Though the big Google news for today is of course the new lineup of Pixel phones, phones were only a small part of what Google had in store. Alongside their latest in mobile products, Google also used this morning’s event to announce the 3rd generation of Chromecast, the Chromecast Ultra.

The last Chromecast is more of a supplement than a replacement of the current Chromecast 2. Launching at $69, the Ultra’s major feature additions are 4K video support with HDR – essentially upgrading the Chromecast to keep up with the latest in video technology standards. Alongside the new hardware, Google has also announced that they are going to be upgrading their software ecosystem for 4K, including selling 4K movies through the Google Play store.

Google Chromecast Family
  Chromecast Ultra Chromecast (2) Chromecast Audio
Processor ? Marvell ARMADA 1500 Mini Plus SoC (88DE3006) Marvell ARMADA 1500 Mini Plus SoC (88DE3006)
Memory ? 512MB N/A
Wireless 1x2 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac 1x2 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac 1x2 2.4GHz/5GHz 802.11ac
Display Output 4K w/HDR
(HDR10 & Dolby Vision)
1080p N/A
Max Video Decode 4K 1080p30 N/A
Ports HDMI 2.0
Ethernet (On Power Adapter)
HDMI 1.3
Micro-USB (Power)
3.5mm Combo Jack
(Analog + Optical Audio)
Micro-USB (Power)
Launch Date 11/2016 09/29/2015 09/29/2015
Launch Price $69 $35 $35

Unfortunately specifications on the hardware itself are limited at this time. Google isn’t saying much beyond the fact that the Ultra is capable of decoding and displaying 4K content. From the hardware capabilities alone it’s clear that the underlying SoC is something capable of decoding 4K content and outputting it over HDMI 2.0 with HDCP. This should, with any luck, also mean that we’re finally getting a Chromecast from Google that can handle 1080p60, which has been the Achilles Heel of the prior versions of the media streamer. Given that it’s a Google product, I’d also expect that VP9 support is present, while HEVC support is going to be more questionable.

On the video format front, the big news here of course is that the Chromecast Ultra can handle 4K video. However Google didn’t stop there; the Ultra also supports HDR video via both the HDR10 and Dolby Vision standards. The latter is a particularly interesting development, as to date Dolby Vision support has been very rare. I’m very curious to see where Dolby Vision factors into Google’s larger plans given that they’re bucking the trend here and have their own major content distribution platform. At least for owners of TVs that support he standard, this could help kickstart its use in streaming services.

Meanwhile as Google opted to spend the bulk of their efforts on updating the internals of the Chromecast, the overall design has not significantly changed since last year’s Chomecast 2. The Ultra is still a puck – albeit one that looks slightly thicker than the last – and implements a pair of antennas for improved WiFi reception. At the same time, for users and environments who can’t make WiFi work for them, Google has added Ethernet capabilities to the Ultra by placing an Ethernet port on the power adapter, giving users a wired option to fallback to.

Wrapping things up, the Chromecast Ultra will be launching in November for $69. At almost double the price of the Chromecast 2, this is not going to be replacing the cheaper Chromecast, but instead serve as a premium option for 4K. At the same time, as one of the original Chromecast’s primarily selling points was its low price, it will be interesting to see how the Chromecast Ultra does now that it’s priced closer to stand-alone media streamers. For 4K this is still very much a budget option, but it’s not going to fit the impulse purchase market like the Chromecast 2 does.

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  • fallaha56 - Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - link

    4k netflix = HEVC
  • nathanddrews - Tuesday, October 4, 2016 - link

    Currently Netflix and Amazon only need 25Mbps to stream 4K HDR. Both use HEVC, but Netflix is supposedly testing out VP9 as an alternative.
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, October 8, 2016 - link

    Looks like VP9 is a lame duck at this point. The only thing that might supplant HEVC would be AV1 but that doesn't look like it's scheduled until next year. Also when it's new it may have some hiccups and there's the hardware/software support issue. So it may be a year or more before it really takes off, even if it is technically superior to VP9 and HEVC alike.

    So right now even using x265 (which is not the absolute best HEVC encoder) it produces superior results at basically any resolution. So I suspect they'll use HEVC not only for 4K, but for most resolutions on devices that support it (the latest Roku, Amazon devices do, a decent PC does, ditto for PS4 and XB1). But in cases where the hardware/software does not support it, they have to fall back to something else. If you're using a browser, only Edge supports HEVC right now for Netflix. Chrome probably never will, being a Google product.
  • Xajel - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - link

    Original Chromecast had an optional power adapter with ethernet port officialy from google store, I don't know if it was compatible also with Chromecast 2, and is it 100 or 1Gbps.. and also I don't know about the new adapter will it work with the older one or not...

    But I heard few people already succeeded in attaching a USB Gigabit Ethernet adapter to Chromecast after having to mod it to provide power for both devices but I don't know which chipset and where I saw that.
  • akrobet - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - link

    So HDMI 2.0 will be supported pretty much on everything except on motherboards out of the box. If I wanted to build a low power HTPC (i.e. without a dedicated graphicd card), I'd be stuck with HDMI 1.4 and not even Kaby Lake is going to change that..?
  • heffeque - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - link

    Well... Zen APUs will definitely have HDMI 2.0.
  • nirolf - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - link

    Yes, but my understanding is that they will first launch the high performance parts, so no good for a silent HTPC. So there will be some time until we can get an x86 HTPC for 4K HDR. Not cool.
  • Alexvrb - Saturday, October 8, 2016 - link

    He said Zen APUs. The first Zen chips (the performance ones) will be CPUs. When the Zen-based APUs (Raven Ridge) hit in maybe mid 2017, they'll have low power options. Though realistically you can easily enough build an HTPC right now with a low-power CPU and a low-power GPU (are there any half-height RX 460s? those would be ideal).

    The real issue is that I believe (as someone else pointed out) that you need HDMI 2.0a for HDR. Hence the need for a modern GPU. Otherwise you could use Bristol Ridge APUs.
  • K_Space - Wednesday, October 5, 2016 - link

    At least for owners of TVs that support he standard, this could help kickstart its use in streaming services.

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