Let's make this clear: If Roku had baseball caps and team jerseys, I'd be wearing them. I'm that big a fanboy. No, I don't own stock in the company and have no connection to Roku other than owning several of its streaming players. But after trying a first-gen Amazon Fire TV stick and a Google Chromecast streamer several years ago, I picked up a Roku stick and never looked back.
I'm not dissing the Fire TV, Chromecast, or even Apple TV. Check out my colleague Dennis' review of the new Apple TV 4K and all our streaming media player reviews here, and let me know what you think. I'm interested in your thoughts, but I doubt they're going to change my mind. I suspect I'll remain a Roku fanboy for the foreseeable future, because the company seems to knows what it's doing and does it well.
It's newest flagship streamer, the Roku Ultra Model 4670X, is a great example. Like every other streaming device Roku has produced, the new Ultra is simple to set up and operate, has a robust feature set, provides more channels (apps) than most other streaming boxes, is reasonably priced, and typically works flawlessly.
During its dozen years in business, Roku has matured as gracefully as Christie Brinkley and Cindy Crawford, its products evolving with new features and higher performance capabilities. That describes the Roku Ultra introduced late last year, the fourth generation of the company's flagship streaming player. It looks just like its predecessors and could even be easily mistaken for my 3.5-year-old Roku Premiere. About the size of a pair of small smartphones laid side-by-side, the Ultra measures 0.85 inches thick and 4.9-inches square with rounded corners and a weight of 8 ounces. That makes it the largest of Roku's nine available models, but small enough to sit inconspicuously on a credenza or media rack or beneath just about any TV.
At a glance, the Ultra would be indistinguishable from my 2017 Premiere except for the inconspicuous "remote-finder" button that's flush with its top surface. The only other switch or button is a tiny reset on the undercarriage (although I can't recall ever having to reset any of my Roku devices). I haven't used the remote-finder, either, but it might come in handy. Press it for a second or two, and you'll hear a chirping sound coming from an Ultra remote that has slipped between a couple of sofa cushions or has been carried into another room and inadvertently left there.
The remote itself is probably the most conspicuous difference between the fourth-generation Ultra and its precursors. Feeling like a slightly wider, curvier stick of butter, it is a bit larger and heavier than other Roku remotes. It gets a new pair of customizable buttons labeled "1" and "2." In addition to the two programmable buttons, Roku also endowed the Ultra with every feature it has ever offered in a remote.
The Ultra, despite all of its features relative to the rest of Roku's lineup, is no more difficult to set up and configure than any other model. All the setup info anyone should need is contained in an eight-page, foldout booklet containing fewer words than the average Dr. Seuss book. The good doctor likely would appreciate the fact that the booklet's content consists mostly of clearly labeled illustrations. Even a first-time cord-cutter shouldn't need to spend more than a few minutes perusing the booklet to get the Ultra up and running.
That's assuming the user already has an HDMI cable (the Ultra doesn't come with one) and an available input on their TV. There is no other way to connect Roku's flagship streaming player. One reason the Ultra is so simple to set up is its sparsity of inputs, outputs, and buttons. It has a total of seven, including an HDMI 2.0a output jack and the remote-finder and reset buttons. There's also a power connector, an Ethernet port, a microSD slot for expanded channel storage, and a USB port that supports playback of all the popular video and music files along with JPEG photographs.
With an HDCP 2.2-compliant HDMI cable in hand (necessary for 4K HDR content), I plugged one end into the Ultra and the other into my TV. Then I connected the power cord, turned on the TV and selected the correct input. The remote control automatically paired with the Ultra as soon as I inserted the provided alkaline batteries. Once the remote was paired, I used it to walk through a series of simple on-screen steps that connected the Ultra to my WiFi network. The Ultra provides dual-band, 802.11ac connectivity, and its setup screen indicated it was getting an "excellent" signal from my router. Those with a less robust WiFi signal will appreciate the Ultra's Ethernet port.
That's pretty much all it takes to connect the Ultra, but you won't be able to download and stream channels until you set up a new Roku account or activate the device using an existing account. You can't do that on the device itself; you'll need a computer or mobile device, which some users might consider the lone hiccup in an otherwise effortless setup process. Another caveat: If you're setting up a new account, have a credit card handy.
A Roku account is free, and it doesn't cost anything to download channels. There's also plenty of free content among those channels, including Roku's own channel of burgeoning content (free and otherwise). You'll only be billed if you rent or buy on-demand content or subscribe to channels that charge a fee, but Roku nevertheless requires every account to have a credit card associated with it.
Click over to Page Two for Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion...