Google Chromecast Ultra
FOR 4K HDR support; stable streaming; plenty of content AGAINST No Amazon Video app; price tag has doubled
When the original Google Chromecast was released, it was hailed as the best way to add smart apps to your non-smart TV – a simple and affordable way to upgrade without having to buy a brand-new set.
The 2015 update streamlined the design, added more apps and gave us faster speeds, making it great value at £30. However, we’re struggling to see the point of the Google Chromecast Ultra. It’s everything the Chromecast (2015) is, with added support for 4K Ultra HD and High Dynamic Range (HDR). But its limited 4K app selection doesn’t justify the £70 price tag.
4K HDR credentials are the logical next step for the Ultra – but, when it comes to apps that deliver 4K content, it offers only Netflix and Youtube. There’s no Amazon Video, which makes the Ultra rather limiting, especially when most big-brand 4K TVS today carry Netflix, Youtube and Amazon Video as part of their standard smart TV selection.
If you’re not fussed about 4K HDR, there are plenty of apps through which you can watch Full HD content. From the full selection of the UK’S catch up TV services to subscription services such as Now TV, wuaki.tv and BT Sport, there’s plenty here. You can stream music using Spotify, BBC Radio and Deezer, and there are apps that support gaming too. But you get pretty much all of the main apps on the standard Chromecast, at less than half the cost.
What Chromecast does best remains its killer feature: casting content seamlessly from your smartphone to TV. Simply look out for the Cast icon in an app, tap it, press play, and you’ll be streaming to your TV in seconds. There’s no extra log-in needed either, as you’ll be streaming from existing apps on your smartphone – which also means no need for a remote. Launch and response times are speedy, with just a few seconds before a 4K stream gets under way. It’s worth downloading the Google Home app, as it's a base for Chromecast features (including help with set-up, collating Googlecast-compatible apps in one place and recommending other apps that support casting, too.) There’s no home page when you plug in the Chromecast, which simplifies the experience. Apple owners are restricted to streaming from apps that support Googlecast, but Android users can mirror nearly anything on their phones – a web browser, a game of Angry Birds, or your holiday snaps – to enjoy them on a bigger TV screen. Google has stuck with the puck-shaped design for the Chromecast Ultra, with a short length of HDMI cable sticking out. The end of the HDMI and the back of the disc are magnetic, so they can be neatly attached together with minimal dangling.
Unlike the standard Chromecast that runs on USB power, the Ultra needs to be connected to the mains. When it comes to performance, we have few complaints with the Ultra, though you’ll need a robust network with bandwidth that can handle the data-heavy 4K streams. The Ultra has dual band 2.4GHZ/5GHZ wi-fi built-in, but we'd recommend using the ethernet port, which gives you rock-solid stability.
Whether you’re watching a 1080p or 4K stream, the Ultra will automatically upscale everything to 4K. Old episodes of Firefly pop from the screen, with rich colours, clean outlines and a bit more depth than you get with standard definition. It doesn’t reach the same heights as a physical 4K disc, but the picture quality is of a similar level of performance as we’d expect when streaming straight from a TV’S app.
The Google Chromecast Ultra is a puzzling product. At £70, it’s double the price of the standard Chromecast, but its 4K features don’t quite add up to twice the experience.
Given its lack of Amazon Video, it’s hard to make a case for the Ultra. Its casting abilities, convenience and ease of use are still top-notch – but nothing that you can’t already get from the standard Chromecast.
Those who want to stream their own 4K footage from smart devices will find a use for the Ultra. But if you’re after only the excellent Googlecast feature, we’d stick with the basic Chromecast.
The Chromecast Ultra supports 4K Ultra HD and HDR, but doesn’t justify its £70 price tag
The HDMI and the disc use magnets so they can be neatly attached