Apple TV 4K vs. Roku Ultra: Which top streaming device rules? – IGWIIKI

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Scanning the shelves of your local brick-and-mortar outlet, you’ll see everything from Google devices to Amazon-powered peripherals that you can connect to the internet, plug into your TV, and use to access thousands of movies and TV shows from apps like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and more, with a slew of additional device features available to use, too.

And in the continuing war of streaming, two brands receive boatloads of attention, and for plenty of good reasons: Apple and Roku.

Right now, the third-generation Apple TV 4K (2022) and Roku Ultra (2022) are two of the best streaming devices you can buy. But which is better, you may be asking? That’s a fair question, and as fans of both names, we compared the products side by side to see which streamer came out on top. Read on to see which one we liked the most.

Check out our full review of the Apple TV 4K (2022). And if you want to compare Apple to Apple, check out our comparison of the Apple TV 4K (2022) and Apple TV 4K (2021).

Design and remote control

The Apple TV 4K (2022) and Siri remote on a table.
Caleb Denison / Digital Trends

Before we go any further, from here on, we’ll be referring to the latest 2022 versions of these devices unless we specify an older generation. Now then … Both the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra are sleek and stylish streaming devices that are compact and look good on most media cabinets, but let’s take a look at each streamer with a closer lens.

The Apple TV 4K is 3.7 inches wide, 3.7 inches deep, and 1.2 inches from top to bottom. Apple has been using the same glossy-chrome outer shell for many years now, and the latest Apple TV 4K looks just as good as its predecessors. This time around, the included Siri remote is equipped with a USB-C charging port, too, allowing for much faster charge times when compared to the previous Lightning-only iteration of the Siri remote that came with older versions.

Roku Ultra 2019.

Over in Roku territory, the all-new Ultra measures 4.9 inches wide, 5 inches from front to back, and is only 1 inch tall. In terms of the outer shell, we’re working with a matte-style casing that lets the device look stylish without having to worry about fingerprinting it up. And where older Roku devices only come with traditional Roku remotes, the latest Ultra comes packaged with the incredible Voice Remote Pro (which can also be purchased for other Roku hardware).

The flagship Roku remote also includes a 3.5mm input for connecting a pair of wired headphones, a USB-C port for charging, two programmable user shortcuts, and a handy Find My Remote feature in the event that you lose the small accessory.

Apple and Roku are both top-notch when it comes to design and remotes, but with its slightly smaller chassis for the most space-starved entertainment centers, we’re going to give a point to Apple for this category.

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Connections and performance

The rear view of an Apple TV 4K showing gigabit ethernet port, HDMI port, and power port, with the Siri remote alongside in the background.
Zeke Jones/Digital Trends

The new-and-improved Apple TV 4K is equipped with Apple’s all-new A15 Bionic chip, which the company claims will deliver nearly double the CPU performance of the previous Apple TV 4K, as well as up to 30% better performance when it comes to the GPU. In layman’s terms, this is going to mean faster load times for apps, streamlined voice navigation, and a more responsive user interface.

In terms of actual ports, the Apple TV 4K is equipped with an HDMI 2.1 connection (just as the 2021 Apple TV 4K before it) that also supports eARC for wiring the streamer up to your Dolby Atmos-ready soundbar or AV system. However, if you’re looking to maximize your overall internet performance, there’s an important difference between the 64GB and 128GB Apple TV 4K models: the latter is the only version that comes with a Gigabit Ethernet port.

If you’re planning on going Wi-Fi-only, this may not be such a big deal, but the ability to connect the Apple TV 4K directly to your router helps to take the strain off your wireless network bands while providing a faster web connection for the device.

Believe it or not, newer isn’t always better, and in the case of the revamped Roku Ultra, the only thing that makes the 2022 version “new” is the inclusion of Roku’s Voice Remote Pro. Comparing the 2020 and 2022 Ultras, overall processing power and available connections remain the same, but don’t let that deter you: The Roku Ultra has always been a force to be reckoned with.

The onboard quad-core processor performs at lightning-fast speeds, opening apps and streaming 4K content in the blink of an eye, even when streaming movies and TV shows in HDR. And in terms of actual connections, the Roku Ultra includes an Ethernet port right off the bat, as well as an HDMI 2.0b port and a USB-A input for viewing photos, videos, and music files, with some supported popular formats, including MP4, MP3, MOV, and JPG.

Unlike the Apple TV 4K, though, the Roku Ultra only features 4GB of internal storage, whereas the Apple TV 4K offers 64GB and 128GB of storage, depending on the model you purchase. And unlike the former Roku Ultra (2020), the 2022 edition nixed the microSD card slot, negating any external storage capabilities.

At the end of the day, though, we’re going to call this category a tie. Performance-wise, Apple’s A15 Bionic chip and Roku’s quad-core processor deliver the goods. And while the Apple TV 4K’s HDMI 2.1 input beats the Ultra’s 2.0b port, the Ultra includes a USB-A input, while the Apple TV doesn’t.

Winner: Tie

User interface

Apple TV control center screen.

The look and feel of a streaming device’s screens and menus are often the make-or-break factors for both first-time and recurring buyers. Fortunately, the user interface of both the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra are easy to navigate, quick to customize, and iconic by design.

