecast Ultra is more like the Roku Ultra. It doesn’t have a physical remote but is tightly integrated with Google Assistant and can be controlled using another Assistant-enabled device.
Should You Buy Now or Wait?
Finally, a note on the age of the products.
The Chromecast Ultra was released in November 2016. After so long on sale there’s reason to believe that it’s coming to the end of its lifecycle. The Roku Ultra and Apple TV 4K were both announced in September 2017—though the Roku was re-released with identical hardware 12 months later.
And the newest product is the Amazon Fire TV 4K. It only went on sale in October 2018.
If you want to future-proof your purchase, you can draw your own conclusions.
And the Winner Is…
Hardware-wise, the Apple TV 4K is clearly the best product. However, as is often the case with Apple products, it lacks some of the customization options of its competitors. It’s also the most expensive and isn’t readily compatible with non-Apple gadgets.
At the other end of the spectrum, we love Chromecast technology, but it’s better suited for second and third TVs around your home, rather than the main screen in your lounge.
So, we’re left with the Roku Ultra vs. the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K. Android users might prefer the Amazon product, but for a genuine provider-agnostic experience, we recommend the Roku Ultra.
And remember, we haven’t even talked about the fragmented Android TV market. To learn more, check out our list of the best Android TV boxes for all budgets.