Technology

Roku Ultra 2020 review: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

The Roku Extremely has always been a wonderful 4K HDR streamer. Because the flagship in Roku’s extensive line of sticks and gamers, its bag of nifty tips features a distant finder, programmable distant buttons and an Ethernet port — which is perhaps especially welcome now when dwelling Wi-Fi networks are extra confused than ever. For 2020 it provides higher Wi-Fi, a sooner processor and the flexibility to stream in Dolby Vision — a long-awaited function that enables it to higher compete with the best streamers from Amazon, Apple and Google

Do not Like

  • Twice the value of Streaming Stick Plus
  • Weaker voice assistant than Amazon and Google streamers
  • No HBO Max

All of these options are good additions, making the 2020 Extremely a worthwhile improve for many who worth the additional conveniences, desire connecting the gadget by means of Ethernet or need Dolby Imaginative and prescient. However its essential options, specifically entry to our favourite streaming platform in 4K HDR, a voice distant that may management a TV and Apple AirPlay support (coming soon), can be found within the Roku Streaming Stick Plus for half as a lot cash. The Roku Extremely does not do sufficient to push the capabilities of what a streaming participant can do, making it a troublesome promote over the Streaming Stick Plus for most individuals.

Small tweaks to a well-recognized design

The Extremely is the one Roku that may hook up with wired Ethernet.


Sarah Tew/PJDM

On the floor, Roku made a couple of adjustments to the look of the field. Gone is the shiny plastic across the sides, changed with a brand new tapered matte-like plastic. Neither design was going to win any awards however the smaller field ought to nonetheless match wonderful in a cupboard or on a stand beneath your TV. 

The distant finder button has been moved from its location left of the Roku title on the highest of the field to the best facet of the gadget, and the microSD card slot that was current on final yr’s gadget has been eliminated. The USB-A port has additionally moved from the right-side of final yr’s Extremely to the again on this yr’s mannequin. 

The DC energy continues to be proprietary, which can also be wonderful however it could’ve been good to see USB-C in case you lose the adapter. 

The distant nonetheless contains the identical plastic end and rubber buttons as different Roku units, with quantity controls on the best facet and a 3.5mm headphone jack for personal listening on the left. In contrast to final yr’s Extremely, the streaming maker does not tout that the included buds are “premium JBL” headphones (they’re as a substitute Roku-made ones), however they get the job accomplished. 

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The Extremely contains headphones that may be plugged into the distant. 


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There’s Bluetooth on the Extremely, however this will solely be used for streaming audio from a telephone, pill or laptop and never for pairing Bluetooth headphones. I am undecided how helpful the function is, given how Roku has apps for numerous music providers together with Pandora, Spotify and Amazon Music, to not point out the YouTube app. Maybe it might assist YouTube Music or Apple Music customers who cannot join in any other case to their sound programs. 

The distant finder function stays considered one of my favourite options concerning the Extremely and one which I want each streaming gadget would incorporate. 

The distant additionally has two programmable shortcut buttons along with the Roku preloaded choices for Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu and Sling TV. Identical to final yr, you’ll be able to have it set to no matter your final voice command was, comparable to opening an app like Peacock or ESPN or doing a activity like trying to find a favourite film or TV present. 

A powerful interface however a weak voice assistant

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The distant seems to be just about precisely prefer it did final yr.


Sarah Tew/PJDM

As you’d anticipate, Roku’s interface works nice on the Extremely’s quad-core processor. Apps, motion pictures and reveals opened shortly and playback appeared good for 4K, 4K HDR and common HD content material on my TCL P605 TV, the 2017 model of TCL’s spectacular 6-Collection.

Though you’ll be able to management the Roku with Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, neither voice assistant is baked instantly into the gadget, one thing that turns into way more obvious when evaluating it to Amazon and Google’s newest units. Google’s new Chromecast with Google TV shines largely due to Assistant, and I actually missed the flexibility to only say “play The Tonight Present” or “go to the World Collection” and have the Roku routinely change to the right app. Google does this integration effectively with YouTube TV and Amazon does it with Sling TV. 

