Apple TV 4K vs. Roku Ultra: Where Does Roku Stick Plus Fit?

Cam Secore
Updated 10/18/2019

After months of testing, I found Apple TV 4K to be the best overall streaming device. It has the most 4K content options and a brilliant interface. However, as a budget-friendly alternative, I recommend Roku Stick Plus because it’s essentially the same as Roku Ultra for just $59.

Now, let’s find out how I reached my conclusion, by comparing two 4K streaming devices (Apple TV 4K vs. Roku Ultra) while evaluating five categories: interface, content, speed, smarts, and price.

apple tv 4k

Apple TV 4K

10
  • Interface: It's smooth and ad-free. The TV App organizes your content from your apps.
  • Content: There are a few niche apps missing, but they have the basics.
  • Smarts: Siri works well for finding content and performing smart home tasks.
  • Price: Apple TV 4K is $179. HD version is $149.

Best for you if...

You want an iPhone-like interface without ads. Apple TV 4K is the best streaming device on the market (even for Android users).

Budget Option

For $30 less, Apple TV HD is better and faster than Roku, but it can't play 4K content and slightly slower than Apple TV 4K.

roku ultra

Roku Ultra

8
  • Interface: The interface is dated and sometimes clunky.
  • Content: Roku OS is unbiased and doesn’t favor Amazon or iTunes. Good 4K selection.
  • Smarts: Voice control is only good for searching.
  • Price: Roku Ultra is $99. Roku Stick+ is $59.

Best for you if...

You want a great experience for less. You'll get tons of content and unbiased search, but you're stuck with an old-school interface.

Budget Option

Roku Stick+ has the same speed and interface. The difference is a remote finder and extra ports that most people won't need.

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Why listen to me?

  1. I’ve been obsessed with gadgets since I was eight years old.
  2. I bought each device with MY money.
  3. I’ll update this post frequently because my opinions change.
  4. I don’t have insider access. I’m just like you, the everyman.

Things To Know

roku utlra vs apple tv 4k
  • Smart TVs provide access to streaming apps in the same way that dedicated streaming devices do, but Smart TVs are notorious for having slow and clunky interfaces. Manufacturers throw in smart features as an add-on feature without much care and they don’t get updated often. There are solid smart TVs on the market, but the only one that I can vouch for is TCL’s Roku TV because you get a full-fledged Roku experience.
  • While I prefer a dedicated device, there’s no need to upgrade to a streaming device if you’re happy with your current smart TV’s streaming apps and functionality,
  • Over the last three years, I’ve tested ten streaming devices. Apple TV 4K is my favorite and what I use daily.
  • Roku is my second favorite platform and what I recommend to most people because it’s a better value than Apple TV.
  • I don’t recommend Fire TV devices, but I’ve tried them all. View my Power Rankings to see each of my tested streaming devices and sticks ranked in order.
  • Two requirements for streaming devices:
    • You need a TV with an open HDMI port.
    • You need solid internet:
      • If you plan to cut out cable completely, your internet needs to be even stronger because you’ll be more reliant on it.
      • If you assume you have no connected devices in the background, I recommend at least 10/mbps per concurrent stream. Want to stream on three devices at once? You’ll need at least 30/mbps, or more if you have other devices (i.e. tablets and phones) idle on your network.
      • You don’t always get the internet speed that you pay for. False advertising from your ISP, your router type, and the distance from your device to the router are a few reasons why you’re not getting what you pay for.
      • Check your internet speed from the position you plan to place your device. I wrote about mesh routers if you need to beef up your network.
  • You’ll need one streaming device per TV unless you plan to bring the device with you as you switch rooms.
  • Ways to use a streaming device.
    • You can supplement your cable subscription. You can change the HDMI inputs on your TV when you want to switch between your streaming device and cable box.
    • You can supplement the free local TV channels picked up with an antenna. Don’t bank on getting channels with an antenna, but it some people have great luck with it.
    • You can rely on streaming for all your content needs.
  • Cord cutting is a huge trend, but it’s not a smart move for everyone.
    • Streaming devices don’t provide free content. Even the content that’s advertised as “free,” is usually only free if you have a cable subscription. You may occasionally find decent ad-supported movies, but consider it a bonus.
    • You’ll need to pay for streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, Showtime, Starz for around $10-15/month to get content of value.
    • If you want to watch live TV, you’ll need PlayStation Vue, YouTube TV, Sling, Hulu Live, AT&T TV NOW, Philo, or Fubo. Live tv services start at $30/month, but to get an experience close to cable, it’s usually closer to $50/month. I wrote about four live tv services, and YouTube TV is my favorite.
    • In the end, you’ll pay multiple companies, instead of one, to acquire the same set of content you had with cable. If you’re not willing to make channel sacrifices, you could pay more than you were.
    • Don’t cut the cord if you don’t have a basic understanding of technology. You’ll use many apps that each have a different interface. Streaming may create more headaches than you already have with cable.
  • Once you pay for a streaming service, you can use it on all your devices without paying again, but most services only allow a certain number of simultaneous streams.

