Chromecast vs Roku: Which should you buy?

At Android Central, we love testing out all the different streaming devices. We’ll break it all down so that you can find the product that’s perfectly suited to satisfy your streaming needs.

Google’s top dongle

Google Chromecast Ultra

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$69 at Amazon

Pros

  • 4K HDR support
  • Includes ethernet adapter
  • Works with Google Stadia
  • Simple to set up and use

Cons

  • Not as full-featured as set top box

The Chromecast Ultra is the best Chromecast you can buy. It easily handles 4K HDR streaming and also part of Google’s Stadia streaming service, which might add extra value for some. It’s also designed around a much more simplified user interface that means you don’t need a remote — just your phone.

The best from Roku

Roku Ultra

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$99 at Amazon

Pros

  • 4K HDR support
  • Great support for streaming services and apps
  • Remote control with headphone jack for private listening

Cons

  • Not as compact as streaming dongle

Roku’s top streaming box might share the same name as Google’s best Chromecast, but it could not be more different in terms of design and user interface. Roku offers a more traditional smart TV interface that’s controlled with the included remote or on your smartphone using the Roku mobile app. There’s excellent support for all the most popular streaming apps along with a wide variety of niche Roku channels of extra content.

Both the Chromecast Ultra and Roku Ultra aim to serve your media streaming needs, but doing so using radically different methods. In terms of physical design, the Roku Streaming Stick+ might seem like a more apt product to compare against a Chromecast Ultra. Still, I wanted to compare the best Chromecast against the best Roku device, especially since every Roku devices offer a near-identical user experience.

The Chromecast Ultra is designed to plug in and hide behind your TV. It is always ready to receive your streaming requests from Netflix, Youtube, Disney+, Hulu, any of the other 100+ apps that offer Google Cast support, or from a Chrome browser window open on a PC or Mac. The whole Chromecast experience is designed to be minimalist, intuitive, and easy to use, along with the integration with Google Assistant for controlling your streaming media. It’s the simplicity of the wireless Google Cast technology that has lead to it being a popular addition baked into many smart TVs.

Roku, on the other hand, has always opted for a more “traditional” TV watching experience, asking users to ditch cable packages for Roku’s ever-growing Channel Store that offers a staggering number of options including the most popular streaming subscription services for TV, movies and, music backed by an additional 10,000 or so other channels of free content to browse through. Roku was also one of the first companies to get its Roku OS baked into an ever-growing number of smart TVs from different brands, including some great value from TCL 6 Series.

But that’s enough about the Roku platform. Let’s focus on the Roku Ultra itself and what makes it such a standout streaming product.

Roku’s best features are packed into the remote

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It needs to be stated that the Roku Ultra is plenty powerful, boasting a quad-core processor that lets it stream content in 4K and HDR with ease (although the lack of support for Dolby Vision support will be a disappointment for some). There’s no internal storage available for your own media, but you do get supports for removable storage via USB and microSD

But really, the Roku Ultra’s best feature also happens to be the biggest differentiator between the Chromecast and Roku platforms — the physical remote control. I’m no fan of adding more remote controls to my living room table, but I would make an exception for the Roku Ultra remote. It’s a nice compact size with smart features like two programmable buttons, a built-in microphone for voice searches, and a headphone jack for late-night Netflix binges that won’t wake the whole house. Roku also includes a pair of JBL earbuds, which is a nice bonus.

But perhaps most important of all is the remote finder feature. Simply press the remote icon button on the top of the Roku Ultra, and the remote will chirp so you can save it from between the couch cushions. I’m also the type of person that’s always misplacing remotes around the house, so this is definitely a feature I appreciate and especially so thanks to Roku’s simple implementation.

I still love Chromecast for the simple reason of not having to deal with a remote in the first place, but aside from maybe the new NVIDA Shield remote, the Roku remote is really comfortable to use with well-designed features that make it one of the best accessories for cord-cutters.

Chromecast vs. Roku: features and specs

Given that the Chromecast Ultra isn’t built with traditional streaming box hardware, I’m just going to forgo comparing the traditional technical specs because that would be pretty pointless. Instead, I’ll focus on the features of each platform itself so you can get a better idea of what each has to offer.

4K support Yes Yes
HDR support Yes Yes
Dolby Vision support Yes No
Dolby Atmos support Pass-through from app Pass-through from app
Ethernet port Yes Yes
Digital optical audio port No Yes
Expandable storage N/A Yes
Remote control No Yes
Smartphone controls Yes Yes
Works with Google Assistant Yes Yes
Works with Alexa No Yes
Dimensions 2.3 x 2.3 inches 4.9 x 4.9 x 0.85 inches

Both Roku and Google offer support for 4K and HDR content, so we’re even through one round. If you care most about Dolby Vision and Atmos, the Chromecast Ultra offers better support for both while the Roku Ultra only supports Atmos on certain apps and services. But from there, the differences become blatantly apparent as to which is the streaming dongle and which is the streaming console.

Which should you buy?

Simply put, Roku offers a more fully-fledged streaming solution for any living room. The Roku Ultra is their top offering that lets you search through thousands of channels of content, or bring your own media on a USB drive or microSD. The impressive remote control is also a stand-out feature all on its own.

By comparison, the Chromecast Ultra is a more streamlined way to go about watching digital content on your TV, albeit with the limitations of using a wireless dongle. It does offer support for Dolby Vision and Atmos, which just might tip the scales if that’s a must-have feature for your home entertainment setup.

Really, choosing between Roku and Chromecast comes down to how you prefer to discover and stream content to your TV. Some people really appreciate the more traditional experience of flipping through channels with a remote in hand. In contrast, others might prefer the simplicity of streaming content straight from phone to TV via Chromecast. But ultimately, there’s really no denying that the Roku Ultra does offer the more complete package and is also easy to customize for ease of use. It also just lets you stream content without needing to fuss with apps on your phone.

No remote required

Google Chromecast Ultra

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A simple way to stream from your favorite apps

$69 at Amazon

The Chromecast Ultra is the only Chromecast that you need to buy — and if you’re a cord-cutter who mostly relies on streaming services, it might be all that you need. You’ll also appreciate the simple dongle design that still supports 4K and HDR.

A complete solution for streaming

Roku Ultra

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This is Roku’s best streaming device

$99 at Amazon

The Roku Ultra is the best device for enjoying everything the Roku platform has to offer. It comes with a great remote and an easy-to-use interface with a seemingly endless collection of channels for your browsing pleasure.