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The Roku interface has remained the identical for years.


PJDM workers

Roku’s voice assistant can also be dumb in relation to understanding when occasions are taking place and could not reply fundamental questions like when the Giants and Eagles sport was or what time was the presidential debate. Because it already works with each platforms, it could be nice to see Roku add assist for Alexa or Google Assistant instantly into the software program sooner or later. 

In relation to playback, the Extremely is quick when asking for particular titles. Asking the Roku to play Avengers Endgame from the house display screen took roughly 35 seconds on my outdated Roku TV in comparison with simply 18 seconds on the Extremely, which advantages from having sooner Wi-Fi chips and a greater processor than the 2017 TV (although the Extremely doesn’t embrace assist for the brand new Wi-Fi 6 normal).

Asking to play The Boys on Amazon Prime video took about 26 seconds on the brand new Extremely, in comparison with roughly 39 seconds on my older Roku TV.   

A part of the pace on playback might come from these improved Wi-Fi capabilities. Roku touts the brand new Extremely as having 50% extra vary in comparison with final yr’s mannequin. Whereas I could not take a look at that a lot in my New York condo, the sooner playback of reveals and flicks in comparison with my Roku TV bodes effectively for a efficiency enhance. 

One factor that was gradual on each the TV and the brand new Extremely, nonetheless, is asking the Roku assistant to do duties past title searches — from wanting up a film to switching apps. This takes a bit extra time than both Alexa or the Google Assistant, with Roku having a default pop-up and seven-second countdown clock simply in case you wish to keep within the app you might be in. I want there was a approach to take away or shorten this countdown however no such possibility exists in Settings.

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Peacock is obtainable on Roku however the platform continues to be lacking HBO Max.


David Katzmaier/PJDM

Robust app assist with the welcome addition of Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Atmos 

As for apps, Roku continues to impress with assist for almost all main streaming providers with the notable exception persevering with to be HBO Max. Assist for Apple AirPlay is coming earlier than the top of the yr, which ought to at the very least permit Apple customers to stream the app from iOS and Macs, however that is not as handy as a local HBO Max app.

Streaming service assist

Gadget HBO Max Peacock Apple TV Plus
Roku No Sure Sure
Fireplace TV No No Sure
Chromecast with Google TV Sure Sure No
Apple TV Sure Sure Sure

On the intense facet, apps comparable to Disney Plus assist Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Atmos (which is sensible as appropriate Roku 4K TVs have had Dolby Imaginative and prescient assist for some time). Netflix, Vudu and Apple TV Plus even have reveals and flicks out there in Dolby Imaginative and prescient and Atmos, although there is not any simple approach to see a full record of which apps work with the premium HDR and sound format. 

Lack of assist for Dolby Imaginative and prescient was notable on final yr’s mannequin, so it ‘s good to see it current right here. Whereas my Sonos Beam does not assist Dolby Atmos, Dolby Imaginative and prescient content material appeared to play wonderful on my TCL. As did common 4K HDR content material together with The Boys on Amazon Prime Video and the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs versus Buffalo Payments sport on the Fox Sports activities app. 

As with different Dolby Imaginative and prescient units, in case your TV helps Dolby Imaginative and prescient all menus and content material are acknowledged by the TV as that normal no matter whether or not the precise service, film or present is within the premium viewing format. This wasn’t an issue and non-4K HDR content material (comparable to SportsCenter on Sling TV or YouTube movies) nonetheless appeared wonderful. 

Yet one more factor about apps: I want Roku made it simpler to improve from one participant to a different. Organising the Roku is easy, however in the event you’re upgrading from an older gadget it could be nice if the system preloaded your apps and logged you in versus having you undergo the method of logging in once more. It is a small gripe, however one which ought to be fastened in 2020.

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Author

Eli Blumenthal