Amazon Review by Wood B. Hermit
244 people found the following review helpful
Roku Ultra: An incremental improvement over Roku 4
After having purchased a brand new Roku 4 (still working flawlessly!) here on Amazon.com in October 2015, I would normally not be in the market for this latest incarnation of the top-of-the-line Roku player, the Roku Ultra, just one year later. However, Roku made me an offer I couldnt refuse by selling me this unit at a $50.00 discount when ordered directly through the Roku web site by 10/26/2016. For $79.99 and free shipping I did decide to acquire a new Roku Ultra to satisfy my curiosity.
Having previously had experience with an extremely disappointing Roku 2 XS in August 2011 (which I gave a scathingly negative one-star review), a great first generation Roku 3 in March 2013 and the truly impressive aforementioned Roku 4, I was interested in seeing what new and improved capabilities the Roku Ultra would bring to the world of television streaming.
Note that if you currently own a properly functioning Roku 4 without any of the known overheating/fan noise issues or other intolerable glitchy behavior, I do not recommend purchasing a new, significantly smaller and cooler Roku Ultra (40% smaller and draws about 75% less wattage) at full price; the technical improvements overall are too minor to make this a worthwhile undertaking. Wait until the next Roku upgrade whenever that might be or until your Roku 4 bites the dust. The one possible exception to this would be if you already own or plan on purchasing a new HDR-capable TV and are just itching to use this feature. In that case getting a Roku Ultra or alternatively a Roku Premiere+ is the only way to go.
In short the Roku Ultra definitely does not disappoint: It is an even more lethal adversary for cable companies and other entertainment media providers, possibly their worst nightmare! The vast selection of 3,500+ available streaming channels and 350,000+ movies/TV episodes (both free and fee-based) keeps growing all the time. And the continued use of a quad-core processor as in the Roku 4 - at least to my eye does make for an even better overall entertainment experience, especially with regard to streaming speed, reliability and resulting picture quality. Note that I still do not have a 4K Ultra HD TV (but I do plan on purchasing one in the near future) and thus cannot comment on the 4K+HDR features. Nevertheless, with the advanced high-quality upscaling for HD content I can discern a difference even with my standard Toshiba HD TV which was purchased here on Amazon.com in 2011.
Initial setup of this compact streaming device, which now about 40% smaller (just 4.9 x 4.9 x 0.75) than the larger footprint of the Roku 4 (6.5" x 6.5" x 0.75), is an easy-as-pie procedure and should take no more than a few minutes in most circumstances. A brief illustrated overview of what needs to be done is included in the box and more detailed, step-by-step information is available on the Roku website. My setup procedure was definitely a speedy undertaking. Entering logon details for first time access to Amazon Instant Video, Pandora, etc. took longer than the setup itself.
All of the annoying issues of interference with other devices (sound bar, digital picture frame, Internet radio, etc.) in my living room, which I first experienced with the Roku 2 XS and which were completely absent with the excellent Roku 3 and the Roku 4 have not returned with the Roku Ultra. There are no interference issues whatsoever with this new and improved streaming device, despite the fact that I am still using a Sennheiser RS 175 RF Wireless Headphone System (see my review) in combination with my Roku Ultra.
I have the headphone transmitter base located near my Roku Ultra in the living room and there is absolutely no interference when streaming and simultaneously using the Sennheiser headphones. However, I should note that I have my Roku Ultra set to stream at 5.0 GHz on my dual-band AC router. There may or may not be a problem if your WiFi network with connected devices located near the Sennheiser transmitter is set to function in the 2.4 to 2.8 GHz range which is used by the headphones. Youll just have to try it and see what happens. If necessary, appropriate device relocation - a greater distance of separation should resolve any difficulties like it did for me and a digital picture frame that uses the same frequency range as these Sennheiser wireless headphones.
I have not had any Internet connectivity issues. The Roku Ultra connects quickly, easily and reliably to my private/secure WiFi network (ARRIS/Motorola SURFboard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem - Retail Packaging White and Belkin AC 1800 DB Wi-Fi Dual-Band AC+ Gigabit Router [F9K1118] - see my reviews) and streaming of the available channels (a truly overwhelming selection with many hundreds of free channels and others at nominal monthly cost) is fast and extremely smooth just like a conventional TV program not originating on the Internet. The now DOLBY audio signal is loud and crystal clear.
