Chromecast Ultra Review
Sometimes you don't realize how thirsty you were until you've had that first sip, and for plenty of HDTV owners, that world-changing moment came three-and-a-half years ago when Google released its first Chromecast. The tiny dongle wasn't much to look at, but it didn't need to be flashy when it delivered so fiercely in terms of functionality and value.
For little more than the cost of a few movie tickets, you could instantly bring your “dumb” TV into the world of streaming media – and it didn't take long for the accessory to become a global hit.
In the years since, we've seen Google update its hardware with new electronics and a more installation-friendly form factor, as well as introducing a special music-only Chromecast for audiophiles. But maybe the biggest upgrade landed last fall, as Google prepared its streaming solution for the next generation of hi-res screens with the launch of the Chromecast Ultra.
The package contains:
- Chromecast Ultra
- Power / Ethernet adapter
- Quick start card
- Warranty card
A familiar-looking Chromecast doesn't do much to change an already successful design
When Google first created the Chromecast, it built a device that was untouched in its simplicity: a compact dongle that simply plugs right into an available HDMI port on the back of a television. Connect the power supply – or better yet, tap into an already-existing USB port on the TV – and your wiring job is complete.
Since then, Google's stepped up to refine the design of the Chromecast family of products, most notably ditching that all-in-one stick look for one that's more of a tethered puck. While that's a bit less graceful at first glance, it does solve the serious problem of the original Chromecast being a bit bulkier than your typical HDMI cable, leading to situations where there just wasn't enough space for it behind cable-crowded TVs. Google attempted to address this design failure by packaging in a short HDMI extension cable, but the new Chromecasts avoid that issue altogether.
The Chromecast Ultra sticks with this same puck-like design introduced in 2015 with the second-gen Chromecast. It's also of comparable size (differing by just a few millimeters here and there), and while exterior markings are a bit toned-down from that last edition, the new Ultra is still unmistakable as a Chromecast.
Little things help reveal the refinement of Google's design. While most of us will plug in the Chromecast Ultra behind our TVs and leave it there for all eternity, should you feel like removing the device and stowing it somewhere, its HDMI “tail” artfully snaps in place to the unit's main body with the help of a strong magnet. It's just a small touch, but an appreciated one all the same.
Functionally, the Ultra picks up support for high-resolution 4K content, as well as high-dynamic-range footage for sets able to display such media. But there's also a small exterior change to the new Chromecast, one that give users a new option for how they get this media system online: while past Chromecasts were primarily Wi-Fi-based devices, and offered hard-wired Ethernet support only with the addition of an optional accessory, the Chromecast Ultra ships with a power supply featuring a built-in Ethernet port.
Of course, that's a functional change as much as it is one to the design of the Chromecast hardware – so let's discuss it alongside all the other aspects of the media player's connectivity.