Chromecast Ultra vs. Roku Streaming Stick+: Remote or Smarts?

Cam Secore
Updated 11/15/2018

After months of testing, I determined Roku Streaming Stick+ is the best streaming stick because it’s the most compatible and includes a remote. However, Chromecast Ultra is a great choice if you have Google Home and don’t mind using your phone as the remote.

I’ll compare and contrast these two streaming sticks (Chromecast Ultra vs. Roku Streaming Stick+) by evaluating five categories: interface, content, speed, smarts, and remote.

Roku Streaming Stick+

8
  • Interface: It’s old-school and rough-looking but it gets the job done.
  • Content: It has every streaming service imaginable and tons of 4K content.
  • Speed & Specs: Content appears on your screen in similar speed to Chromecast, but it’s easier to pick shows with a remote.
  • Smarts: Voice search is great, but there isn’t a smart assistant.
  • Remote: It has dedicated buttons and you can control the TV’s power and volume.

Best for you if...

You want a remote and an unbiased platform to watch any streaming service in the world. Roku brings the same picture quality and better compatibility. The downsides to Roku are the advertisements and lack of smarts.

Budget Option

Roku Stick (3800R) has the same features and speed without the 4K compatibility for $49.

Chromecast Ultra

6
  • Interface: There isn't an interface. You stream apps on your phone, then tap cast.
  • Content: Most apps are compatible (apps w/ cast button), aside from Amazon Video.
  • Speed & Specs: You need to unlock your phone and locate the app to change the content. Casting takes 10-15 seconds.
  • Smarts: You can ask Google Home to cast things, play and pause hands-free.
  • Remote: Your phone and Google Home are the remote.

Best for you if...

You use Google Home and don’t want a remote. Chromecast is not for you if you're a channel surfer, Amazon Video fan, or avid TV watcher. Chromecast is smarter and works with Google Home, but it’s not perfect.

Budget Option

Chromecast (3rd Gen) has the same features and speed minus the 4K compatibility for $35.

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    chromecast ultra vs roku stick+

    Roku Stick+

    8

    Interface (C):

    • Roku doesn’t have the most polished interface compared to other streaming devices. It can be clunky, looks dated and often doesn’t offer a streamlined playback experience.
    • With that being said, Roku’s interface is on your TV, and you use a remote to move the cursor around to different apps, which is an upgrade over Chromecast.
    • Part of Roku’s business model is to sell advertising. On the right-hand side of the home screen, there will always be an ad. The ad stays out of the way and is normally targeted towards your interest. This isn’t a big deal, and not nearly as bad as Amazon Fire TV’s ads that take up the entire screen.

    Content (A):

    • Roku doesn’t create content or play favorites with providers. You get an unbiased experience throughout this platform. You’ll see this when you search for content and are provided with all the services available, with the free options listed first.
    • Roku has over 500,000 movies and shows available. You have your bases covered with YouTube TV, PlayStation Vue, Amazon Video, Google Play Video, Vudu, Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, HBO, Sling TV, DirecTV, YouTube.
    • All streaming channels have a Roku app (view them here); even tiny niche apps that you’ve never heard of are available.
    • Roku has a solid selection of 4K content too, with major providers: Vudu, Netflix, Amazon, and YouTube.

    Speed & Specs (B-):

    • The setup can be frustrating. I’ve installed over 10 Rokus in my life, and it only goes smoothly half the time. Roku requires that you sign up for a free account and the process isn’t seamless; however, setting things up is a one-time deal.
    • Dolby Vision and HDR10 are the two competing HDR standards. Roku only supports HDR10.
    • It’s not as fast as Apple TV, but you get enough power to go from app to app without much lag.
    • Private Listening mode lets you listen to movies or shows with your headphones by opening the Roku app on your phone and have your headphones plugged into your phone.

    Smarts (D):

    • You can hold down the mic button on the remote to search for movies. For instance, if you say just the movie title, “A Quiet Place” and it’ll bring up the movie and show you the apps that you can watch it.
    • Roku’s voice search works well as long as you speak close to the mic located on the remote.
    • Aside from voice search, there are no smart features and there’s no smart assistant.
    • You can technically cast YouTube and Netflix to your TV via your phone, like Chromecast, but I can’t get it to work properly or consistently.

    Remote (A):

    • Roku has a remote! It’s cheesy but feels good in your hand.
    • There are four dedicated streaming service buttons on the remote. If you don’t have the services, they turn into wasted buttons. But if you have the services, one tap opens them.
    • You can turn the TV on and off and adjust the volume with the Roku remote.
    • You can use the Roku app as a remote and it’ll open apps with one tap.

