Google's new Chromecast Ultra brings a lot to the table — not the least of which being 4K HDR streaming — but it is also unfortunately double the price of its predecessor. At $70 the Chromecast Ultra is now closer to the price of full-on Android TV boxes — including the newest of the bunch, the Xiaomi Mi Box, which also conveniently costs the same $70.
Both offer 4K video support, are of course Google Cast targets and won't take up much room behind your TV, but that doesn't mean you should blindly choose one or the other. Some people will prefer the Chromecast Ultra's simplicity while others will enjoy the extra features of the Mi Box. Which is right for you, though? Read on to find out.
Size and placement considerations
The Chromecast Ultra offers simplicity in placement and configuration.
First and foremost, you ned to make an assessment of which device will best fit in your entertainment center setup. The Mi Box is one of the smaller Android TV offerings out there, but it's still not as simplistic as the Chromecast Ultra. The Mi Box requires a separate HDMI and power cable (which are both a bit on the short side), and unless you want to get a healthy amount of double-sided tape it's going to be sitting on some portion of your entertainment center. On the other side of the coin, that HDMI cable flexibility means you can swap it out for as long (or short) of a cable as you like for a more custom installation.
The Chromecast Ultra of course has an integrated HDMI cable that instantly saves space (or could be a potential annoyance for some), and a compact power adapter with a long, thin cable that's easy to route. The magnetic base can even help the body of the streamer attach to the end of the cable to keep things even tidier, depending on what the port layout behind your TV is like.
Performance and features
The biggest difference between these two offerings is the fact that the Mi Box offers a standalone experience, whereas the Chromecast Ultra requires a phone, tablet or computer to control it. As soon as you get your Google Account plugged into the Mi Box, anyone who picks up the remote can control it, browse around and find something to watch using full apps — they don't have to know a darn thing about Google Cast.
That can be super valuable for a box that sits in a spare bedroom or a shared space with a family — you don't want to have to explain how the system works to everyone. Along the same lines, the Mi Box gives you a proper remote you can use to scroll around, play/pause and control volume — that's a make-or-break feature for some.
The Mi Box offers a standalone experience ... but can struggle with 4K.
In terms of just specs, things are about the same. Both offer 4K resolution and HDR video quality, so on paper that's a wash. But as we've noted before the Mi Box has trouble powering the full Android TV interface at 4K resolution, which is a frustrating experience. Sure you get a full interface to use, but if you have to drop it to 1080p to get great performance, is it worth it? That will really depend how much 4K content you expect to watch. On the upside, the Mi Box has locally addressable storage, and a USB port that can be used for future extensibility.
Which one is right for you?
Considering that they're the same price, the choice between the Chromecast Ultra and the Xiaomi Mi Box really comes down to just a couple of points.
The Chromecast Ultra is best for those who are okay with (or desire) the simplicity of the Chromecast and don't need a remote or standalone apps. It's also easier to just plug into the back of any TV, and includes an ethernet adapter in the box. If you can deal with only controlling it via a secondary device, the Chromecast Ultra offers superior performance and streaming quality, including 4K without any caveats.
With the same price, it comes down to just a couple deciding factors for you.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you want to have a remote and standalone apps on the box itself, the better choice here is the Mi Box. It will let you (or perhaps your house guests) navigate and play content without having to hook up a phone and Cast content, which can be a big plus. There are issues with performance, particularly in the interface when set to 4K resolution, but some people may be able to overlook that and just go with 1080p (considering most content is still that resolution anyway) in order to get an interface, apps and a remote at the same price as the Chromecast Ultra.
The biggest thing to point out here is that both of these devices will fit for most people's basic home theater needs. Both are obviously Google Cast targets, and have the same $70 price. Make a couple decisions about which specific features you want, and the buying decision is easy.
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