Google Chromecast Ultra review

Google's Chromecast Ultra is the cheapest path to razor-sharp 4K HDR

Google’s Chromecast Ultra is a slick and simple way to serve up tons of 4K Ultra HD content in glistening HDR.
Google’s Chromecast Ultra is a slick and simple way to serve up tons of 4K Ultra HD content in glistening HDR.
Google’s Chromecast Ultra is a slick and simple way to serve up tons of 4K Ultra HD content in glistening HDR.

Highs

  • Simple and affordable 4K streaming
  • Widest HDR support available
  • Intuitive interface and setup
  • Supports YouTube HDR
  • Dual-band Wi-Fi and Ethernet for strong connection

Lows

  • Cross platform search still mediocre
  • No Amazon video

DT Editors' Rating

Released to resounding success in 2013, Google’s Chromecast is about as simple as streaming devices get. Little more than a conduit that passes streaming video from the cloud to your TV — with your mobile device as the remote control — there’s little to add to Chromecast when it comes to updates, as illustrated by the latest 3rd-gen HD Chromecast, which is more face-lift than update. Really, the only place left for Chromecast to venture was into the world of 4K Ultra HD video. Enter the Ultra.

An inevitable move to mirror the latest in TV technology, the Chromecast Ultra may not look much different, but under the hood is the key to unlocking the 4K streaming buffet, including support for High Dynamic Range to unleash the rich contrast and expanded color gamut of today’s most eye-popping video. While the upgrade pushes the Ultra’s price ($69) to double that of its predecessors, for those eyeing a versatile way to stream in 4K Ultra HD with HDR, it’s one of the best bargains around.

(Editor’s note: This review has been updated to put the Ultra in context with the current crowd of streaming devices in 2019.)

Setup

First things first, simply plug your Ultra into your TV and wall outlet — the new device can’t source power directly from your TV like its siblings. Now dubbed Google Home to signal broader functionality, the Chromecast app is essentially the same as it always was. Adding your new Ultra into the fold is as simple as clicking the device icon at the top right, and following the basic instructions.

For some users, stable 4K streaming could require hardwiring the device to your modem via the new Ethernet port, located on the Ultra’s power adaptor. Recommended streaming speed for 4K content is generally 25Mbps and up, which may rule out some routers. The device comes with no real accessories, so you’ll also need your own Ethernet cable on hand.

Features and design

As mentioned, the new Chromecast looks a lot like the old ones, save for a glossy finish and a toned-down color scheme — it comes in black, and black. (Apparently, not too many users care about a colorful streamer hidden behind their TV.) The Chromecast logo has also been replaced with a “G,” to let you know it’s a “made by Google” product.

Connecting your Ultra is as simple as clicking the device icon at the top right, and following the instructions.

Some basic hardware upgrades have also been added, which Google claims will make the device “1.8” times faster at loading streaming content than some of its older predecessors. In practice, we didn’t experience much of a boost, though the Ultra was a few seconds faster, on average, at loading HD content than our 2015 Chromecast. Like the 2015 model, the Ultra’s Wi-Fi connection is 802.11ac compatible, and it will connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5GHz access points. Google recommends a 5Ghz connection for 4K streaming.

While the big headline is 4K Ultra HD compatibility, just as important — some might say more so — is support for HDR (High Dynamic Range). While you’ll need a certified Ultra HD Premium TV (which is more expensive) to fully appreciate it, HDR is often referred to as the icing on the 4K cake, offering vastly brighter contrast and richer shading that enhances the expanded color gamut of top-tier 4K TVs. Unlike Roku and Nvidia’s Shield device, the Ultra offers support for both HDR10 (the most prevalent HDR format) and Dolby Vision (the second-most prevalent), ranking among the most versatile 4K streamers in its price class.

By now, you may be asking yourself, “Don’t all new premium 4K TVs pack smart interfaces with 4K apps like Netflix and YouTube built right in?” To which we’d reply, “Yes, and that’s a very astute observation!” This fact limits the use cases for the Ultra significantly, as does the fact that 4K HDR content still isn’t as widely prevalent as HD streams. While the device was the only streamer that supported full HDR on YouTube upon its initial release, this is no longer the case.

google chromecast ultra 2016
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

That said, the Chromecast’s app support is much heartier than most built-in TV interfaces, with support for apps like Vudu, Google Play movies, and others that may or may not come with your new TV. The major omission here is Amazon Video, which you can find on Roku devices and, of course, the Fire TV. Still, 4K apps continue to grow in number, and thanks to HDR, the Ultra can grow with them.

The competition has improved over time, and in 2019 we don’t think this device is as useful as Roku’s Streaming Stick+, or even the Premiere+, but it is more mobile than the latter. And even two-plus years on, it’s the best way to go if you love Chromecast streaming and also want a device that can grow with the latest resolution technology and services.

Interface/usability

Google’s Home app is still limited in its usefulness, but it has improved in the years since the Ultra was first released. One of its best features is voice search, which searches across a few apps such as Netflix and YouTube with voice commands like “Show me 4K movies.”

Search has improved since our initial review (asking for Rob Lowe TV shows now actually finds Parks and Recreation), but it’s still not as intuitive or useful as Roku’s cross-platform search. Perhaps the app’s best attribute is (no surprise) finding good 4K videos on YouTube.

Where Chromecast’s “cast” system really comes in handy is allowing you to easily transition from an app on a mobile device to your TV with the simple tap of the cast icon. Nothing’s changed there, so if this is how you like to get your streaming kicks, and you want to add more 4K content into the mix, the Ultra may be right up your alley.

