The idea behind the Chromecast was to bring smart functionality to the series of "dumb" TVs that hit the market before smart TVs rose to popularity near the end of the last decade. The Chromecast Ultra does exactly what it promises to do: reliably stream 4K HDR video to compatible TVs.
Compared to its predecessors, the Chromecast Ultra has three new tricks: 4K HDR streaming, shorter loading times, and an Ethernet port for wired connections.
Here are the specs of Chromecast Ultra:
Design & Technology
The big upgrade to the Ultra is ‘4K HDR’ video support. Currently, the only sources for 4K video are Netflix, YouTube, and Vudu. And only Netflix supports HDR.
Beyond music and video, the platform supports lightweight games, such as a big-screen version of Monopoly, along with more novel apps such as presentation tools and photo viewers. You can also mirror the display from an Android phone or desktop websites in Chrome.
The other big change is that, for many users, 4K streaming will 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. For a variety of reasons, this rules out many routers. You can attempt to connect via Wi-Fi, but the safest way is hardwiring.
According to Google, the new hardware is roughly 1.8 times faster. The Ultra also has a faster load time. This varies by app, but you can generally expect videos to start playing within 8 to 15 seconds after you’ve hit the Cast button and pushed play.
Although Chromecast can turn on your TV and switch to the correct input when you start casting, thanks to HDMI-CEC, volume controls from your mobile device are inconsistent. Some apps let you adjust volume with your phone’s hardware buttons, while others only offer an on-screen volume slider, or omit volume controls altogether. Android phones can control volume in some apps from the notification bar, or with physical buttons when the phone is locked, but iPhones cannot.
In the early days, Chromecast only worked with a handful of apps. But support for Google’s platform has exploded since then, to the point that most major streaming services include a Cast button on their apps and websites.
To setup, simply plug your Ultra into your TV and wall outlet. The new device can’t source power directly from your TV like its siblings. Apart from that, one of the biggest changes Chromecast alumni will notice isn’t the device itself, but the app. Though it’s now dubbed Google Home to signal broader functionality, the interface 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.
After a super-simple setup process, apps and websites that support Chromecast—such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu—will automatically display a “Cast” button, which lets you launch videos and music on your television screen.
Google’s Chromecast Ultra is a slick and simple way to serve up 4K Ultra HD content, including the addition of HDR in both major formats. Once it is connected to the Ethernet (again, this requirement will vary depending on your router), the Chromecast Ultra will show loading 4K content in a matter of seconds, and adjust to full resolution just as quickly. You can dive into all the 4K content you could handle on Netflix, including Marco Polo and House of Cards, which stood out as the best examples of narrative-driven 4K content.
Apart from that, Chromecast Ultra will likely most benefit 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 increase its value as 4K streaming expands.
You can still take a call or play audio on your mobile device while casting, and media playback continues even if you disconnect from the Wi-Fi network.
- 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
Unlike other sub-$40 media streamers, such as the Roku Express and Amazon Fire TV Stick, Chromecast is immune to performance hitches, provided you have a decent phone to browse with. It’s the rare low-cost device that’s also future-proof.
If you’re comfortable with how Chromecast works already, that’s pretty much all you need to know. The Chromecast Ultra does what it claims to do.