As of October 2016, I have an approximately 150 Mbps broadband download speed available, but 20-40 Mbps also has worked reasonably well in the past and I would recommend this as the minimum bandwidth requirement for enjoyable viewing without recurrent periods of prolonged buffering/loading of whatever program you happen to be watching.
The large percentage of unhappy Roku 4 reviewers who have previously complained about excessively loud cooling fan noise emanating from the device can now breathe a sigh of relief since the Roku Ultra is not only notably smaller than the Roku 4, but also notably cooler and quieter. Personally, I can’t hear and/or feel anything bothersome at all emanating from the device itself.
If anyone should still claim to be experiencing overheating and/or cooling problems with the Roku Ultra in the future, it might be a good idea for them to enable the Auto Off after 30 minutes of inactivity option under the Roku Ultra settings menu; this is disabled on the Roku Ultra as it ships. I have had no need to do this on my device. Additionally, anyone wanting some protection against future wear and tear issues affecting their Roku Ultra should consider getting an extended warranty for their player. SquareTrade offers hassle-free and extremely reasonable coverage of 2-3 years duration (see their web site or Amazon).
To avoid disappointment before purchasing any Roku model be sure to do your research concerning available programming/channels beforehand. Check the Roku website on the Internet to see what is and what is not available as far as channel selection is concerned, as well as what is absolutely free and which programming is associated with a clearly specified recurring monthly fee.
Two sites on the Internet - Roku Guide and Roku Channel Database - also can provide extremely useful information on Roku programming, especially the lowdown on free private channels (such as BBC World News and others) and the needed codes to add them to your Roku device. As of October 2016, I have 157 absolutely free channels installed on my Roku Ultra including all-time-favorites favorites such as YouTube and the like. During the past year, I have also had a single fee-based channel option Sling (a package of 25 cable channels) - for which I pay a recurring $19.99 monthly fee.
Especially if you are news junkie, you will be able to get much more than your needed fix and possibly be at serious risk of overdosing from all the English language (and many foreign language) newscasts available from the USA and diverse international sources (UK, Japan, China, Australia, Canada, Russia, the entire EU - most notably Germany and France, Israel, South Africa and many others). Even some of my local broadcast channels make their daily newscasts directly available on Roku.
I have read quite a few reviews posted here on Amazon giving the prior Rokus a one-star rating, because the purchaser’s incorrect and unrealistic expectations were not met, namely being able to see everything live on all broadcast channels just like he/she could with cable/dish television but for free. And I imagine that over time comparable reviews might be posted here concerning the new Roku Ultra. Lets get real! Obviously these individuals did not properly research what this streaming device does and does not do before purchasing it. They are the ones who have earned a one-star rating, not the Roku Ultra or earlier Roku models!
The remote control provided is simple to use and responds quickly when appropriate buttons indicating one’s selections are actuated and it need not be pointed at the Roku Ultra. The OK button is now located at the center of the UP/DOWN LEFT/RIGHT buttons instead of directly beneath them as in the Roku 4. Handy, larger and colorful, dedicated buttons are provided for Sling, Netflix, Hulu and Showtime (on the Roku 4 these were for Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Rdio and Sling). Programmable buttons would have been preferable since they are more versatile. Otherwise the Roku 4 and Roku Ultra remote controls are identical.
The program voice search feature works OK for English language broadcasts, although I personally find it to be somewhat gimmicky. How well voice search works overall is a function of how you pronounce words - your enunciation. Slower and as clearly as possible (no heavy accent!) is always bound to yield better results. I was perfectly happy using the text-based search functionality on my Roku 4 and will likely continue doing so on my Roku Ultra, at least most of the time. Nevertheless, be it for reasons of personal preference, possibly increased search speed or perhaps physical disability, a reasonably reliable and efficient voice-based search capability that searches across all available channels and distinguishes between free and fee-based content is available for those who need it or simply enjoy mixing things up a bit.