Performance

Once we connected to Ethernet (again, this requirement will vary depending on your router), the Chromecast Ultra showed its mettle, loading 4K content in a matter of seconds, and adjusting to full resolution just as quickly. We enjoyed diving through all the 4K content we could handle on Netflix, including Marco Polo, which is still a great example of narrative-driven 4K content.

We also spent some quality time on YouTube, though it takes a bit more digging to find quality videos there. The best examples came through in brilliant resolution with little aliasing. We did experience some stuttering with faster-moving content and quick pans in some videos, but we had similar issues via our test TV’s native YouTube app, so it’s hard to blame the Ultra there. More to the point, searching for HDR videos unearthed a treasure trove of glistening HDR content basked in bright, vivid colors.

Our Take

Google’s Chromecast Ultra is a slick and simple way to serve up 4K Ultra HD content. The Ultra will likely be most beneficial to users with older or cheaper 4K TVs that don’t include many streaming apps, especially those without Google’s growing suite of content, including Google Play movies. Though it’s more expensive than the HD Chromecast, the Ultra’s inclusion of 4K support, along with HDR10 and Dolby Vision, should allow it to continue to increase its value as 4K streaming expands.

How long will it last?

With dual-band Wi-Fi, Ethernet connection, and all the latest 4K and HDR formats on board, the Ultra is still relevant in 2019, and it remains ready to grow with you and your choice of higher-quality 4K Ultra HD TVs for the foreseeable future.

What are the alternatives?

The native apps loaded right into your 4K Ultra HD TV may be the Chromecast Ultra’s biggest competition for many, but there are also multiple third-party streaming devices. The best alternatives include the aforementioned Roku Streaming Stick+ and Premiere+ (both of which support Amazon Prime Video) and the $100 Roku Ultra, which adds features like an Optical digital audio output for outboard audio connection and a remote control with a finder function. Roku devices feature a more traditional interface and better cross-platform search than the Ultra, though their HDR capability is limited to HDR10. The Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K is also a solid option, offering 4K resolution and both HDR10 and Dolby Vision support.

Should you buy it?

If you’re looking for an affordable streaming add-on to your 4K Ultra HD TV — and you love Google’s casting style — the Ultra is still a good choice. While it’s definitely taking some time for more 4K streaming apps to come out of the woodwork, the Ultra’s value should continue to rise.

Home Theater

Don’t cash in that 401(k)! These are the best 4K TVs you can get for under $500

These days, you can land a pretty epic 4K TV for under $500. Still, sorting through the litany of options online can be both time-consuming and overwhelming. Check out our list of the best 4K TVs under $500.
Deals

The best 4K smart TV deals for June 2019: Samsung, LG, and Vizio

A good 4K smart TV is the only way to enjoy all your favorite shows, movies, and games in glorious Ultra HD. If you're looking to take your home entertainment to the next level, then we've got the best 4K TV deals right here.
Home Theater

New TV? Here's where to go to watch the best 4K content available

Searching for content for your new 4K UHD TV? Look no further. We have every major source of the best 4K content, along with the cost, hardware requirements, and features that make each service worth a look.
Deals

Walmart drops a great deal on this Samsung 55-Inch 4K HDR TV

If you are looking for a 4K-quality TV on a budget, you can’t go wrong with the Samsung 55-Inch 4K HDR TV (NU6900). This smart TV model is currently offered by Walmart for $398, a decent drop from its original price of $528.
Movies & TV

Prime-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite TV series currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Deals

Experience 4K on the cheap with this great deal on a 55-inch Samsung 4K Smart TV

Retailers are stumbling over each other to encourage you to buy a 4K TV. Walmart is the latest retailer to take a sledgehammer to its prices, knocking $100 off the 55-inch Samsung UN55NU6900 4K TV — a deal that's not to be missed.
Home Theater

Comcast lets people with physical disabilities control a TV with just a glance

Comcast is now making it a little easier for people with physical disabilities to watch TV by giving them a way to connect their existing assistive devices like eye-glance systems with their Comcast cable boxes.
Movies & TV

GLOW season 3 trailer sends everyone to Vegas, brings on Geena Davis

Netflix released the first trailer season 3 of GLOW, its hit series about a group of female professional wrestlers in the 1980s, inspired by the real-world show Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. The season premieres August 9.
Deals

Looking for a new smart TV? Don’t miss this fantastic deal on a 60-inch Vizio 4K TV

This 60-inch Vizio D-Series has a sticker price of $700, a significant amount less than the $1,500-plus price tag that would have once been attached to it, but it's now on sale for just $480 — down $220.
Movies & TV

These are the best comedies on Netflix right now, and that's no joke

Looking for a laugh? Lucky for you, Netflix offers an assortment of comedies, each designed to elicit laughs in one way or another. Here are our current favorites, from Pineapple Express to The Emperor's New Groove.
Home Theater

What is Dolby Atmos Music, and how can you experience it?

Dolby Atmos is a surround sound format that creates immersive, 3D soundtracks to make movies come alive. But the same technology is also being adopted for music creation, and it's a game-changer. Here's everything you need to know.
Home Theater

WarnerMedia just bought a $500 million weapon to fight Netflix: J.J. Abrams

By signing a $500 million deal with J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company, WarnerMedia proves that it's doing everything it can to compete with Netflix, Hulu, and Disney Plus for a share of your streaming budget.
Deals

This gorgeous 65-inch LG 4K TV gets a steep $200 price cut at Walmart

There's no doubt about it: Now is the best time to purchase a 4K TV. Networks all around the world are churning out 4K content at warp speed and prices of 4K TVs are on the decline, like this 65-inch LG.
Home Theater

Picture-in-picture reportedly headed to Apple TV in tvOS 13

When tvOS 13 is released to a general audience this fall, it could be sporting a previously undisclosed feature: Picture-in-picture mode. It was spotted in an early developer release and it reportedly only works in the TV App.