On the biggest points (4K and Dolby Atmos compatibility), the streaming boxes are on equal footing. However, when you get under the hood, you notice some big differences, which are reflected in the price. You get what you pay for, so that makes the difference between the two products here.
Two things jump out immediately in terms of the comparison between these two flagship devices. First, the Apple TV 4K is one speedy beast. Two, it's also much more expensive. Coincidence?
|Apple TV 4K||Roku Ultra|
|Resolution||2160p (4K)||2160p (4K)|
|Operating system||tvOS 12||Roku OS|
|Processor||Apple A10X Fusion||ARM Coretex A53|
From its more intuitive interface to its easier setup, the Apple TV 4K bests Roku Ultra in nearly every category. It's faster, more complete, and the one that provides a better overall experience. By contrast, the Roku Ultra leads on only two points: it has a better remote control and a much lower price. Also worth considering: the Roku Ultra doesn't offer onboard content storage like the Apple TV 4K, which does allow you to store tvOS and downloaded apps and games (but not movies and TV shows, unfortunately).
Meanwhile, speed is determined by RAM and processor. On these two points, as you can see from the table above, the Apple TV 4K reigns. If you use the Roku Ultra, you're going to notice some sluggishness that you won't see on the Apple TV 4K.
The Apple TV 4K is the all-around better box, but the Roku Ultra is still great if you want to spend less.
Also, there's something to note about those remote controls. The vastly superior Roku controller is easier to hold and offers some pretty amazing features, including voice capabilities and preselected buttons for Hulu, Netflix, Sling TV, and CBS All Access. The controller also has a built-in 3.5mm headphone jack and for that, Roku ships premium JBL headphones — although any wired headphone will do. The Siri remote, by contrast, is difficult to use because of its flat, small design that includes a touch surface.
Both products do offer Dolby Atmos, which provides immersive three-dimensional audio — assuming you have a sound system that supports the protocol. And naturally, you need a 4K television to watch content in 4K from your Apple TV 4K or Roku Ultra.
If you're seeking the hottest mainstream content on the planet, both streamers have you covered. For example, you'll find services like Amazon Prime Video, HBO, Showtime, and Hulu available on both boxes. If you're looking for off-the-path content, however, Roku remains ahead of Apple's box. It boasts hundreds of channels and apps that are so far missing on Apple TV. On the flipside (and to no one's surprise), Roku lacks Apple iTunes content.
They're both solid streaming devices, but which one you choose depends on how much money you want to spend, if you're an Apple loyalist, and if third-party content is important. The Apple TV 4K is the all-around better box with faster speeds, more storage, and Dolby Vision, but the Roku Ultra is still great if you want to spend a lot less.
Top of the line
Here speed, not content, is king
Whether you're an Apple fanboy or Android user, the Apple TV 4K is the one to get since it's the one that provides the superior experience. The biggest drawback is that pesky Siri remote, which is too small and more difficult to use. Luckily, you can use the Remote app on your phone to control what's happening on the screen.
It's the most expensive Roku device and yet, compared to the Apple TV 4K, it's a budget choice. It's worth considering for bedroom use thanks to its 3.5mm headphone jack built into the far superior remote control. Still, it's probably not the ideal choice for most 4K users because of its often slow interface which can quickly ruin the experience.
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