Google announced the new, $69 Chromecast Ultra, the 4K Ultra HD-capable successor to the company’s original hit $35 Chromecast HDMI dongle. Like its predecessor, the Chromecast Ultra supports the Google Cast standard, and requires a separate device such as a tablet or smartphone to initiate and control media playback.
The Ultra features faster performance (1.8x faster content loading than Chromecast), improved Wi-Fi throughput to handle 4K content, HDR10 and Dolby Vision support, and Ethernet connection capability.
Chromecast Ultra will be available at retail in November 2016, with Google Play Movies expected to release 4K content at the same time.
Google announced the milestone of 30 million Chromecasts sold to date, with the bulk of this volume driven by Chromecast’s original unique position of being the least-expensive way to enjoy over-the-top video. However, today’s market for streaming video devices has changed considerably since the arrival of the first Chromecast.
Chromecast is no longer the least-expensive option in the market, with the arrival of the $29 Roku Express - offering fully standalone operation.
Chromecast Ultra at $69 is a casting-only dongle positioned in a field populated with fully-featured standalone products both above and below: 4 less-expensive 1080p products from Roku and Amazon beneath it, the Xiaomi Mi Box 4K at the same price, and the 4K Roku Premiere for only $10 more.
Much of the original Chromecast’s charm and resulting success with consumers was low-cost enablement – not only was it the cheapest way to enjoy over-the-top video, it was also priced squarely in impulse buy territory. The accepted tradeoff for such a low price was the lack of fully standalone operation.
In contrast, Chromecast Ultra is an upmarket non-standalone proposition surrounded by fully standalone choices.
For consumers evaluating choices in the same price range, the appeal of 4K at this time is not expected to trump the simplified appeal of standalone operation. Thanks to Roku’s new lineup and Xiaomi’s market entry, Chromecast Ultra’s positioning is problematic for Google – it has no clear price or functionality advantages.
Due to this, IHS Markit sees Chromecast Ultra only delivering a minor uptick to Google’s overall Chromecast volume, with Google still leading the streaming device market with overall video Chromecast shipments of 17.5 million units in 2016, growing to 20.5 million units in 2020.