More than years ago Google introduced us to the Chromecast. It ended up dominating the world because of its small form factor, simple setup, and bargain-level price. A refreshed model came about in 2015, and that’s still available today. Google just keeps adding to the massive number of units sold while not having to continuously refresh the hardware. Consumers benefit by getting a handy streaming device on the cheap while not worrying about it becoming obsolete anytime soon.
The Chromecast Ultra, born in late 2016 alongside the Pixel and Google Home, ups the ante despite being just a little more expensive. Home entertainment is expanding, and Google doesn’t want to be left behind. That’s why the Chromecast Ultra exists. Now you can gain access to 4K and HDR video streaming at a price you might not believe.
Google’s Chromecast Ultra is the next step in the evolution of the brand. Rather than stopping at Full HD (1920×1080) for video, this streaming device raises the maximum to 4K (3940×2160) with high dynamic range. It’s benefit that you’ll only notice if you have a 4K television or display, however. Otherwise you’re better off just staying with the regular Chromecast that does everything else the same. Maybe you could enjoy better speed on the Chromecast Ultra as well, but it’s not enough to justify choosing over the base model.
Let’s see if Google actually made a capable 4K- and HDR-ready device for less than $70.
The newest member of the Chromecast family doesn’t stand out, which is totally fine considering you’re plugging the dongle into a display and never seeing it again. It’s the same circular device as a last year’s Chromecast. The body is slightly larger and heavier this time around simply because the technology is stronger. Google also modified the exterior to be cleaner and show the ‘G’ logo instead of the Chrome logo.
If you’ve ever used the Chromecast (2015) or the Chromecast Audio, the look of the Chromecast Ultra will be familiar. The only family member it doesn’t resemble is the original Chromecast from a few years ago. Overall, it’s unassuming just like the Google Pixel and Google Home the Chromecast Ultra was introduced alongside.
A nice minor-yet-useful addition for this Chromecast is the set of magnets on the back and on the HDMI connector. You can conserve space and get the Chromecast Ultra to fit somewhere small by sticking the HDMI connector to the backside. It’s a strong magnet, too. There wasn’t any problem for me in connecting the device to a television that had numerous glasses and bottles of wine behind it on a wall unit. Google made the Chromecast Ultra compact and versatile.
The layout of the micro-USB port for power and the HDMI connector isn’t any different from the past, but there is one newbie. Google knows a very reliable WiFi network is necessary for 4K and HDR to work properly. So, with that in mind, an Ethernet port is integrated into the wall adapter. You’re practically guaranteed to get a better experience video streaming through a wired connection directly to a router than a wireless one.
Setting up a Chromecast Ultra, which is the same for any Chromecast device, couldn’t be any easier. All you’re doing is connecting one end of the device to a wall outlet and the other end to a display. From there, the Google Home app guides you through making sure everything is synced. Check a video we recently put on our YouTube channel that shows you how it all works if you run into any trouble.
Something new Chromecast owners will realize is that there isn’t a physical remote included in the box. Google, being the forward-thinker that it is, wants you to use your mobile devices. Fire up the Google Home app on your phone or tablet, whether it’s Android- or iOS-powered, and the Chromecast Ultra is following your direction.
The Chromecast Ultra features 4K Ultra HD and HDR support, HDMI, WiFi 802.11 b/g/n/ac (w/ 2.4/5 GHz), Ethernet, and a micro-USB port. It measures 58.2 x 58.2 x 13.7mm and weighs 47g.
Each of the previous Chromecast devices are confirmed to have Marvell-made processors, but it’s unclear what’s inside the Chromecast Ultra. That’s not stopping us from judging the unknown component, though. We’re happy to report that the Chromecast Ultra is indeed faster than any of its predecessors, even when calling upon 4K and HDR video. It’s dramatically faster than the original Chromecast, and the Chromecast Ultra is somewhat noticeable quicker than the current entry-level model. While the Chromecast (2015) often shows a splash screen momentarily, the Chromecast Ultra seems to do the same for a two seconds or less.
Video streaming, regardless of resolution, is crisp and smooth on the Chromecast Ultra. Honestly, I was worried that my WiFi network would cause problems for the device and its enhanced qualities; however, everything was fine. I tried video streaming on both wired and wireless connections and walked away not noticing one was better than the other. Maybe my network is better than I thought. Regardless, I think you’ll be surprised that it doesn’t actually require very much to get 4K and HDR video onto the display that this Chromecast is connected to.
Any platform in its infancy is weak on apps. Well, Google’s platform for the Chromecast family is mature. There are thousands of services that tailored their apps to work with the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra. Not too many of them, at least right now though, are boasting 4K and HDR compatibility. Fortunately two of the main ones, YouTube and Netflix, are ready for supreme quality video streaming.
Going through every app with Chromecast support would take a long time, so I recommend visiting Google’s hub for the device that lists them all. Apps for television, movies, music, audio, games, sports, photos, videos, and more are available.
No real complaints could be made about the Chromecast family’s software since there’s not an actual user interface. The entire platform is built to rely upon supported app. What’s a little frustrating is the app used to manage and control Chromecast devices. It’s now called the Google Home app. Before, it was the Chromecast app and then graduated to the Google Cast app. Then, when Google Home came into the mix, it was rebranded to the Google Home app while encompassing more than just the home-based digital assistant. This doesn’t quite make any sense, especially with the new “Chromecast built-in” terminology preferred by Google.
A simple device has a simple app. Not a lot is going on here. Managing your Chromecast Ultra and other devices is a breeze because the Google Home app doesn’t have many screens to go through. When you open the app, it shows recommendations for videos under the Watch tab. The Discover tab, meanwhile, welcomes you to new apps to try. And the menu activated by sliding in from the left gives quick access to Google Assistant (for Google Home), device management, account preferences, offers, and help.
Google wants to put all of its home-based hardware into one app. That’s cool. The problem, which is quite obvious to us, is the name of the app. Google Home is the name of the app and a device. The clash confuses people and alienates Chromecast owners.
Briefly, let’s observe alternatives if you don’t already own a television that’s both WiFi-connected and 4K-ready. You choose from devices made by Amazon, Roku, Xiaomi, and NVIDIA. Where does Google have each of them beat? Price and simplicity. Google’s Chromecast Ultra is $69 and requires nothing but an Android or iOS phone (or tablet). It’s guarantee you already have one unless you’re into Windows 10 Mobile, but you’re probably not reading this review if that’s the case.
Plus, Google doesn’t have a user interface separating you from the content you love. Navigation is done through the apps already installed on your phone or tablet; therefore, you know how to navigate from the start. Just pick what you want to do/watch as if you were doing the same on your mobile device. The Cast button mirrors that display. Finished.
The Chromecast Ultra is the quickest and simplest way to connect yourself to the world of 4K and HDR video, not to mention one of the cheapest ways.