The original Chromecast was released in July 2013 and was Google’s first smart home product, predating the Google Home smart speakers or Home Hub smart displays available to users these days. The inexpensive dongles allow you to stream or “cast” content onto your TV from your phone, tablet or computer and for the price, they are an easy recommendation for anyone who wants a “Smart TV. “
The basic hardware has not changed much over the years, but with the release of the Chromecast Ultra in 2016, you might be wondering which Chromecast to buy. The regular Chromecast has always cost $35 while the Chromecast Ultra is priced at $69; so why the higher price tag and is it worth it? Let’s break it down and help you make a purchasing decision.
But first, what is Chromecast exactly?
Google’s Chromecast is a small but powerful device that plugs into the HDMI port on your TV or projector. There is a USB power supply that you can plug into your TV or directly into the wall with the provided AC adapter. This second method is recommended you want to use your TV remote to control some basic functions.
After everything is connected, you set up the device in the Google Home app and you are ready to start streaming from any app that supports Chromecast or from the Chrome browser. You can stream your favorite movies/shows and play multi-player games with family or friends, but you can also cast a presentation or mirror your desktop for a business meeting. If you own a Google smart speaker or display, you can even use the Google Assistant to display information on your TV by asking the Assistant to show you the weather, sports scores, or to check on the stock market.
What the difference?
The 3rd-generation Chromecast, which was released in October 2018, is a great option for most basic streaming setups. It supports 802.11ac Wi-Fi at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz that allows for a good quality stream, but it does top out at 1080p resolution. The 3rd-gen Chromecast is a budget-friendly option for those who do not have a 4K TV or if you aren’t planning on watching a lot of 4K content.
The Chromecast Ultra, which hit shelves on November 2016, offers more performance and is equipped to handle 4K HDR streaming with a stable internet connection. It supports the same 802.11ac Wi-Fi at both 2.4GHz and 5GHz as the 3rd-gen Chromecast but also has some additional antennas to help with latency and higher performance streaming. For situations where a router or a Google Wifi mesh is nearby, the Chromecast Ultra comes with an ethernet adapter in the box so you can hardwire the device to your network, giving you the best connection possible. This adapter is available to purchase for the 3rd-gen Chromecast if you want a more stable connection, but the stream will still be capped at 1080p.
Which should you buy?
If you are in the market for a streaming device right now, I recommend the Chromecast Ultra. For the extra money, you will essentially future-proof your setup. When it was first released it didn’t really make sense to splurge on the more expensive option, but as more streaming content is made available in 4K and the price of a 4K TVs continues to decrease, the Chromecast Ultra has become the better purchase.
If you are interested in Stadia, Google’s new game streaming platform, then the Chromecast Ultra is currently the only option for streaming games to your TV. Robby has speculated that the 3rd-gen Chromecast might also be supported in the future, but if you interested in the Stadia Pro subscription and want 4K/60fps, the Chromecast Ultra is your only option.
The streaming landscape is continuing to evolve and with the Chromecast Ultra, you will be ready to take full advantage of higher resolution content and will happy you spent the extra money. In the end, the Chromecast Ultra is simply more capable and will give you a better long-term streaming solution.