Apple TV 4K Vs. Roku Ultra: Which Is The Winner?
Stephan Jukic – December 4, 2018
Both the Apple TV 4K box and the Roku Ultra offer many of the same essential features: Both are set-top boxes that connect to your 4K TV (they can of course also both be connected to any HDTV but doing this means losing out on their strongest content benefits in terms of ultra HD and HDR content delivery). Both devices offer internal storage, access to thousands of streaming internet-delivered media apps and also access to wider internet browsing capabilities. Both also come with things like voice search functionality and support for Dolby Atmos sound. Fundamentally though, both offer their own distinct pros and cons at very different price points. This variation on both price and specific feature details is what makes things tricky.
In other words, while Apple absolutely excels at some things it does, its Apple TV set-top box does really get some stiff competition for 4K TV entertainment in many ways from the Roku Ultra, particularly when price and content options are taken into account. Let’s see which has more to offer and which delivers more value for price.
Apple TV 4K
If you’re already an Apple lover and your home is crowded with enough Apple products to make your own little ecosystem, then the Apple TV 4K Box is something you’ll love. It offers access to all of Apple’s own proprietary content goodies for both movies and music (iTunes) and it’s overall specs are simply superb. Full HDR support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10 content along with access to Apple’s own growing library of ultra HD HDR movies and shows from the iTunes 4K library come included with the device and the Apple TV 4K is the only set-top box that actually even comes with access to all that iTunes offers in 4K. This is a major bonus in its favor since Roku Ultra doesn’t offer that particular feature while Apple TV does.
In terms of specs, the Apple TV 4K also offer a very robust RAM and processor combo for speedier functionality (it beats the Roku Ultra on both) and it display user interface is simply great (though the Siri remote for controlling this user interface is flwed, as we cover below). The box is generally just better built with mostly superior technology and plenty more power packed into it.
On the other hand, while the Apple TV 4K delivers a hefty 32 to 64GB of storage (depending on which model you go for, and yes the 64GB version is more expensive), it comes with no external storage connectivity, which pretty much locks you into what you get with it, and this can quickly become problematic if you want to store lots of ultra HD content for playback at your convenience. Additionally, despite the unique access to iTunes content that it offers, the Apple TV 4K box doesn’t quite deliver the same range of streaming media apps for movies, shows and music as the Roku Ultra comes with through its over 5,000 different “channels”. This might or might not be important depending on just much esoteric your home entertainment tastes are.
Then there’s the issue of its Siri remote, which essentially sucks in some key ways. It’s clumsily designed, with more focus on minimalism instead of comfortable handling and it’s not nearly as versatile when it comes to navigating the Apple TV interface. The Siri voice control functions do work well though.
The Roku Ultra contains what is arguably one of the best (if not the best) smart TV home entertainment platforms in existence today. Not only is Roku TV extremely user-friendly and versatile, it’s also absolutely loaded with just about all the content you could possibly want or need even if your entertainment tastes are exceptionally broad. On this front it even beats the Apple TV 4K by outclassing it with many more app content options despite the latter’s inclusion of iTunes. Furthermore, the Roku remote control is an absolute joy. It’s ergonomic, great for smart platform/TV navigation and even comes with a 3.5mm phone jack that you won’t find in Apple’s Siri remote. This little extra feature is perfect for listening to movies late at night without bothering anyone else.
The Roku ultra also allows for connectivity of external drives, so even though it natively offers a meagre 512MB of storage in comparison to the Apple TV’s 32 or 64GB options, you can plug in an outside device for as much content storage capacity as you want. Overall, it will absolutely deliver just about the same quality and quantity of 4K UHD and HDR content playback as the Apple TV but at a much lower cost, which also happens to be this little powerhouse streamer’s single biggest selling point: it costs roughly half of what the Apple TV 4K set-top box goes for (and that’s if we compare it to the “cheaper” 32GB version.
On the negative side, the Roku Ultra is much weaker than the Apple TV 4K on processing power and RAM. These aren’t major issues since these are just set-top boxes and not streamed gaming platforms, but you will notice a little bit of lag here and there when using the Ultra and some users might not like this. Furthermore, while we mentioned above that the Roku Ultra delivers just as much 4K content quantity and quality, it’s worth noting that it does not include Dolby Vision HDR support, which means no access to the finer quality high dynamic range of that format via this particular device, and if you even happen to own a Dolby Vision-capable 4K TV.
Apple TV 4K vs. Roku Ultra: Key Comparison Points
|Apple TV 4K||Roku Ultra|
|Price||$179 for 32GB model/$199 for 64GB model||$90|
|Resolution||2160p (4K UHD)||2160p (4K UHD)|
|Operating system||tvOS 12||Roku OS|
|Processor||Apple A10X Fusion||ARM Coretex A53|
|HDR||Yes, Dolby Vision & HDR10||Yes only HDR10|
Overall, despite its superior processing specs and physical design, we consider the Apple TV to be the better purchase only for people who are already fully invested in the Apple ecosystem and have plenty of existing purchased content in their iTunes libraries. It might also be a good idea if you really love Dolby Vision HDR movies and shows for a Dolby Vision-capable 4K TV and want a set-top box that offers the same technology for a seamless level of accessibility to this content. Many of Apple’s own 4K HDR iTunes content options themselves come with Dolby Vision, which is nice.
For anyone else, the Roku Ultra is the much better choice in our view. It offers almost all of the same crucial visual features as the Apple TV 4K but with access to many more content apps at just half the price, and that’s a major win in its favor when you consider sheer value per dollar spent.
Both set-top boxes are without a doubt awesome in many qualities that they share and in their own individual ways but the better value for non-Apple fans is the Roku Ultra.