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Roku Ultra Review 2020

The best Roku streaming player slims down, speeds up, and finally adds that one video spec we've been clamoring for.

Roku Ultra 2020
(Image: © WhatToWatch.com)

Our Verdict

The best Roku streaming play you can buy just got even better — and is still the only Roku Player you should buy.

For

  • 📺 The same Roku platform you've come to know and love.
  • 📺 The hardware is faster and has a more svelte look.
  • 📺 Finally adds Dolby Vision for the best HDR available.
  • 📺 Addition of AirPlay 2 HomeKit is great for Apple users.

Against

  • 📺 Still missing some services like HBO Max.
  • 📺 Do you like ads on your home screen? Because there are ads.

Review the revamped 2020 Roku Ultra in a single sentence? Smaller, faster, better. That's it — and why mess with a good thing, right? Roku is the biggest streaming video platform in the United States. It's easy to use. And with The Roku Channel, it's got a world of ad-supported content to support its ever-growing advertising business.

So don't look at the new Roku Ultra like it's massive sea change. Because it's not. But what it does do is offer up a nice refresh, a long-sought after spec, and a continued nod as our best Roku device to buy.

Still need another reason to pick one up? Read on.

Roku Ultra 2020: What's new and good

The overall idea of the Roku Ultra hasn't really changed for 2020. It's the most powerful Roku player you can get, packing the most specs into a relatively small device.

And the Roku Ultra price remains pretty easy to swallow at just $99 retail. That's less than Apple TV, NVIDIA Shield TV and Amazon Fire TV Cube, which are the best devices you can get from those competitors.

And Roku hasn't really messed with success this time around. The hardware itself has been slimmed down ever so slightly and is slightly more sophisticated. That's good in a vacuum, though it's not like anyone's going to come over and marvel at your little streaming box. Just tuck it away out of sight like normal.

The internals are a little faster, too, which is all well and good and exactly what you'd expect to see in new hardware. That, combined with a streamlined onboarding experience and more back-end magic that loads "channels" (what Roku calls apps) a little faster just makes the overall experience that much better. It's maybe not a night-and-day difference unless you're running old and new hardware side by side, but it's also worth a mention.

Roku also is touting 50 percent greater range in wireless performance. But we'd still recommend plugging in via ethernet if at all possible.

The biggest change for the 2020 Roku Ultra is the addition of Dolby Vision. That's a proprietary standard for HDR — high dynamic range — that makes colors pop a lot more on screen. Roku has had the open-source HDR10 for a while now, but Dolby Vision is widely considered to be the better of the two standards, and it's great to see it as an option. And as of this writing, the new Roku Ultra is the only Roku player with Dolby Vision. It's worth mentioning, however, that you'll need a television that also supports Dolby Vision in order to take advantage of that standard.

If you have a Roku TV, it's quite possible that you've enjoyed Dolby Vision for a while now. And that's great! But this is a big addition for the little Roku player.

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Roku Ultra 2020: What's slightly less good

There's not a whole lot to gripe about here. Roku Ultra offers pretty much the same Roku experience we've been enjoying for years. And Roku updates the software on a regular basis, so it also will improve over time.

We've been using this new Roku Ultra on OS 9.3, but OS 9.4 is now here and brings all kinds of new fun, like Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit support, more free content, and new themes and sounds.

There are a lot of negatives here. Those who pore over specs will note the loss of the microSD card, which is only a thing if it's a thing you've relied on for external storage. There's still a full USB-A port, though, so plugging in a full hard drive is super simple.

And that's really it in the minus column, insofar as changes are concerned.

It's still worth mentioning, however, that Roku is arguably more of an advertising company now than it is a hardware company. It's got ads on the homescreen. If you're watching something for "free" on The Roku Channel, there are ads in there, too. And with advertising comes ad tracking. So if that's the sort of thing you try to avoid if at all possible, then you might want to avoid this.

Roku Ultra 2020: Should you buy it?

If you're in the market for a Roku, this is the one we recommend you buy, unless there's some technical reason not to. (Like if it's going on a secondary TV that doesn't have 4K resolution.)

Yes, it costs twice as much as other Rokus that do 4K resolution and work just fine. But if it's going on your main television and is something that you're going to be using every day, multiple times a day? Go ahead and spend the extra money for the additional specs and better experience. It's worth it in the long run.

And that's what Roku is built for — the long run. The new Roku Ultra should go a couple more years before another refresh, and it's going to last you much longer than that anyway.