The misplaced/lost remote finder is a great convenience and a real time saver. It functions just like one of those sound-emitting key fobs that help you locate keys that have gone astray for whatever reason. If you cant find the remote, just press the button on top of your Roku Ultra and your remote will let you know where it is hiding by emitting a sound of your choosing until you press any key on the remote to confirm that you have found it (five options - some more easily noticeable than others - are available under Settings with Sonar - a relatively soft, persistently repetitive, bell-like sound - being the default) . If your TV is already on when you do this, a dialog will also appear on the screen.
I haven’t yet had occasion to use the included earphones or try out the memory expansion capability with a microSD card, but I really don’t expect any problems here. In light of my available Sennheiser wireless headphone system mentioned above, it is unlikely that the Roku Ultra earphones will be getting much if any use around my house anyway. The available free smartphone app is also something that I have previously downloaded for use with my Roku 4 and will continue to use with my Roku Ultra.
As a few other reviewers have reported, the USB port presently appears to be non-functional and is awaiting an appropriate firmware update from Roku. Keep this in mind if you absolutely must have access via USB; a different Roku model (Roku 4 or Roku Premier+?) may be more appropriate for you. Personally, this does not affect my use of the device - as long as a fix is on the way.
I also have not experienced any of the other problems reported by some reviewers who have had to repeatedly reboot their Roku Ultra to restore functionality either with the device itself or the remote. As in the case of the Roku 4, quality control of the units selling initially appears to be poor and the luck of the draw will decide whether or not you get a Roku Ultra that works correctly from the get-go. If you purchased your Roku Ultra here on Amazon, an exchange within 30 days at no cost to you - if required - should not be problem.
Overall, this is a very impressive example of technical virtuosity. The Roku Ultra - when functioning properly - is well worth its price of approximately $130.00 (as of October 2016) which for many people represents the monthly cost of cable/dish television. It may sound good to have potential access to 200-300 channels, but in reality you’re probably really only interested in regularly watching a small percentage (10% ?) of what you’re being forced to pay for in those inconvenient channel packages. With Roku Ultra and other streaming devices channel selection is always a la carte.
If you’re a really smart consumer what you’ll do is purchase one of these newly available game-changing Roku 4 streaming devices (or even a Roku 3 which is still available), pair it with a small and nifty indoor antenna like the Mohu Leaf (now called Mohu Leaf 50) or the Terk HDTVa Antenna Pro (see my reviews here on Amazon) to also receive TV channels the old fashioned and no-cost way via the airwaves and then cut the cable company/dish cord for good.
I have done this and have been cable-free since August 2011 and am loving it! You too can liberate yourself from cable company/dish slavery and save the cost of a brand new HDTV every year (about $1200.00+ annually depending on your monthly cable bill). Go ahead, cut the cord and finally set yourself free!
Note that if you do decide to pursue a cable-free, dish-free TV lifestyle, don’t skimp on the broadband connection that you will need to ensure smooth streaming with minimal buffering; this is especially important with a WiFi connection. Sufficient bandwidth (see above) is essential for the Roku Ultra or any other streaming device to provide an enjoyable TV viewing experience; it can’t work miracles without it.
UPDATE ON 12/22/2016
I have just recently upgraded my Belkin AC router with one of the new mesh WiFi systems, specifically the “Orbi Home WiFi System by NETGEAR. Better WiFi Everywhere with 3 Gigabit Speed, Tri-Band Mesh WiFi, Easy Setup, Replaces WiFi Range Extenders” which is available here on Amazon.com (see my review).
This particular system consists of the router itself and a satellite unit which I have placed in my living room where all the action is. Since the satellite has four available (4) Ethernet ports I have now been able to switch my Roku 4 from a WiFi to a wired connection and the overall improvement in performance is definitely noticeable. You simply can’t beat Ethernet for video streaming!
Anyone who has been forced to rely on a WiFi connection for their Roku (whatever the model) because of router location in another room (like me), etc. might want to investigate this innovative solution further.
There are competing mesh WiFi systems currently available (eero, Luma, AmpliFi HD & LR, Google WiFi with likely more to come), but as of the date of this update it is the Orbi system by Netgear that has been rated best by PC Magazine for throughput over distance and overall performance. You can consult the PC Magazine website for several detailed articles and pertinent tests on all of the aforementioned mesh WiFi systems.