Media streaming devices continue to sell. But in a crowded field of options (and boy is it crowded), it can be difficult to know which one to get. Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Roku, Sony, and many more all have variations of media streaming boxes or video game consoles. And most TV’s nowadays are “smart”, with their own abilities to stream apps like Netflix, Hulu, and more. But Google’s wants its latest addition to its lineup to be the king. Google’s Chromecast Ultra is small, fast, and it features 4K and HDR! And it’s cheaper than the competition…
But should you buy it?
Let’s briefly have a look at what Chromecast is, and what’s different with the new Chromecast Ultra before helping you choose.
What makes Chromecast Ultra different?
Chromecast Ultra from Google’s product page
The first thing immediately apparent with Chromecast Ultra is that it’s by far the smallest of all the major media streaming devices. So it’s easy to hide if you’re a bit obsessive about a nice, clean look to your entertainment area. But don’t let that tiny size fool you. This thing packs features that rivals—and even betters—many of the streamers that physically dwarf it. And at $69, it’s way cheaper than the other major media streamers out there that mostly stream 4K content.
But the thing that makes Chromecast Ultra stand out most, is the way it handles content.
All the apps you play on your Chromecast live on your phone, instead of on the media streaming device (like Apple TV, Roku, or game consoles). And that phone doesn’t even have to be an Android device, as it works with iPhone, too. Google believes so much that this is the best way to use a streamer, they have an entire page dedicated to convincing you.
Having used media streaming devices for years, I was a bit iffy about doing it this way at first—but now, I can’t imagine doing it another way. It seemed to make nearly no difference with battery life on my phone. I can search for things to watch in the same app, or different apps, on my phone without interrupting what I’m currently watching on my Chromecast. And with HDMI-CEC built-in, when I Cast what I’m watching from my phone to my Chromecast, it automatically turns on my TV and goes to the correct input—so I never even have to use my TV remote (assuming I can find it). It’s actually a pretty great way to watch and control content.
And if you want to see all the different kinds of apps that work with Chromecast Ultra, check out their apps page. There’s certainly more than a few. And you can even easily see which apps have 4K content right from their page.
What’s new with Chromecast Ultra?
Inside the Chromecast Ultra’s tiny frame packs the power to stream 4K and HDR video and supports 802.11ac 5GHz Wi-Fi—so you can take advantage of high-performance when streaming. And if you pay for strong Internet, but your Wi-Fi is a bit questionable (and if it is, you should check out the awesome and easy-to-use routers we carry on our product page), don’t worry! Chromecast Ultra has support for an Ethernet cable in the power supply—which usually provides better and more consistent performance than Wi-Fi. And it’s something that the less expensive Chromecast doesn’t support. In my tests using Ethernet, I’ve seen zero lag in HD or 4K content, and load times for TV shows and movies were a few seconds (for transparency, I’m running 150Mbps).
Chromecast Ultra power supply from Google’s Chromecast Ultra Learn page
OK, so should I actually buy this thing?
Like anything, it depends. Chromecast Ultra isn’t without its shortcomings (the few it does have). But it really depends more on what you already have in your home, or what you’re planning on buying for the holidays. So here’s a brief “Do Buy” / “Don’t Buy” list to help you out.
You want a 4K streamer to match your new 4K TV
If you want to take advantage of that beautiful new 4K image (and justify the cost of the TV to your significant other by watching their favorite movie in 4K), Chromecast Ultra is the cheapest option for a standalone media streamer…you know, besides the free option that might be built into your TV. And speaking of that…
You dislike the interface of your new TV
TVs are great for watching things. And the things you want to watch in 4K are probably in apps like Netflix or YouTube. Unfortunately, TVs are pretty bad when it comes to navigating those apps. So if you’d like to upgrade your experience, this is your least expensive—and better—option.
You own multiple 4K TVs
This is probably the best reason to get a Chromecast Ultra. 4K TVs are not out of reach anymore. In fact, they’re quite affordable. You can get a 4K TV for as low as $400. But at that price, it may not have the ability to play all the 4K streaming apps—or if it does, may not be the most pleasing interface. So, multiple Chromecast Ultra devices would certainly be the least expensive way of getting 4K-goodness across all those TVs.
Your cable bill is way too high, and you’re thinking of “cutting the cord”
Be honest…you’ve thought about getting rid of your cable after that introductory offer stopped and you screamed a bit loudly at the new bill—but you’re not quite sure about this whole “cutting the cord” thing you’ve heard about. Luckily, media streamers and subscriptions to a few services—combined with a decent flat antenna for local channels like this one—may be a great solution. And since you’re talking about saving money, Chromecast Ultra offers a great picture and solid performance at an affordable price.
You like free (or cheap) stuff!
OK, you have to buy the Chromecast Ultra to get it, but when you do, you can redeem special offers—like a free or heavily discounted movie or TV show rentals from the Google Play Store, and three free months of Google Play Music. During the holidays, Google even included three free months of HBO NOW. And there’s constantly new offers. Hooray for free!
You want to upgrade your current media streaming box
You know that cheap media streamer you bought years ago when you were just flirting with the idea of cutting the cable cord? Well, it may be time to ditch it. That Roku 2 or Boxee might have been good back then, but even you know that when it can’t find Hulu or WWE Network as real apps, it’s time to upgrade.
You don’t have a 4K TV, and don’t plan on buying one soon
If you don’t own a 4K TV or have any plans on getting one anytime soon, then don’t buy a device who’s main feature is streaming 4K…because that’s just silly. Instead, check out the less expensive Chromecast which does pretty much all the same stuff at half the price ($35).
You’re planning on getting a new game console
If you’re getting either an Xbox One S or PS4 Pro this holiday season for your “family” (it’s OK, we all know who it’s really for), then buying this might be a bit redundant unless you own multiple TVs and don’t plan on buying multiple game systems…not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just make sure you’re getting an Xbox One S and not an Xbox One, or a PS4 Pro and not a PS4 as the latter of each don’t have 4K compatibility.
You don’t have 4K VOD services, or don’t want to pay more for the ones you use
4K is still in its infancy in terms of content availability, but it’s constantly growing. Right now, the biggest service providers are Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, VUDU, Google Play, DIRECTV, Fandango NOW, PlayStation Video, and more. But streaming 4K content is not always free or included in your current subscription. So renting a 4K movie may cost more than an HD movie (which is already more expensive than an SD or standard definition movie), or in the case of Netflix, will raise your subscription cost to $12 a month. So if you’re not keen on paying a little more every time you want to rent a movie, or a bit more each month for a subscription, stick with the less expensive Chromecast model.
You’re an Amazon Prime Video nut
Amazon makes an Instant/Prime Video app for iPhone, but not Android (although Amazon provides a way to get something similar through their own app store). And while there technically is a way to cast Amazon Instant Video from an Android or iPhone device, or your Chrome web browser, it isn’t the most convenient experience.
There are many reasons for and against getting all devices. But overall, if you have or are looking for a 4K TV—and have either an Android or iPhone—it’s hard to beat Chromecast Ultra.
For tips and info on tech devices, check out our other posts. And Enjoy!