    Chromecast Ultra

    6

    Interface (F):

    • There’s no interface on the TV. You “cast” content from your phone to your TV. You use the Netflix, Hulu, HBO, and other content apps on your phone and tap the cast button in the top right corner to send it to your TV. It’s similar to AirPlay.
    • Some love casting; others hate it. Personally, I see its value but prefer a dedicated device.
    • Casting can be great because:
      • There’s nothing new to learn because you already know how your phone’s interface works.
      • It saves you the hassle of logging into your streaming services on your TV because you’ll already be logged on in your phone.
    • Casting has downsides as well: :
      • When you’re trying to watch multiple episodes in a row, there’s a 30-second delay between episodes.
      • Occasionally when you’re in an app (i.e., HBO Now), the cast button randomly disappears, and you’ll have to close out the app and try again. Sometimes resetting my phone has been the only remedy.
      • When casting YouTube TV for more than an hour (with the show is playing fine on the TV), I can’t change the channel from my phone. I have to disconnect the cast, then reconnect. It takes an extra couple of minutes to change the channel.
    • Chromecast doesn’t mirror your phone, like some services (i.e., AirPlay). It uses a better method where when content is sent to Chromecast and streams from your WiFi, independent of your phone. The phone doesn’t need to be within a certain radius of the Chromecast. You can leave the house, and it will keep streaming. That means you can use your phone without interrupting the stream.
    • Once you tap the cast button, the picture looks phenomenal. Casting works well as long as the cast button is present on your phone, and you won’t be able to tell a difference between Roku and Chromecast’s picture quality.
    • You can search and find shows inside the Google Home app, too. Once you find a show you want to watch, you click on it, and it’ll open the respective app (i.e., Netflix), then you can cast it to your TV.

    Content (B+):

    • You can stream most content services by hitting the cast button inside the respective app on your phone.
    • Apps like Netflix, Sling, HBO, DirecTV Now, Google Play Movies, Vudu, Hulu, Showtime, PlayStation Vue, and Spotify will have a cast button on your phone. (Check out the other apps here).
    • You can’t cast Amazon Prime Video without major workarounds. Google and Amazon don’t get along and don’t bank on this changing. If Amazon Video is important to you, get a Roku device.
    • You can cast the Chrome browser from your computer and it’ll mirror it. This is clutch for services that don’t have a cast button.
    • Netflix, YouTube, and Vudu are the only 4K content options.

    Speed & Specs (B-):

    • Setup is easy.
    • You use your phone as the interface, so the speed is as quick as your phone. Once you hit the cast button from your phone, it takes 15 seconds to display on your TV.
    • Chromecast isn’t ideal for channel surfers or people who watch a lot of TV because you have to unlock your phone, locate the app that you’re using, and then change the channel. With a Roku remote, you’re one tap away from a show change. Ten seconds doesn’t seem like much, but it’ll wear on you if you’re doing it a lot.
    • Dolby Vision and HDR10 are both compatible with Chromecast Ultra.

    Smarts (A):

    • You can control your TV, hands-free, via your voice through Google Home. This is the only streaming device that works with Google Home. You can ask it to play and pause and this works well.
    • You can say, “Hey Google, cast Ozark on Netflix to the Living Room TV.”
      • Requests that are wordy don’t work well.
      • There’s a 25% chance Ozark won’t appear on the TV even if it hears you well.
      • It doesn’t always start on the correct episode.
      • If you pick your default speakers and your default viewing screen in the Google app beforehand, you only need to say “Hey Google, play Ozark on Netflix” and it knows which TV to play it on.
      • Asking Google Home to cast shows isn’t useful because there’s no interface to fall back on when you want to change the channel.
    • Google Home control is useful for playing, pausing, turning the TV off, and asking it to rewind with “Hey Google, go back 30 seconds.”
    • There’s a guest mode that lets others in your house cast things from their phone without using your WiFi.
    • You can control the TV volume with your phone.
    • Chromecast should be perfect for travel because of its size, but it’s hard to connect to new WiFi networks after the initial setup. It’s meant to be configured on one WiFi network only.
    • You can do cool integrations with Nest cameras.

    Remote (F):

    • There’s no remote. Your phone is the remote.
    • You either control the playback via the app you’re using (i.e. use your phone’s Netflix app), or you can control it inside the Google Home app.
    • You can’t power the TV on or off.
    • You can control Chromecast’s volume via the app. You’ll need to set the TV volume to high first, then you can lower the volume via the Chromecast app. But having your TV volume on high isn’t ideal if you have more than one device plugged into your TV because your other devices will be blasting.
     

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