We compared the Apple TV 4K to the Roku Ultra to see which streaming box offers the best value — and the more affordable Roku Ultra is the better choice for most people

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Alyssa Powell/Business Insider
  • A great streaming device, like the Apple TV 4K or Roku Ultra, can make it simpler to access your favorite content quickly and easily.
  • Both the Apple TV 4K and Roku Ultra support 4K HDR video, Dolby Atmos audio, a ton of streaming apps, and more.
  • With its stylish design and support for Dolby Vision, the more expensive Apple TV 4K is the better device for streaming enthusiasts, but if you want a capable 4K HDR media player at a low price, the Roku Ultra offers the best value for most buyers.

Smart TVs are becoming increasingly common, allowing you to install your favorite apps and services directly on your display. But what if your smart TV is missing some apps or features you want? Or, what if you want a device that ties more into the ecosystem that you prefer? That’s where a great standalone streaming box, like the Apple TV 4K or Roku Ultra, comes in.

But which of the two streaming players is better for your needs? And which is better overall? We put the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra head to head to find out.

Apple TV 4K vs Roku Ultra: which is better?

The affordable Roku Ultra is the best streaming box for most people.

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The affordable Roku Ultra is the best streaming box for most people.
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Best Buy

The Apple TV 4K and Roku Ultra both offer similar capabilities, allowing you to stream your favorite apps with support for 4K HDR video and Dolby Atmos audio. That said, the two boxes feature some key differences when it comes to visual design, connections, format support, and pricing.

The more expensive Apple TV 4K offers a more stylish design and interface, along with Dolby Vision capabilities. This makes it a good fit for streaming enthusiasts with Dolby Vision TVs and buyers who are already invested in Apple’s ecosystem.

Meanwhile, the more affordable Roku Ultra is the better overall option for most buyers. Its interface and build aren’t as stylish as the Apple TV 4K, but at its current sale price, it offers many of the same features for a full $100 less.

Specs

Apple TV 4K Vs Roku Ultra Specs Chart

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Alyssa Powell/Business Insider

Design

The Apple TV 4K includes a Siri Remote.

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The Apple TV 4K includes a Siri Remote.
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Best Buy

When it comes to design, the Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra are both similar black boxes that sit on your TV stand or entertainment center, but when you compare them side-by-side, you’ll notice a few major visual differences. The Apple TV 4K, for example, is thicker than the Roku Ultra, but it carries a smaller footprint. It looks a little nicer too – we like the glossy plastic used for the Apple TV 4K much more than the somewhat cheap-looking plastic used on the Roku Ultra.

That said, the Roku Ultra is actually a little more versatile in design. While the Apple TV 4K has an HDMI output and an Ethernet port, the Roku Ultra also adds a USB port for accessing local media and a microSD card slot for adding to its storage. We don’t think many will feel the need to add to the Apple TV’s storage – but the fact that the Roku Ultra allows for that is still a nice touch.

There’s also the design of the remote, and they’re a little different. The Apple TV 4K’s remote is sleek and stylish, offering a touch-sensitive panel at the top that allows you to swipe through menus like you would on a phone. Under that touch-panel, which doubles as a selection button, you’ll find playback options and a button to activate Siri voice controls. The Roku Ultra remote may not look as sleek, but it adds extra controls – you’ll get quick-access buttons for services like Netflix and Sling, plus a headphone jack, which can seriously come in handy.

Ultimately, it’s a difference of attractive design versus functionality. The Apple TV 4K looks a lot better than the Roku Ultra, but the Roku Ultra adds extra ports and buttons. You may not need those ports and buttons – but it’s still something to note.

Last but not least, is the design of the software and, again, there are some significant differences here. Apple has put a lot of effort into creating a sleek, easy to use operating system, and tvOS is simple and well-designed. Roku’s OS, on the other hand, appears to be designed to simply get the job done. You may also encounter some ads along the way, but you’ll still be able to navigate to the content you want to without too many issues. No, it’s not as easy as using tvOS – but again, it gets the job done.

Set-up

The Apple TV 4K uses a stylish interface.

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The Apple TV 4K uses a stylish interface.
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Best Buy

The set up process for both of these devices is relatively straightforward. You’ll plug the boxes in and then you’ll be prompted to sign in to an account or create a new one. Most will be able to simple sign in to their Apple account on the Apple TV 4K – while some may need to create a new Roku account for the Roku Ultra.

On the Roku Ultra, you’ll need to select the channels that you want, while on the Apple TV 4K you’ll be able to download apps for your preferred streaming services. It’s pretty easy to add channels and apps, so most will be able to quickly set up either device without any issues.

Special features

The Roku Ultra's remote features a handy headphone jack.

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The Roku Ultra’s remote features a handy headphone jack.
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Best Buy

The Apple TV 4K is certainly a more expensive device, but there’s a major advantage to shelling out that extra cash – it ties so well into the Apple ecosystem. Using the Apple TV 4K, you’ll be able to access content from your iTunes library and your Apple Music subscription, as well as the Apple Arcade gaming service and the new Apple TV+ streaming service. The included remote also offers Siri voice control capabilities. There are smaller touches that add to the experience too. For example, when you need to type something, instead of having to scroll your way through an on-screen keyboard, a keyboard can pop up on your iPhone, allowing you to type much more quickly.

That’s not to say the Roku Ultra doesn’t have some great extra features of its own. In fact, it does. If you use Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, you can control your Roku with your preferred voice assistant, although you will need an external device to do that. The included remote also offers support for some voice controls, and they can come in handy for changing volume, searches, and other basic functions.

When it comes to general video and audio performance, both devices provide up to 4K HDR streaming and Dolby Atmos immersive audio playback from supported services. That said, the Roku Ultra only supports the standard HDR10 format, while the Apple TV 4K goes a step further with support for the more advanced Dolby Vision format. This feature can improve colors and contrast even further when playing Dolby Vision videos from apps like Netflix and Apple TV+ on compatible displays. If you’ve got a Dolby Vision TV and are interested in the very best image performance, this could be a key deciding factor for choosing the more expensive Apple TV 4K.

If you’re also looking for a casual gaming device, then the Apple TV 4K’s higher price might be justified for you. Not only are there gaming controllers that work with the box, but Apple also has a new gaming service called Apple Arcade, and it ties in with your other Apple devices too.

The bottom line

So which device is the better streaming box? Well, ignoring price for a moment, the Apple TV 4K is technically a more capable player, and its added support for Dolby Vision makes it a better choice for home theater fans who have Dolby Vision compatible TVs.

That said, the Apple TV 4K is also a lot more expensive than the Roku Ultra. In fact, at its current sale price, the Roku Ultra is actually a full $100 cheaper, which easily makes it a better value for most buyers. Though its design and interface are less stylish, and it doesn’t include Dolby Vision support, overall performance and app selection between both devices are very similar. The remote’s handy headphone jack is also a nice feature that Apple’s remote lacks.

If support for Apple’s ecosystem and Dolby Vision are essential to you, then the Apple TV 4K is the better streaming device out of the two. Most streamers who just want basic HDR playback and who aren’t already invested in other Apple products, however, should be more than happy with the cheaper Roku Ultra.