Does Roku Ultra work on older TVs?

A Roku Ultra streams 4K HDR10 picture resolution, but it will work fine on an older …

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A Roku Ultra streams 4K HDR10 picture resolution, but it will work fine on an older High Definition television. 

Roku streaming devices are made to be backwards compatible. 

In other words, a Roku capable of 4K, HDR10 or Dolby Vision picture resolution can be connected to a TV with HD picture resolution. Using a Roku Ultra or Roku Express 4K+ will not improve the picture resolution of a 1080p or 720p television. But the streaming player is compatible with 1080p and 720p TVs.

Having said that, connecting a Roku to an older smart TV can upgrade your TV viewing abilities in a number of ways. 

It’s a great way for price conscious cord-cutters to get the most out of TVs already around the house. Televisions can last for more than a decade. But older Smart TV software and menus are often outdated. 

That becomes a problem because older Smart TV software can be incompatible or problematic for the latest versions of streaming apps.

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How Roku can improve an older Smart TV

Adding a Roku or another streaming device essentially gives an older Smart TV a brand new operating system. 

The software is updated regularly by Roku, and it’s compatible with the latest apps such as Netflix, HBO Max and Disney+. 

The Roku remote control can also be paired with older Smart TVs. So you can control the television’s power and volume with the Roku remote.

Does my TV support Roku Ultra?

Before you buy a Roku online, or even inherit one from a friend, make sure your Smart TV has an HDMI port on the back. 

HDMI ports began appearing on Smart TVs in 2004, according to Wikipedia. So chances are you do have one on your older TV. 

The Roku needs to connect to an HDMI port so it can begin acting as the new menu and hub for watching live or on-demand TV.

Roku Setup Instructions

Once you find the HDMI port on the back of your TV, setting up the Roku is fairly easy.

  1. Connect one end of an HDMI cord into the Roku Ultra, or Express and the other into the HDMI port on the TV.
  1. Plug the Roku into an electrical outlet. (Some models allow you to power a Roku via a USB port, but I prefer using an outlet, especially with older TVs.)
  1. Add batteries to the Roku remote and turn on the Roku player and television. A new Roku player will launch the setup process. 

Testing out Roku Ultra with an older Smart TV

Roku Ultra Older TV
The Roku Ultra connected to a 2007 Samsung HD television in my garage. (Photo credit: Jim Kimble / The Cord Cutting Report)

I recently connected a Roku Ultra to my 2007 Samsung in the garage using the HDMI cord that was included in the box with the Roku Ultra. 

I bought the Ultra in 2021 directly from Roku, and there were no compatibility issues. I was able to stream whatever I like just like with a newer TV. 

The Roku Ultra remote was also compatible with the older Samsung TV. So I can control the TV’s power and volume without any problems. 

To set up the remote for TV control on an older TV: 

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Select Remotes & Devices
  3. Select Enhanced Voice Remote
  4. Select Set up remote for TV control

You then have the choice to do a first-time setup. If the Roku Ultra has been used with another TV in the past, it’s no problem. 

You can choose “Change TV brand”. Type in your TV brand, no matter if it’s Samsung, Sony, LG, or a lesser known brand. Roku will initiate its testing procedure (usually an audio test) to pair the remote with the older TV.

Once the setup process is complete, you can also download the Roku app to your smartphone or tablet, and control your TV. It even has some extra features that your physical Roku remote doesn’t have.

Conclusion on upgrading an older TV with Roku

The Roku Ultra is usually priced around $99, making it the most expensive model in the company’s lineup of streaming players. 

The only exception is the Roku Streambar Pro priced at $149.99.

If I were upgrading an older TV with a Roku, I would choose a Roku Express (usually $24.99), or Roku Express 4K+ (usually $39.99). 

The Express is made for HD televisions, and gives you all the essentials for upgrading your older TV. 

If you want to future proof your purchase, you can pick up a Roku Express 4K+ in case you buy a 4K TV in the future. As I explained above, a 4K Roku player will work fine with an older 1080p or 720p television.

If you want a breakdown of every model, be sure to read my hands-on guide about the best Roku to buy.

Jim Kimble is a seasoned industry expert with over two decades of journalism experience. He has been at the forefront of the cord-cutting movement since 2016, testing and writing about TV-related products and services. He founded The Cord Cutting Report in 2016, and serves as the editor.

Major publications, including MarketWatch, Forbes, and South Florida Sun Sentinel, have interviewed Kimble for his years of expertise. He gives advice on the complexities consumers are navigating with streaming options, and over-the-air TV. Kimble has been a staff writer or correspondent for several award-winning, daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe.