The Chromecast vs Roku battle is more neck-and-neck than ever before. Chromecast with Google TV adds a traditional streaming service and remote control along with the Chromecast Ultra's top-class specs while the new Roku Ultra 2020 adds Dolby Vision, Bluetooth, and AirPlay 2 streaming, and other OS improvements. The few differences between these new dongles make either a worthy purchase, but we'll break down which has an edge over the other in specific areas.
Chromecast vs. Roku: Features and specs
Barring any sales, the new Roku Ultra 2020 is twice the price of Google's new HDMI dongle, which we praised in our Chromecast with Google TV review. Taking that pricing difference seriously, we'll consider whether you should justify spending double for Roku versus Chromecast, based on what both devices bring to the table.
Chromecast with Google TV is a longer dongle meant to hang from your TV HDMI port, while the Roku Ultra 2020 is large enough that it is meant to sit on your entertainment center. The Roku Ultra's extra width makes room for extra USB and Ethernet ports, which enables external storage and a more consistent internet connection if your Wi-Fi is shoddy. If you're far from your router, Roku also claims it improved the Ultra's wireless connectivity by 50% over last year's model, so either option will serve your purposes.
The unique feature that Chromecast brings to the table in all its iterations is Google Cast support, letting you stream most video apps and any browser content to your TV with a couple of taps or clicks. Previous Roku Ultras could only offer native streaming through its apps, but the 2020 model adds Bluetooth streaming. Of course, waiting to pair your devices before streaming from them isn't nearly as immediate or convenient as casting, but Roku came as close as it could. It also benefits from AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support, something Chromecast lacks.
Both devices can play practically any content in its native format. 4K and Dolby Vision streaming work on either device, as do Dolby Atmos soundtracks if you own a compatible Dolby Atmos soundbar.
|Chromecast with Google TV||Roku Ultra (2020)|
|Size||6.4" x 2.4" x 0.5"||4.9" x 5.0" x 1.0"|
|Colors||Snow, Sunrise, Sky||Black|
|Resolution||4K HDR, 60 FPS||4K HDR, 60 FPS|
|Video formats||Dolby Vision, HDR10, HDR10+||Dolby Vision, HDR10, HLG|
|Audio formats||DTS, Dolby Digital, Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby Atmos||DTS, Dolby Atmos|
|Ports||HDMI (connect to TV), USB-C (power)||USB (external storage), HDMI (connect to TV), Ethernet 10/100, and power|
|Wireless||Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)||Wi-Fi 802.11ac (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz), MIMO Wireless|
|Ethernet||Requires adapter for PoE||10/100 Base-T Ethernet|
|Bluetooth||Only for enabling remote control||Yes|
|Smart home support||Built-in Google Assistant||Works With Google Assistant, Works With Alexa, AirPlay 2, Apple HomeKit|
|Gaming||Stadia will be added in 2021||None|
Chromecast vs. Roku: Google TV versus Roku Channel Store
Until now, you had to judge the thousands of free, organized Roku channels against Google Cast, which could only cast from a smaller list of Android apps and couldn't cast at all from iOS apps. Now, with Chromecast with Google TV, you get access to the thousands of streaming apps as well, putting the two platforms on mostly even footing.
Google TV repackages Android TV, taking the backbone of thousands of free Android apps and adding a new organizational system that prioritizes content. Google TV studies your viewing history via machine learning and presents a range of recommendations designed to appeal to your interests from every streaming app you install, while also offering genre categories of shows from your installed apps.
Where Chromecast with Google TV will shine is if you're a frequent user of Google products.
Roku is more app-focused, which some users might prefer if they want to search a particular library. At the same time, they have a robust search feature that helps you search through your apps to find the show you need, as well as reveal results from apps you don't own if you can't find it elsewhere. Plus, you can search for or play content using your Echo or Google Home speakers.
Rather than get into the nitty-gritty of the obscure free channels one service or the other is missing, we'll simply say that both have the main channels you'd expect — except for Apple TV, which Roku has but Google TV doesn't.
At the same time, Android TV / Google TV has a decent selection of games you can buy, including acclaimed series like Final Fantasy or Telltale Games. Stadia will also be added to Chromecast with Google TV in 2021, which will give you AAA releases. Conversely, Roku's games aren't even worth mentioning.
Chromecast with Google TV will give you better native access and features for Google content. For example, purchased Google Play content is put front and center, you can check Nest security feeds through Google TV using Assistant commands, and you can showcase your Google Photos as a slideshow. If you subscribe to YouTube TV, you'll get a live guide of all available channels.
Roku also gives you a live channel guide of its free content and is generally a better choice for iPhone, iPad, and HomeKit users.
Chromecast vs. Roku: Comparing remotes
In our previous Chromecast vs Roku article, we praised Roku versus the Chromecast Ultra for having a remote control while casting only worked with a phone. Now that both platforms have a remote control, let's compare what they offer.
The Roku remote has dedicated, configurable shortcut buttons to open your favorite channels; volume and power controls for your TV; a headphone jack for listening privately to content in case you need to mute your TV and speakers; and a remote-finding button on the Roku dongle itself that makes the remote chime until you can find wherever it's hidden. That's pretty much all you can ask for in a remote!
With the Chromecast with Google TV remote, you have a circular navigation pad; Home, Back, Input, and Power buttons; and dedicated buttons for YouTube, Netflix, and Google Assistant. The latter works thanks to the built-in mic that will pick up your commands. However, you can permanently turn off the Google Assistant function if you're not comfortable with it. The circular pad may be slightly more comfortable for moving between apps than the elevated D-Pad you'll find on the Roku.
Chromecast vs. Roku: Which should you buy?
To return to our original question, does Roku Ultra justify its much higher list price than Chromecast with Google TV? While we think Roku has put out a dongle it should be proud of and has little room for improvement, that doesn't mean the answer is yes.
Casting is simply much more convenient than Bluetooth, Google TV and Roku's Channels are fairly comparable for the most used platforms, and a built-in voice assistant is always better than making users buy a separate smart speaker just to enable voice commands. Apple users will appreciate Roku's better compatibility with its tech, and Roku's remote control can't be beaten, but Chromecast with Google TV's price for 4K video can't be beaten, either.
Casting + Streaming
Simple built-in voice navigation
Chromecast offers 4K video, access to Google Assistant, and casting at a low price point. Google TV is a great addition that bundles streaming and casting into one device, so you no longer need to take up multiple HDMI slots on your TV just to do both.
This is Roku's best streaming device
The Roku Ultra 2020 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.
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