Roku Premiere+ Review

In 2016 we finally got the UltraHD TVs we’ve been waiting for. Not just offering resolution, but offering expanded color gamuts, dynamic highlights, and a visual experience that goes beyond what we’ve had before. The Roku Premiere+ is the media streamer for those UltraHD displays. The Roku 4 only really offered added resolution, while the Premiere+ adds full HDMI 2.0a and HDCP 2.2 support for wide color gamut and HDR, removes the noisy fan, and costs less. Notably for Vizio and projector owners, it can do Amazon Instant Video with UltraHD resolution, HDR, and WCG. It is the best media streamer today if you want the widest selection of UHD content with HDR and WCG along with the easiest interface.

UHD Done Right

Specs
Manufacturer: Roku
Model: Premiere+
Streaming Services: Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Spotify, YouTube
Outputs: 1x HDMI 2.0a
Includes Remote: Yes
Size: 4.9" x 4.9" x 0.85"
Weight: 7.9 oz.
Review Date: December 6, 2016
Price: $82.79
Company Website

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Last year the Roku 4 added 4K support but it wasn’t ideal. It couldn’t do HDR or WCG, and it was large with a noisy fan that would kick in. It did add a remote finder, but overall it didn’t provide much reason to choose it over the Streaming Stick or Roku 3. Also every 4K TV last year basically had all the streaming services built-in so there wasn’t as much use for an external streaming box.

In the past year we’ve seen TVs with HDR launch that don’t include Amazon or other streaming services, along with affordable projectors that can accept HDR and WCG signals and don’t have any internal streaming services. Now having an external streaming box that can do UHD with HDR and WCG is more important than before.

Roku offers the largest selection UHD and HDR content of any streaming box. It’s the only external box you can get today that supports HDR and WCG UHD streaming from Amazon and Netflix with support for Vudu and others coming. Other UltraHD streamers are missing support for Amazon or other services. Given how fast Roku has been in the past at adding support for services, I’d expect them to keep leading the way with streaming HDR and WCG support.

Simple is Best

Roku succeeds by keeping things simple. All it does is stream content and it does so with the widest selection of content anywhere. The Shield TV can function as a Plex server and many other things, but isn’t nearly as easy to navigate. The Apple TV has a more stylish icon interface, but still can’t stream Amazon or many music services. Roku lacks the flash of those solutions, but anyone can sit down and use a Roku.

Roku offers a simple layout of channels that represent the streaming services. You simply select the apps that you care about and then can arrange them on the home screen to suit your interests. If you already have a Roku, then all your existing channels will be automatically installed for you. The Roku remote is very basic but makes it easy to control the system. If you move up from the Premiere+ to the Ultra you gain a remote with voice search as well. If you use a universal remote then this won’t help you, but the voice search from Roku is very effective.

Classic Roku Experience

For the most part, you can’t tell the Roku Premiere+ apart from previous models. Really the only things that could make you realize it is new is that you can browse faster and you can select 4K HDR as a resolution. Below the surface you can find a few things that have changed.

The Amazon app has also been updated on the Roku Premiere+ from prior Roku versions. No longer does it use the basic Roku interface but instead mimics that Amazon app on TVs or FireTV boxes. This makes it much easier to navigate and provides a better experience than on older Roku boxes. Unfortunately Playstation Vue hasn’t seen an update and the interface on there is still bad.

The Premiere+ also supports private listening with the Roku app on your phone. If you’re trying to watch something at night that others don’t want to hear, you can stream it directly to your headphones. In use this works really well for me, even playing the audio as I left the room and came back. It isn’t as useful in my house, where there is a Roku box in four different rooms, but for those in more confined quarters you can watch on a big screen without disturbing anyone else.

The Premiere+ includes for 802.11ac WiFi and Ethernet built-in. In my use with both connections I never experienced long delays to stream content or ramp up to UHD and HDR resolution. Watching Chef’s Table: France on Netflix or Fury from Amazon, the Roku Premiere+ delivers solid UHD HDR images to the TVs and projectors I tested it with. I use a full Gigabit Fiber internet connection for testing, so the experience with slower connections might be worse but that shouldn’t be the fault of the Roku.

The Competition is Gaining

So the Roku Premiere+ streams all the UHD and HDR content you want, but what can’t it do? Well, it can’t do YouTube HDR yet. For a long time the Roku didn’t have a YouTube app, so hopefully they update soon but we don’t know. Vudu also has yet to start streaming their HDR10 content and are only supporting Dolby Vision, but have announced that they will soon. The new DirecTV Now streaming service also isn’t supported on Roku yet. This puts it behind a bit in the Live TV game as only Sling TV is really full featured here. If you want to watch Live TV on your device with Sling, DirecTV Now, PlaystationVue or a HDHomeRun, I’d suggest an AppleTV.

Google Play also just launched 4K streaming but it too isn’t available on Roku. Since Google likes to use the VP9 codec instead of HEVC for compression, this might be the reason it and YouTube can’t do 4K on Roku hardware. This was an issue with 2015 Vizio M-Series TVs, where they lacked hardware VP9 support and couldn’t do 4K streaming from Netflix. Hulu also just started 4K streaming, though only on the PS4 Pro and XBox One S. When they expand I’d assume they will be on Roku as well, but there is no way I can say for sure.

Roku also needs to make sure channels are updated to look as good as they do on other platforms. Amazon was updated for this, but PlayStation Vue was not, and neither were NBC Sports or others. As much as I prefer the controller and customization that the Roku offers me over the AppleTV, I find the AppleTV apps themselves are getting better than the ones on Roku. Roku also needs to have a better unified experience like Samsung or the upcoming AppleTV TV app do. Being able to see my preferred shows without having to launch the individual apps would be very nice, as most SmartTVs can do this now. Pulling everything into one location as Apple looks ready to do also would be good. The 4K app was a good start, but it needs more than that.

I also ran into occasional issues with stuttering, as if the Roku Premiere+ wasn’t quite fast enough to handle the 4K stream. Binge watching The Crown on Netflix, a few times I’d get choppy video or poor video-audio sync that a restart would take care of. It could be Netflix having the issues, though those are rare with a full gigabit connection, but it was something I saw.

Still the best. For now.

For people that need a streaming solution that supports UHD with HDR and WCG, the Roku Premiere+ is the best option. The Chromecast Ultra can’t stream Amazon HDR and neither can the Shield TV. Apple still doesn’t have a media streamer that can do UHD or WCG despite having phones that can capture that resolution and the DCI/P3 gamut. As more projectors start to support UHD with WCG and HDR, and we get displays that can’t support Amazon or other services natively, having a UHD media streamer will become more important. It’s also more affordable than those other solutions while offering more content than they do.

That said, this is the first time that I feel that Roku might not be the pick going forward. Much like Sonos, they’ve had a huge advantage by supporting the most services and having the simplest UI to use, but everyone else is catching up. Thankfully investing into Roku is much cheaper than investing in Sonos, and both are still the best options for most people on the market today. But both of them need to start offering some more advancements over the competition next year or they’ll find themselves caught or even passed.

Review Summary
Product: Roku Premiere+
Reviewer:
Pros: Wide selection of streaming content, support for HDR and WCG along with UltraHD, quiet, RF remote
Cons: Falling behind some features that others streamers offer, not ideal for cord cutters
Summary: If you want an UltraHD streamer for online content, the Roku Premiere+ is currently your best option. If you don't need UltraHD, you should consider the Roku Streaming Stick for half the price.
Value: 4.5/5
Performance: 4/5
Overall: 4/5

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