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Google’s biggest event of 2016 centered on the company’s new lineup of hardware. Alongside the new Pixel phones and Daydream View VR headset, there was one little item that caught our eye. This is the Chromecast Ultra, a new Chromecast that’s better than any Chromecast released so far.
Google calls it the Chromecast Ultra because it now supports 4K resolution videos. But apart from the bump in resolution, the Chromecast Ultra has a few other improvements that make it worth your consideration.
So what’s new in the Chromecast Ultra? And should you actually buy one if you already have an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Chromecast? Read on to find out.
The “Ultra” in the name comes from the new Chromecast supporting 4K video. Remember, 4K is not always the same as Ultra HD so don’t expect it to play videos beyond the stated resolution.
The extra resolution is useful only if you have a 4K television. 4K TVs are getting cheaper than ever, so if you already have one, the Chromecast Ultra might be right for you.
Of course, it’s as much about what you can watch on a 4K TV. Google says that Chromecast Ultra supports 4K videos from Netflix, among other services. Several must-watch Netflix originals of 2016 can be streamed in 4K, but the range of options you have is still quite limited.
Even if your TV doesn’t support 4K resolution, this new Chromecast has a couple of other tricks up its sleeve. For starters, this is the first Chromecast to support 1080p Full HD video at 60 fps (frames per second). That means better quality videos, especially for the stuff you shoot on your phone.
Additionally, the Chromecast Ultra has a better processor than its predecessor. The chipset will decode videos for lower resolution without sacrificing quality. This means you’ll get better pictures than you could on the Chromecast 2.
HDR and Dolby Vision
The other neat addition for video streaming is support for HDR, or High Dynamic Range. HDR is a hot technology in 2016, with several TV manufacturers marketing it heavily.
Much like your TV needs to support 4K resolution to take advantage of Chromecast Ultra, your TV needs to support HDR to take advantage of the Ultra’s support for this technology. Basically, if you try to watch a 4K + HDR show like the new Luke Cage, a 4K TV without HDR will only show you 4K resolution. You won’t get the benefits of HDR.
Currently, there’s a format war happening in HDR. Two teams are lobbying for two types of HDR: HDR 10 and Dolby Vision. For the consumer, thankfully, this doesn’t matter as much. The Chromecast Ultra supports both standards. So as long as your television supports HDR, it doesn’t matter whether the video is in HDR 10 or Dolby Vision, you will still get the benefits.
Ethernet Port for Wired internet
Google knows what you’re thinking. There is no way that 4K video with HDR is going to stream fine through your crappy Wi-Fi connection. Services like Netflix require a minimum speed of 25 Mbps to stream 4K. If your Chromecast is far away from your router, you’ll probably see the buffering screen longer than the video itself.
To fix this issue, the new Chromecast Ultra comes with an Ethernet port. The wired connection makes Ethernet faster than Wi-Fi, so your videos should load more easily.
Google has ensured the Ethernet port doesn’t make the Chromecast Ultra bulky. The port is found on the adapter rather than the Chromecast itself. It probably won’t be much different than the Ethernet adapter for old Chromecasts.
Better Wi-Fi Connections
It’s not just about Ethernet though. Google has also boosted the Wi-Fi capabilities in the Chromecast Ultra, making it 1.8-times faster when loading videos than the Chromecast 2.
You’ll notice some differences in things other than videos too. For example, since data can now travel faster now, you’ll enjoy a better experience when you cast your mobile screen to the TV.
Google hasn’t yet indicated what has caused this change. The antenna specifications of the Chromecast Ultra are identical to its predecessor. So our best guess is it’s simply a better quality antenna.
Paying the Price
One of the reasons we love the regular Chromecast is its price. For $35, you’re able to convert any TV into a smart TV. That’s a big deal, especially since most people don’t change their TVs very often.
But the new Chromecast Ultra is priced at $69, double what you’d pay for the Chromecast 2. Yes, there’s a better chipset, better performance, and better connectivity, but is the Chromecast Ultra worth twice the price?
The Chromecast Ultra banks on you already having a smart TV. None of the 4K TVs you can buy today come without smart features. They all include at least basic web browsing and apps like Netflix. If you don’t have a 4K or HDR TV, then you need to buy a smart TV to begin with. And before you do that you need to find out what a smart TV actually is.
With the Chromecast Ultra, Google appears to have lost sight of what made the original Chromecast such a hit: its low, low price. Comparatively speaking, the Chromecast Ultra is an expensive product for people who already have expensive TVs.
Should You Buy the Chromecast Ultra?
So, the big question is, should you should buy a Chromecast Ultra? Let’s break it down.
If you already own a Chromecast, then you need to have a 4K TV with HDR support to justify buying the Chromecast Ultra. The built-in processor of the Chromecast Ultra promises better video decoding than what most TVs come with.
If you don’t already have a Chromecast, then it all comes down the what kind of TV you own. You definitely should buy a Chromecast or a Chromecast Ultra, but which one is right for you depends on your television set.
If you don’t own a 4K TV and don’t plan to buy one in the future, then get the cheaper Chromecast 2. If you plan to buy a 4K TV in the near future, you might as well get a Chromecast Ultra now and future-proof your media setup.
The Chromecast Ultra will go on sale in November for $69 on the Google Store.
So, Are You Upgrading?
Overall, the Chromecast Ultra just doesn’t seem as impressive as the Chromecast 2. It requires you to own expensive hardware already, and doesn’t really make your TV smart as much as make it easier to play stuff on it. The hook here is using your phone as a remote, but that’s about it.
What do you think of the Chromecast Ultra? Will you be upgrading from your existing Chromecast to a Chromecast Ultra anytime soon? Is the Chromecast Ultra the streaming device you’ve been waiting for all these years? Please let us know in the comments below!