The Apple TV 4K and the Roku Ultra are my favorite streaming devices, but I thought I settled this whole conversation back in October 2020, when I ditched Roku for the Apple TV. I'm back today, a year and a half later, to frustratedly declare that I'm a flip flopper. Nobody wants to be a flip-flopper, I know.
I love the Apple TV 4K, especially after its 2021 update that added an improved remote — which was long overdue. It also super-charged the processor, moving up from Apple's A10X chip to its A12 Bionic. It also upped the framerates from 30fps to 60fps, all while keeping HDR and Dolby Video at 4K.
But, yet, a new issue has arisen that has me reaching over to switch the HDMI cord from the new Apple TV 4K (2021), which I love, back to the Roku Ultra (2020), which is reminding me what puts the Ultra in Roku Ultra. And it's all about the one app I can't decide if I need or not. Yes, my decision to cancel Netflix may have hidden this issue from me, but ever since I resubscribed, I'm frustrated in a way I did not expect.
Netflix's weird Apple TV audio problem
Do you know when a glitch turns into a problem? For me, it happens when said glitch keeps happening. For me, everything turned sour when I was binge-watching Formula 1: Drive to Survive, the docu-drama that takes cameras behind the scenes of the cutthroat world of F1 live streams.
During one of the louder racing scenes, I suddenly realized my TV's audio went out. Then, the audio came back. But since I'm the kind of "blame myself first" person, I was just assuming I'd sat on the remote by accident, and I was at fault. But this past weekend, as I had my Apple TV remote in my hand, the audio cut out when the series was introducing us to veteran driver Niki Lauda, who was providing a pearl of wisdom.
Confused, I did what most people would do: I opened Google to hunt down an answer. Unfortunately, I found other folks having the same issue. Redditor u/FloppyBacon89 wrote about "audio cutting in and out on Netflix" ever since the tvOS 15.2 update, and u/junkie888 had something similar (which actually sounded worse). Over on Apple's forums, users BidiM and Stoner looked for help, but found little resolution.
I tried to repeatedly test the Apple TV 4K to see if I could replicate the bug. I'm using a Belkin HDMI cable that Apple sells, my LG 4K TV is modern enough not to have this problem and so I'm not sure what's going on here. I've also reached out to Apple and Netflix for comment, and will update this article if I get any.
Is the Roku Ultra a good Apple TV alternative?
Of course, I tested Netflix out on the Roku Ultra when I moved over, and I'm not getting any audio glitches. Just clean, immersive Dolby Atmos sound.
If you want a great and fast 4K streamer, and you're not on a limited budget, I'd always recommend the $99 Roku Ultra (actually marked down to $69 right now) before the $179 Apple TV 4K (I only have both because it's my job). And they do most of the same things. Both stream in 4K UHD with HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
And as I went back to the Roku Ultra, I quickly realized that it has almost everything I want from a streaming device. It's got an ethernet port for stable and speedy 4K streams. Its larger housing casing means faster performance than you get from Roku Streaming Sticks. And its remote may be a bit chunky and not as minimalist as the new Siri remote, but it certainly feels good in the hand — and its lost remote functionality (click the button on the Roku Ultra enclosure to start a series of chimes from coming out of the remote) beats that of the Apple TV (which I've written should have FindMy support in its remote).
That said, going back to the Roku Ultra has meant a bit of relearned muscle memory. As I wrote when I left Roku for the Apple TV, the latter's integration into the Apple ecosystem is almost too-strong. When I want to watch TV, I just flick down the top right corner of my iPhone's home screen and tap the remote button. From there, I can hit the power button to turn on my Apple TV and the LG TV it's connected to, and I'm rocking and rolling. It's great. That said? I've already learned to just embrace remembering the Roku remote and the Roku app in my phone. It's a little more friction, but it's not the end of the world.
The one app Roku's missing ... can be found elsewhere
But last night, when I wanted to watch a friend stream on Twitch on my TV, I realized that Twitch is the one app that Roku's missing. And this is a weird gap. And, sure, I own both the Apple TV 4K and Roku Ultra, I could just keep them both plugged in.
But I'm the kind of crazy video game lover who has a Nintendo Switch, PS5 and Xbox Series X taking up three of the four HDMI ports on my TV. And so I thought about it for a second, and said "I bet one of those consoles has a Twitch app." Lo and behold, both do.
So, until I find out that Netflix actually works right on the Apple TV 4K again (I'll likely check each and every time a tvOS update comes out until and after tvOS 16)? I'm making do on Roku.