Google Chromecast Ultra review

Google launched its new Chromecast Ultra when it announced its Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones in October 2016. 

The device looks to solve what is slowly but surely becoming the issue with cheaper mainstream media streaming devices – being able to stream in 4K HD. The Chromecast Ultra is £39 more than the regular Chromecast, but it solves that and ultimately justifies the asking price.

Google Chromecast Ultra review: UK price and availability 

The Chromecast Ultra is available in the UK direct from Google for £69.  You can also get it for the same price from Currys.

Google Chromecast Ultra review: Design and build

The Chromecast Ultra is quite similar in design to the standard version, though this one adopts Google’s new ‘G’ logo that’s also on the back of the Google Pixel. Frankly, it doesn’t matter what the thing looks like, because it nestled behind you TV, hanging from a short piece of flat cable that you plug into the HDMI port. This then connects to the Chromecast via micro USB. 

Unlike previous generations, the Chromecast Ultra is only available in black but resembles a small hockey puck, inside which wireless tech resides. The only other things in the box are the power cable and the power adaptor that also has a handy Ethernet port on it. 

The unit itself measures 58.2 x 13.7mm while the power cable is a generous 2m. The puck itself is only 47g, so it’s no problem to have it hanging from a port on the back of any television.

Google Chromecast Ultra review: Hardware specs and features

The headline here is that the Chromecast Ultra supports up to 4K Ultra HD resolution streaming. It is also HDR compatible (high dynamic range), meaning on a 4K HDR TV you will get some seriously decent quality streams running. It also works up to 1080p on non-4K TVs, though the cheaper Chromecast will also do this. 

Its wireless capabilities are 802.11ac, the most advanced form of Wi-Fi going, and it supports 2.4GHz/5GHz for the best possible wireless performance. Basically, it’s top spec for a media streamer.

There’s not much else to know apart from the devices its operation supports. You can stream from any Android device running Android 4.1 and higher, any iPhone or iPad running iOS 8.0 and higher, any Mac or MacBook running OS X 10.9 and higher, and any Windows device running Windows 7 and higher.

There is no remote control like you get with the Amazon Fire Stick or the Apple TV, but the idea here is different to those devices; we didn’t miss having one. While they rely on apps and an on-screen interface to choose what to watch, the Chromecast Ultra works through the device you are using with it. 

See also: What's the difference between the new and old Chromecast models?

Google Chromecast Ultra review: Software and use 

Setup is easy, no matter what device you’re using. For iOS and Android smartphones and tablets, just download the free Google Home app and follow the on screen instructions. It really is that easy, and we found it worked first time every time on every device.

We tested streaming from an iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone, Android tablet, Windows 10 laptop and a MacBook – all worked excellently with a commercial Wi-Fi router connection. It’s great to have the option to use Ethernet too for an even stabler connection – simply plug an Ethernet cable (not supplied) into the power adapter and then into your router. Having said this, we never encountered disruption to a wireless stream, though sometimes it took a minute or two to buffer up to full 4K resolution.

On iPhone and iPad you can cast music or video from apps with the Chromecast button built in. This includes popular apps like YouTube, Netflix and BBC iPlayer and it all works excellently. The thing you can’t do on iOS that you can on Android (Google playing nice with Google here) is mirroring your device screen to your TV. This works well and is good way to view Facebook photos on your TV or even give a presentation at work. 

On a Windows PC or Mac, you can install the Google Cast extension to your Chrome browser. This allows you to cast your Chrome tab to your TV, but not use full mirroring. You won’t likely use this feature much though; the value here is in 4K video streaming.

Check out where the Chromecast Ultra sits in our best media streamers article

It’d be tedious to list everything we tested with the Chromecast Ultra, but, YouTube worked perfectly from an iPhone, BT Sport ran in HD from an iPad, Netflix ran Narcos in 4K from a Samsung Galaxy smartphone – you get the picture. And that picture is always in excellent 4K resolution. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by tech because this should be an astounding feat – yet somehow the Chromecast Ultra is kind of mundane simply because it works so well. This makes it the perfect addition to your HD TV if you are used to using video services on your other devices.

We find it far easier to stream using Chromecast than having a smart TV; often these TVs have amazing pictures but terrible user interfaces. This is the Chromecast’s advantage, but remember that it relies on your device not running out of battery. The Amazon Fire Stick is a better choice if you want to only reply on mains power and a TV.

We discussed the Google Pixel and Chromecast event right after it happened on our podcast. Listen here:

Google Chromecast Ultra: Specs

  • 4K UHD streaming capabilities, HDR and Dolby Vision support, Ethernet connection on power block.
  • 4K UHD streaming capabilities, HDR and Dolby Vision support, Ethernet connection on power block.

OUR VERDICT

If you have a 4K TV and a Netflix subscription, the Chromecast Ultra is worth the £69 asking price. The fact it is so easy to use and works best with the Google Home app means you can easily throw it in a bag and use it on different TVs wherever you are, as your phone or tablet carries your streaming subscriptions with you.

If you don’t have a 4K TV then go with the £30 Chromecast, but otherwise if you want a no-nonsense media streamer the Chromecast Ultra is one of the best going.