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10 Reasons to Think Twice Before Buying a Roku Ultra Streaming Player

The Roku Ultra is positioned as Roku‘s top-of-the-line streaming player, packed with advanced features like an Ethernet port, USB port, Dolby Vision HDR, lost remote finder, and hands-free voice control. But despite the impressive specs on paper, the Roku Ultra fails to justify its $100 price tag in today‘s highly competitive streaming device market. As someone who has tested numerous streaming devices over the years, I would advise most people to avoid purchasing the Roku Ultra. Here are 10 key reasons why:

1. Smart TVs make standalone streaming devices unnecessary

The main reason to avoid the Roku Ultra is that you probably don‘t need it. The vast majority of TVs sold today have built-in smart TV platforms that provide access to all the major streaming apps and services. Unless you have an older TV lacking built-in smarts, there‘s little reason to spend an extra $100 on an external streaming box like the Ultra. Even Roku‘s own smart TVs have caught up to the Ultra in terms of features while costing hundreds less overall.

2. The Roku Ultra is overpriced compared to alternatives

At an MSRP of $99.99, the Roku Ultra carries a significant premium over other 4K HDR streamers, including Roku‘s own Express 4K+ and Streaming Stick 4K which offer nearly all the same key features for less than half the cost. The Ultra‘s few exclusive bells and whistles, like the remote finder and USB port, are nice to have but don‘t justify the hefty price difference for most folks. Competitors like the Chromecast with Google TV and Fire TV Stick 4K Max also undercut the Ultra while matching or exceeding it in functionality.

3. The Roku OS is starting to show its age

While Roku‘s interface is still fairly intuitive, it‘s increasingly dated compared to the slicker, more modern OS offered by rivals like Google TV, Apple tvOS, and Amazon‘s Fire TV. The Ultra‘s grid of app icons looks antiquated next to the content-focused, personalized recommendations-driven UI on other platforms. Roku is slower to support newer features like user profiles, HDMI 2.1 features, spatial audio, AR and smart home integration. Overall the Roku Ultra just feels a bit behind the cutting edge.

4. Roku lacks compelling exclusive content

One of the main reasons to pick one streaming platform ecosystem over another is access to exclusive content you can‘t get elsewhere. Unfortunately, Roku has very little truly exclusive content to entice users compared to players like Amazon Prime Video channels, Apple TV+ originals, or the increasingly robust libraries of exclusive free content on Fire TV (via Freevee) and Google TV (via YouTube). Some Roku TVs do have unique features like a voice-controlled program guide, but the Ultra lacks that. The Roku Channel app is available on all major streaming platforms.

5. Privacy concerns over Roku user data collection

Like many streaming platforms, Roku collects extensive data on users‘ viewing habits to power its advertising and content recommendation algorithms. But Roku is particularly aggressive in harvesting user data, requiring an account even for basic functions, and its privacy policy gives it broad leeway to share data with measurement providers, advertisers and content publishers. Roku says the data is anonymized, but it still gives many users an uneasy feeling compared to, say, Apple‘s strong privacy stance.

6. Some users report technical issues and bugs

A quick perusal of Roku user forums reveals a variety of technical glitches and stability issues reported by Roku Ultra owners, from freezing and crashing to HDMI-CEC communication problems, Wi-Fi disconnects, and more. To be fair, most electronics products have some percentage of defective units, and Roku does offer strong customer support – but it‘s still a potential headache that you may prefer to avoid by choosing a more reliable device like the Apple TV 4K or Chromecast.

7. Limited onboard storage space for channels and apps

The Roku Ultra only comes with 256MB of onboard app storage, which may sound like a lot but can quickly get eaten up as the average size of streaming apps balloons. That means you‘ll likely need to occasionally delete rarely used apps to free up space for new ones. It‘s an annoyance you don‘t have to deal with on streaming devices with more generous storage like the Fire TV Cube (16GB), Apple TV 4K (32-64GB), or the NVIDIA Shield TV (up to 500GB).

8. You can get similar or better features from a gaming console

If you‘re a gamer, you likely already own a console like a PS5, Xbox Series X/S, or Nintendo Switch that offers all the same streaming apps found on Roku. The game consoles boast more horsepower and advanced home theater features (like Dolby Atmos and 4K/120fps on PS5 and Series X) that actually exceed the Roku Ultra‘s A/V capabilities while adding gaming to the mix. For gamers, the Ultra is totally redundant.

9. The new Roku Voice Remote Pro isn‘t packaged in

One of the marquee upgrades Roku pushes for the Ultra is support for the new Voice Remote Pro, which adds a rechargeable battery, hands-free voice control, a remote finder function, and other improvements – but despite the Ultra‘s premium price, the Voice Remote Pro isn‘t included in the box. It‘s sold separately for $30, making the total cost of an Ultra with Voice Remote Pro $130. For less than that, you could get a Roku Streambar or Streambar Pro which include the enhanced remote plus quality audio all in one.

10. Potential HDMI 2.1 compatibility issues with newer TVs/receivers

As the latest TVs, AV receivers and soundbars adopt the newer HDMI 2.1 standard, some users have reported issues getting the Roku Ultra to recognize the full capabilities of their setup (things like 4K/60fps HDR, HDMI-eARC audio passthrough, etc.). The Ultra technically supports HDMI 2.0 which should be sufficient for most content, but as HDMI 2.1 becomes more common, a lack of full compatibility could cause frustrations and limit the Ultra‘s shelf life. Competing streamers like the Chromecast with Google TV have already moved to HDMI 2.1.

The bottom line

Roku still makes the most popular standalone streaming media players on the market, and the Roku OS offers a lot to like: a broad selection of apps, an intuitive interface, and frequent updates. The Roku Ultra is the most powerful, full-featured streamer Roku makes. But it‘s increasingly difficult to recommend such an expensive, single-purpose streaming box in an era when streaming technology is built into virtually every smart TV and gaming console on the market – including Roku‘s own smart TVs.

Unless you have very specific needs that only the Roku Ultra can fulfill, you‘ll get better bang for your buck by choosing a more affordable 4K streamer like Roku‘s own Express 4K+ or Streaming Stick 4K, or opting for a multifunctional device like a Chromecast with Google TV or a gaming console. In 2023, spending $100 on a standalone streamer only makes sense for a small niche of home theater enthusiasts.

For most people, the Roku Ultra is overkill. Save your money and stream smarter with one of the many more affordable, more versatile alternatives on the market. The Roku Ultra‘s days as the ultimate streaming player have passed.