Apple TV 4K

10

Interface (A+):

  • The design is the most polished of any streaming device and stays consistent throughout each app. No advertisements anywhere!
  • If you’ve used iPhone or iPad, Apple TV will be second nature. Everything’s set up the same and all your content apps from your phone download to your Apple TV automatically.
  • The TV app curates all available content in the world, and when you click on a show, it plays in the correct app to which you have a subscription. The “Watch Now” feature (inside TV App) keeps a queue of everything you’re watching, across all your apps (i.e. Showtime, Hulu, HBO, Amazon etc.). It starts the show on the episode you left off and when new episodes are available it puts them at the beginning of the list.
  • Whenever a text field appears on Apple TV, you’ll get a push notification on your iPhone prompting you to enter text via your iOS device’s keyboard.
  • Apple TV has stunning screensavers. They’re drone shots that move slowly through different cities for four minutes. My friends and I have spent hours looking at these. This is trivial, but it shows Apple’s attention to detail. Check them out here.

Content (A):

  • Apple TV has an App Store like the one on iOS. The App Store has every popular video streaming app including: Amazon Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, and YouTube TV.
  • Your iTunes HD purchases get upgraded to 4K for free, and Apple is charging the same amount for a 4K movie as it did for HD. (Amazon has matched this too.)
  • Apple’s 4K HDR library is the biggest. Plus, you have Netflix and Amazon Video available in 4K. Apple is three years late to the party, but it’s good news for consumers and the future of 4K.
  • Apple supports HDR10 and Dolby Vision. Apple TV is the only streaming device that I’ve reviewed that supports Dolby Vision.
  • The only major missing service is Spotify, but you can AirPlay Spotify from your phone.
  • YouTube has a substantial 4K content library, but because it uses the VP9 video format, you can only play 1080p videos from the YouTube app.

Speed & Specs (A+):

  • The non-4K Apple TV was by far the fastest device I tested, but Apple TV 4K is speedier because it uses Apple’s 64-bit A10X Fusion chip (the same chip in iPad Pros).

Smarts (A):

  • Apple TV 4K’s setup is perfect if you have an iPhone. When you place the phone next to the Apple TV, it collects your Apple ID and WiFi information, so you don’t have to enter it.
  • Siri on iPhone gets deservedly criticized, but Siri on Apple TV is brilliant. You can hold the button and ask it to find you certain movies, genres, open apps, check the score of a game, or perform any of HomeKit activity. Siri’s the only thing that I use to bring up movies or shows that aren’t in my “Watch Now” yet.
  • Typing in emails and passwords for every service isn’t fun. Apple gets around this with “Single Sign-On.” You sign in with your cable provider, and all your apps will work without signing in again. Not all cable providers are available, but even if yours isn’t, Apple saves your default email and makes it easy to sign into your apps. It can pull your passwords from your services from your iPhone, iPad, and Mac if you have them saved in your iCloud Keychain.
  • HomeKit works with Apple TV and can be used as your home’s “hub.” This means you can control your lights, thermostat and others devices while you’re not home.
  • AirPlay with your iOS device is great. Swipe down on your iPhone and tap the AirPlay button and then you’re mirroring your phone’s screen.
  • Apple TV shows the words you’re saying as you say them. These are small details, but they make for a more polished product.
  • Although the remote is easy to lose, it feels great in your hand and is beautiful! It controls your TV and soundbar via HDMI and the IR outputs and needs charging once a month via the lightning cable.
  • If you’re an iPhone user, you can control Apple TV from the command center (swiping from the top).

Price (C-):

  • Apple TV (fourth generation) is $149. It’s an amazing device but only plays HD content in 1080p.
  • Apple TV 4K is $179. You get 4K HDR content compatibility and faster speeds compared to the fourth generation. Because Apple TV 4K works with non-4K TVs, you should spend the extra $30 just in case you upgrade your TV in the future.