On the Apple side of the coin, tvOS is built for a crisp, clean, and streamlined user experience from top to bottom, with minimal advertisement intrusions. The home screen is sleek and monochrome (an Apple TV UI staple), placing all of the attention on whatever apps you have added to the launch page, with the ability to have up to 20 apps showcased at once.

Navigating with the Siri-powered remote is a breeze, too, with the voice assistant allowing you to do things like launch apps, raise and lower volume, search for movies and TV shows (by title, genre, actor, and other criteria), and more.

Roku OS 11.5 home screen.

Roku OS is just as mighty, though. Boldly purple and friendly to engage, the Ultra’s launch page includes several left-aligned search and customization options, with the right side of the screen used as real estate for your Roku app (billed as Streaming Channels), of which you’ll be able to see nine of at one time.

The included Voice Remote Pro also allows you to use Roku’s onboard voice assistant to pull up movies and TV shows, adjust the volume, and more, although the overall seamlessness of Roku’s assistant pales in comparison to the quick genius that is Siri. And even though you can control elements of the Ultra with Alexa and Google Assistant (more on that later), Siri wins all day when it comes to listening and responsiveness.

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Picture and sound quality

Robert Downey Jr. In Avengers: Endgame.
Marvel Studios

There’s nothing quite like watching your favorite movies and TV shows in glorious HDR and pulse-pounding surround sound, and if you’re a big-time streamer, you’ll be pleased to know that both the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra can handle pretty much any HDR format you can throw at them, in addition to immersive surround formats like Dolby Atmos.

HDR, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision are supported by both 2022 devices, and Apple’s A15 chip and Roku’s quad-core processor do big work in ensuring the most grandiose movies from the likes of Disney+ and Netflix buffer quickly and play without missing a beat. And if you’re using a wired Ethernet connection, you’ll experience even faster load times (but remember, you’ll only find this port on the 128GB Apple TV 4K).

The Apple TV 4K also allows for instant audio and video streaming from an iOS device using Apple AirPlay 2, as well as screen mirroring. If sound is your top priority, and you own a pair of AirPods capable of enjoying Apple’s immersive Spatial Audio, then that’s a feature you won’t get with Roku.

The Roku Ultra supports audio and video casting using Apple AirPlay 2, too, plus screen mirroring for most Android devices and Bluetooth capabilities, although the latter option only allows you to stream music to the Ultra. If you want to connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones for private listening, you’ll need to download the Roku app on a go-to mobile device to do so.

In terms of picture and sound, both devices are nearly identical in their respective deliverables, and unless you’re a big Apple fan who cares about Spatial Audio, we’re going to award a point to the Roku Ultra in this category, mainly because of its Android device support (as limited as this support actually is).

Winner: Roku Ultra 

Smart home features

A white HomePod mini sitting on a desk.

If you’ve been looking for an all-in-one smart home command center and excellent streaming device, you’re in luck when it comes to the latest Apple TV 4K and kind of in luck when it comes to the Roku Ultra (more on that in a moment).

The Apple TV 4K is one of the cheapest Apple peripherals you can purchase to jumpstart an Apple HomeKit smart home network, allowing you to control and manage a number of your smart home devices (such as security cameras and smart locks) by giving Siri certain voice commands or using your Apple TV’s remote to navigate to such features. This is especially convenient when you want to pull up live footage from one of your home’s smart cameras to view on your TV.

With the continued rollout of Matter, a smart device unifier, more and more devices are receiving support for the new standard. And while the Apple TV 4K is Matter-compatible through a networking protocol called Thread, only the 128GB version is Thread-ready.

The latest Roku Ultra is compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, and even though you won’t be getting these voice assistants with an Apple TV 4K, the Ultra requires extra hardware for anything voice-related, whether that be an Echo Dot or a Google Nest speaker.

Furthermore, you will be able to use your Roku Ultra as a smart home command center through Roku Smart Home, but it will only work with Roku-branded cameras, plugs, and other smart home gear. And while there’s been some talk of Matter hitting Roku devices at some point in the future, no such compatibility exists at this time.

That being said, we’re giving this category to the Apple TV 4K for its seamless suite of first-party smart home controls.

Winner: Apple TV 4K

Price

The latest Apple TV 4K is available in two versions: a 64GB model for $130 and a 128GB model for $150. As previously mentioned, spending an extra $20 not only gets you double the storage but also a Gigabit Ethernet Port and support for Thread/Matter. There’s really no reason not to buy the 128GB model.

The new Roku Ultra retails for $100 but can be found on sale for prices as low as $70.

Winner: Roku Ultra

The verdict

The Apple TV 4K (2022) and Siri remote on a table.
Caleb Denison / Digital Trends

Oh boy, this was a close one! Both streaming devices are simply incredible and offer a lot for a relatively low price (especially the Roku Ultra). But all battles must come to an end, and seeing as we’re not qualified to do the paperwork associated with a truce, one streamer has to take home the ultimate trophy, and we’re awarding the big gold to the Apple TV 4K (2022).

With its remarkable internal storage figures, powerful Siri voice assistant, Apple-friendly smart home controls, and zippy A15 Bionic performance, the latest Apple TV 4K is one of the sturdiest streaming devices ever made, and even though it’s a little more expensive than the Roku Ultra, there’s enough in the way of features to back up that slight price bump.

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