Google's Chromecast Ultra is an easy to setup, simple to use solution for streaming 4K video. The only catch is there's not heaps of content that can currently take advantage of Chromecast Ultra's high-end capabilities.
What Is It?
Chromecast Ultra is a 4K version of the humble Chromecast. Technically the third generation of Google's "streaming stick", Chromecast Ultra is a HDMI dongle that's ostensibly designed from beaming video from a smartphone to a TV.
Rather than mirroring video from your smartphone, your smartphone or tablet replaces the remote. The content you watch is streamed directly to the Chromecast Ultra, which frees up device for whatever else you want to do, at least after you select what you want to watch.
In addition to support for 4K content, Chromecast Ultra is compatible with both HDR 10 and Dolby Vision high dynamic range video standards, and is the first Chromecast with an Ethernet port.
As with past Chromecast devices, the Chromecast Ultra easy to setup and use. Plug it into a TV, download the companion app on your smartphone, and you'll be done with the installation process in minutes. After that point, whenever you're in a Chromecast-compatible app, you'll see a little "cast" icon that lets you beam whatever you're listening to or watching to your TV.
If you've got decent Wi-Fi at home, the Chromecast Ultra will provide a stable, reliable streaming experience. If you don't, Google have thrown an Ethernet port on the Ultra's power supply, which is one of the few other points of difference when compared to past Chromecast devices.
The Chromecast Ultra uses the same awfully portable form-factor that Google introduced with the second generation Chromecast, complete with a flexible HDMI jack that prevents the dongle from blocking any other ports on your TV. When not in use, the HDMI cable magnetically clips onto the Chromecast's main body. All in all, it’s a package that's small enough to easily throw into a bag. The power supply does take up a bit more space, but it's only a touch bigger than a smartphone charger.
And while the Chromecast Ultra's $99 is a little higher than the standard Chromecast price, it's still at the lower end of the streaming device spectrum.
Most importantly, the Chromecast Ultra's 4K support is a key point of difference. It does a good job of it, but obviously you need a 4K TV or monitor to take advantage of these capabilities, and an internet connection fast enough to keep up with the strain high resolution video puts on it.
In terms of quality, the Chromecast Ultra is a little more washed out when compared to the quality I get from the native Netlix app on my TV, but it's still pretty great.
What's Not So Good?
As with past Chromecasts, the biggest issue with Chromecast Ultra is the lack of a remote. While I don't think Chromecast needs an overly complicated physical controller for selecting what you want to watch, a simple remote (similar to what Google packages with its Daydream headset) for pause, play, rewind, and fast forward would make Chromecast Ultra that little bit more accessible.
As it stands, you have to unlock your phone or tablet, reopen the app you're casting from, and then hit pause if you need a bathroom break.
The problem is there's not heaps of 4K content available in Australia at the moment. There's quite a few shows and movies on Netflix, but otherwise, you're limited to anything you can find on YouTube. Google is renting 4K movies through Google Play in the United States, but this isn't available in Australia yet.
And even when apps have 4K content available, they don't necessarily do a great job of highlighting it. If you're browsing Netflix on your phone or tablet looking for 4K content to cast, Google suggests searching for "4K" "UHD" or "HDR" to find videos that actually take advantage of the Ultra's high-res capabilities. On a smart TV, Netflix explicitly calls out the maximum resolution possible next to a TV show's name.
Who Is It For?
Australia's dearth of 4K content puts the Chromecast Ultra in a bit of an odd spot. If you've got a 4K TV, a fast internet connection, and no other way to get 4K content on your TV, the Chromecast Ultra is a good option. At the same time, most 4K TVs ship with a Netflix app, which is the main source of 4K content in Australia at the moment.
One alternative use for a Chromecast Ultra is adding some smarts to a 4K monitor, given that monitors typically don't come with any apps preinstalled. Since you know, they're monitors. The Ethernet port is also a potentially useful inclusion when compared to the second-generation Chromecast, especially if you don't have great wireless.
In addition to future-proofing, the Chromecast Ultra has all the other benefits of a more conventional Chromecast, like simple setup, ease of use, and support for apps your smart TV might not have.
What Else Can I Buy?
Fetch TV Mighty
Fetch TV's Mighty is a 4K set-top box that doubles as a PVR. In addition, Mighty hooks into Fetch's Premium service which gives you access to channels such as MTV, Syfy, National Geography, and BBC First. Fetch TV Mighty is available in stores, but also included as part of select Optus broadband bundles.
Xbox One S
The Xbox One S is the cheapest HDR-ready 4K Blu-Ray currently on the market, and can also playback 4K content through apps like Netflix. While The Xbox One S is much pricier than the Chromecast Ultra, 4K Blu-Rays are one of the more reliable ways to get your hands on 4K content locally.
Chromecast Ultra isn't replacing the second generation Chromecast, so if you don't have any need for 4K, HDR, or an Ethernet port, you can save yourself around $40 by option for the standard model instead.
Apple TV (4th Gen)
If you're in an Apple-centric household, the fourth generation Apple TV might be a better buy. It doesn't support 4K (a new model with 4K is said to be on the cards for later this year) but its otherwise a good all-round streaming box with plenty of native apps, voice control, and a neat remote.
Broadband Plans for 4K streaming
If you actually want to stream 4K video, you'll want at least a 25Mbps connection to do so reliably. At least 50Mbps could be a safer option if you've got multiple people putting strain on your connection at once.
25Mbps NBN plans
50Mbps NBN plans