Wow, that was fast. Blink for a second and Ultra HD with HDR streaming suddenly becomes affordable to the masses. Today, Google announced its latest player, the Chromecast Ultra ($69). You can't order one yet, it still coming soon, but what it promises to do is to make your phone or tablet into the core of your home entertainment experience. Surprisingly, according to numerous reports
, the new device supports both HDR10 and Dolby Vision flavors of HDR a first for an external device and a surprising move considering its low cost.
The new Chromecast Ultra from Google.
With its support for Ultra HD and HDR, the Chromecast Ultra offers an inexpensive means with which to add streaming as a source to an AVR, which in turn makes it possible to take advantage of Dolby Digital+ bitstream audio encoded with Atmos. Or, you can add one to your existing HDR-compatible TV to experience the convenience of being able to cast directly from various apps.
The pitch for this tiny new player—it's diameter is 2.3" and it is 0.58" thick—leans heavily on the fact most people already have the streaming apps they love on their phones, with all the personalization that goes with it. As a result, Google expects that many people who use the Chromecast Ultra will not need to re-enter passwords for various services, like they would with the apps found on other players or built into TVs. Furthermore, Google touts the advantage of being able to use your phone to search, instead of needing to use the on-screen keyboards provided by TV apps.
You are not restricted to using a phone or tablet to control the Chromecast Ultra, it also works with PCs and laptops. The system even includes a guest mode that negates the need for your friends or family to connect to your Wi-Fi in order to stream. Plus, not only can you cast content directly to the device, you can also mirror the screen of an Android mobile device with it.
The Chromecast Ultra includes an Ethernet port built into its power supply, for a wired connection to broadband Internet. This assures reliable streaming of UHD content, which can require a lot of bandwidth. The wired option makes this a home theater-friendly product since it helps ensure reliable streaming for interruption-free movie watching.
With both HDR10 and Dolby Vision available on such an inexpensive device, it's hard to see how we're not headed to a Coke/Pepsi or Dolby/DTS type situation where two formats coexist in the market together. However, it's also hard to see how manufacturers that do not include Dolby Vision in their HDR compatible TVs will be able to justify continuing with that approach.
Even if you own a UHD/4K TV that does not support HDR, the new Ultra will provide UHD/4K streaming that can look a lot better than 1080p streams. And if you have a 1080p TV, Google touts that the Chromecast Ultra is able to load videos almost twice as fast as its HD-only sibling that sells for a mere $35.
At launch, the Chromecast Ultra will support HDR video from Netflix, and Vudu. Google also plans to offer HDR videos through its Google Play service, starting right around the time the new device ships. Notably, as per CNET’s article
on the topic, the Chromecast Ultra does not support Amazon video, which is a popular source of original HDR content.
Regardless of which flavor HDR you prefer, the reality of a mass-market UHD/4K streamer that fully embraces the latest advances in video for such a low price marks today as one for the Silicon Valley and consumer AV history books. Expect Google's Chromecast Ultra to ship this November.
Here's a brief video overview of the Chromecast Ultra from Google.