Roku Ultra

8

Interface (C):

  • Roku is getting over the app quality issues from previous years. Roku’s “feed” shows potential by curating movies to watch, while content you “follow” show up in the feed as it becomes available, but the overall Roku interface leaves much to be desired.
  • The interface feels dated, and you don’t get a universal experience. Every app is set up differently and has different playback controls. This will probably be overlooked or not noticed by most people. I’m obsessed with nice design and in the minority.
  • Roku makes money by collecting your user data and showing you targeted advertising. There’s no way to opt out of ads, but it’s not too concerning because there’s only one big ad on the home screen and it stays out of the way.
  • You can follow moves and shows and you’ll get an update when they become available, but it doesn’t work as well as it should.

Content (A):

  • Amazon favors its content and Apple prefers iTunes, but Roku doesn’t play favorites. There are no biases in the search. If a movie is free from one of your subscriptions, why should you pay for it? When searching for a movie or show, it displays results from your installed channels from lowest to highest price.
  • Amazon Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, Spotify, and Pandora are available. Roku has every streaming service I’ve ever heard of other than iTunes. They claim to have 500,000 movies and shows. No streaming device comes close to that number.
  • Roku’s 4K content selection is vast. You get 4K content from Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube, Vudu, and others. Also, Roku does a great job of organizing and showing where to find 4K content.
  • If you don’t want to subscribe to HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, or Starz through your cable provider, you can subscribe through Roku and pay Roku instead. The benefit is that your content to your subscriptions stays in one app, The Roku Channel. (You won’t need to use the HBO app anymore.)
  • The Roku Channel has solid ad-based free content in it as well.

Speed & Specs (B-):

  • It has enough power to do what’s needed. Going in and out of menus is quick, but Roku’s speed doesn’t have anything on Apple TV.
  • Setup is annoying. Roku gets docked because of how beautiful Amazon and Apple are in comparison. Roku requires you to create an account and asks for your credit card. Every time I set up a new Roku, I can’t seem to log in. However, the clunky setup can be overlooked because it’s only a one-time thing.
  • Dolby Vision and HDR10 are the two competing HDR standards. My eye isn’t tuned enough to tell the difference, but critics say Dolby Vision looks better. Roku only supports HDR10, but Apple has the most HDR content as they support both standards.
  • I don’t love the preset streaming buttons (i.e., Netflix, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Sling) on the remote. It would be cool if you were a member of all those services, but I’m left with three useless buttons.
  • Private listening mode is a cool feature if you have roommates or you’re just trying to be quiet. You plug your headphones into the remote, and the volume is turned off on the TV and is played in your headphones.
  • Apple AirPlay is in the works with other Apple integrations coming too. In a future update, Roku devices can mirror your phone’s display on your TV.
  • Roku Ultra has a USB port and Micro SD card reader, making it the only legitimate option to watch your ripped movies or shows via external storage.
  • Hulu, Sling, Philo, Pandora use a feature called Automatic Account Link that automatically logs you into your streaming apps on each new Roku device after the first one. Typing logins with a remote and TV is a pain, so this could be a huge feature for Roku if they can add more services.

Smarts (C-):

  • Roku does voice search but only to find movies or shows. There’s no virtual assistant like Alexa or Siri. Roku can’t handle complex questions or tasks, but I’m alright with that because their voice system does what it’s supposed to.
  • You can control your TV’s volume and power with the remote. Setup for this was slick. It plays a sound on your TV and automatically enters codes until you don’t hear the sound anymore.
  • Roku was the last to get voice control on the remote, but they did a solid job. The voice controls don’t do fancy things like Alexa or Siri, but Roku’s assistant finds the show and which app to stream it in when you ask.
  • Roku’s phone app is great for opening streaming channels. When you tap on services in the app, it shows on the TV.
  • You can ask your Google and Alexa devices to control Roku. These are solid workarounds for the lackluster smarts in the remote, but the integration doesn’t work perfectly and the commands get wordy. For instance, you’d have to say “Alexa, open Netflix on Roku,” and then wait a while for it to happen.
  • You can put your Roku in “Guest Mode” if you have a TV regularly used by visitors. It lets your guests use their credentials to their streaming services, then automatically signs them out on their chosen “leave date” and Roku will be ready for the next guest. It’s a great feature for guest rooms or AirBnB places.

Price (A)

  • Roku Ultra is $90 has everything Stick has, but also has an Ethernet and USB port, Micro SD card reader, remote finder, and a headphone jack in the remote.
  • Roku Stick Plus is $65 and has the same internal specs and works the same as Roku Ultra.
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