Top positive review
Worthwhile HDR upgrade from the ROKU 4. An important hidden menu can solve HDR connection problems.
Reviewed in the United States on May 9, 2017
Right up front let me say that I was an early adopter of the very first ROKU model, back in the Jurassic era of streaming video when there wasn't anything on ROKU but Netflix, everything was in standard definition, most Internet connections were DSL under 5 Mbps, streaming quality was terrible and you felt like an idiot half the time waiting for the thing to buffer. But times and the streaming world have changed dramatically, some might say changed beyond imagination, and ROKU has kept pace, and some might say has pushed the change by steadily updating their models while never really changing the basic product. I have upgraded right along, the ROKU Ultra is probably my tenth ROKU player over the years.
My prior ROKU model was the ROKU 4. I was very happy with the ROKU 4. So why did I upgrade, and should you consider upgrading also? The simple answer: HDR. There are some other hardware reasons that are evolutionary. But the real reason is HDR. What, you don't have HDR and don't care? You will. It's always easy to dismiss a new standard as unnecessary and humble brag how you are happy with your current setup and don't see the point. But, like it or not, the future of TV and video, streaming and disc, is HDR. I won't go into all the reasons that HDR is important, that's covered all over the place by people reviewing TV sets.
Let's just say that HDR is the other half of the 4K revolution and you will not truly enjoy the benefits of 4K until you have a 4K HDR TV with a 10 bit panel and full HDR10 support with HDR sources.
There is at present, in spring 2017, hardly any HDR streaming content available on-line. Amazon, for one, is streaming its own Amazon Originals content in 4K HDR. I am a fan of Amazon's series BOSCH. My ROKU 4 had partially supported 4K 10 bit monitors but had not fully implemented full HDR10 support. The stream via my ROKU 4 had looked pretty good on my Samsung KS8000 SUHD set. But watching the 4K HDR 60 fps stream of BOSCH via the ROKU Ultra was a significant upgrade in tonal quality and surface textures, and thus apparent realism, over the prior 4K UHD non HDR stream that I had with the ROKU 4.
The ROKU Ultra is an HDR-10 device. For those worried about Dolby Vision support, the implementation of Dolby Vision so far is here and there, to say the least. The main issue is that HDR-10 is an open source and free standard while Dolby Vision is proprietary and requires hardware manufacturers and streaming services to basically get married to Dolby and pay, forever. Although Dolby Vision has its advocates it's unlikely that a device or service not having Dolby Vision will ever be an issue in the long run, as HDR-10 is positioned to pretty much be a universal default, even if some services and brands add Dolby Vision support eventually. As someone who just bought a ROKU Ultra I could care less about Dolby Vision. If they can upgrade via firmware eventually that will be great. If not I am not going to worry about it.
The input of an HDR stream causes an HDR compatible TV to switch to HDR input mode, which in turn usually causes the settings for both back-light and contrast to go to 100%. This is normal, and also an HDR specific settings change that reverts back to whatever your settings were before when content switches back to SDR content. It does require a little tweaking of tonal and picture controls, and perhaps selecting a different picture mode (standard, movie, dynamic, etc), while the TV is in HDR mode to get the screen image into the sweet spot for HDR content in your viewing environment. The same thing will happen if you connect a 4K HDR Blu-Ray player and play a 4K UHD HDR disc. But once adjusted for that type of input the image can really be stunning. As mentioned, when an HDR device switches back into SDR mode your TV should switch back to SDR mode also and the tonal and picture settings for SDR also. As usual, with these kinds of upgrades, you have to make sure that your connector cables are fully rated to handle 4K HDR10 60 fps 18 Gbps connections. If the cables don't then you may start having either drop outs or HDCP v2.2 errors. The 4K HDR 60 fps / HDMI 2.0 standard is currently the most demanding level of HDMI connectivity.
If you are having problems with picture drop outs or other connection problems when the ROKU Ultra is set in "Settings/Display" to enable 4K HDR, and you are absolutely sure of your cables and connections, a VERY IMPORTANT THING to understand is that both the ROKU Ultra and ROKU Premiere+ output HDR in 4:2:2 color mode. It may be that some HDR compatible TV sets, expecting HDR-10 4:2:0 color space data, may not smoothly handle a 4:2:2 stream, or something about the transition may affect the HDCP handshake or mode. Also, a 4:2:2 stream requires more bandwidth and may place a greater demand on your connection cables. The answer to this is to access a special hidden menu by, on the remote, hitting HOME HOME HOME HOME HOME DOWN LEFT UP UP UP in rapid sequence. This will bring up a "secret" screen that will allow you to switch from 4:2:2 color to 4:2:0 color. This usually solves most compatibility and HDCP problems in HDR mode. You have to have your ROKU display options set to 4K HDR mode for this screen to work.
The main differences in hardware for the ROKU Ultra over the ROKU 4 are that it is about 50% smaller, runs much much cooler, it's barely warm to the touch, and otherwise has almost exactly the same interface. Get your ROKU Ultra now and get all your HDR video ducks in a row because within the year HDR will be much more widely available, HDR sets will be much more the norm rather than a high end choice, and you will absolutely be enjoying the upgrade. I am a very happy user of the ROKU Ultra and, as usual, am happy that I upgraded, again. RECOMMENDED.