LAST UPDATED AUGUST 15, 2017 AT 1:02 P.M.
Roku Premiere+ review: worth the upgrade for people with HDR capable 4K TVs
If you love your Roku 2 or Roku 3, but now want to stream 4K and HDR content, the best option is the Roku Premiere+.
The Premiere+ just dropped in price by $20, matching the price of Amazon Fire TV.
Unlike the Fire TV, the Premiere+ is a 4K streamer that supports High Dynamic Range (HRD10) content. Essentials like Ethernet port and headphone jack for private listening also come with the Premiere+.
Roku Premiere+ streams on dual-band frequencies at 10/100Mbps. It comes with a MicoSD card slot for extra storage of apps and casual games. Roku reserved options like remote voice-search capabilities, a USB port and optical audio output for the Ultra model.
Before you buy anything, you’ll want to make sure you have a newer 4K television with HDCP 2.2 compatibility.
I hate to throw a technical term at you so early in a review. But this one is important, so I’ll try to dispense with it as quickly as possible.
- Streams 4K/HDR10 content
- 2.4GHz/5GHz bandwidth
- MicroSD card slot
- 4K Spotlight Channel
- Ethernet port
What is HDCP 2.2 capability?
High bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP 2.2) is a technology that prevents illegal copying of 4K Ultra HD content. If you own a 4K Ultra television that was built in say, 2014, check the specs in your user manual. Go online and type in the model number of TV into Google if your manual isn’t handy.
The earliest models of 4K TVs came with HDCP 1.4. They won’t be compatible with the new Roku Ultra or Roku Premiere+. You will need to buy an HDCP 2.2 converter, which can cost upwards of $50. You will also want to make sure your 4K TV has HDMI 2.0. Checking all of this ahead of time will help you avoid being among the many that didn’t know about their 4K TV lacking HDCP 2.2 capability, but bought a new Roku. It can be a pricey mistake.
Should I upgrade my Roku? Roku 4 vs Roku Premiere+, Roku Ultra
Whenever a company launches a refreshed line of media devices – whether it’s streaming boxes or gaming consoles – it always brings a bit of device envy. Maybe you’re wondering, “Am I missing out on something great?” Companies love that, especially if you have already bought one of their products before.
The answer may depend on whether you already own a fairly new Roku device or TV. If you don’t own a 4K television, and don’t plan to buy one soon, you won’t be missing much with the latest Roku streamers.
Let’s say you own a new 4K TV with HDR. If you do end up getting a streaming device to go with it, the ability of HDR streaming will be important to you. You will want to be able to stream Amazon Prime, Netflix and Fandango Now content that’s offered in HDR10. If you prefer Dolby Vision over HDR10, you won’t find it on new Roku devices. The new Chomecast Ultra will stream both HDR formats.
HDR10 is the latest format that brings a vast array of colors to your TV screen. It’s also the format being adopted by most TV manufacturers.
The last new Roku lineup came out about five months after the much lauded Roku Streaming Stick (model 3600R). The 3600R initially cost $50, but now retails for $39.99. If you buy this or any Roku device directly from their site, you will also get a 2-month free trial of Hulu.
Roku Premiere+ specs
Roku 4 owners already have many of the features of the Premiere+ and Ultra with the exception of HDR support. The user interface and content from the new Roku line is largely the same. The number of people with 4K/HDR capabilities is still pretty small. That’s probably why only three of the five latest Roku devices feature 4K capabilities.
The 4K Spotlight Channel is among the better features to enjoy on the Roku Premiere+. It pulls Ultra HD content from multiple channels so you don’t have to go hunting for them.
On the main menu, you will be able to draw from roughly 350,000 movies and shows over 3,500 paid and free channels. Roku is often commended for having an unbiased search feature that draws from multiple apps or channels. Competitors like Amazon Fire TV are slowly migrating towards a more universal search function.
Netflix and HBO now appear in Amazon Fire search results. Amazon also recently made voice-search functions available on all new Fire TV boxes and streaming sticks through Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. So you no longer have to push the voice button on a Fire TV remote when you have an Echo in the room enabled with Fire TV’s voice-search function.
Roku Premiere+ vs Roku Ultra
One of Ultra’s standout features is Night Listening Mode. This feature is one that every streaming media player on the market should try to emulate. Night Listening keeps the volume at the same pitch despite the action playing out on your screen. So you don’t have to lunge for your remote every time a building on your flat screen explodes.
We also really the lost-remote finder feature with Roku Ultra. There’s a lot to be said for being able to find a remote with one click of a button from your media box. But it’s not a problem I want to throw $29 more at to solve. The Ultra also supports Dolby+ audio and has an optical output. That’s a big deal for home theater enthusiasts, but not most people.
The Roku Premiere+ checks off all the major boxes you would expect for a streaming device priced between $89 and $100. And the roll out of Premiere+ as a HDR streamer gives competitors like Amazon something to think about before launching their next line of streaming devices.
The Roku Ultra is more for home theater buffs, and those with a high end audio system hooked into their TV setup.
Roku Premiere+ vs Roku Premiere, Amazon Fire TV
The Roku Premiere now costs $20 less than the Premiere+. The Premiere lacks HDR support ,which may not be a big deal if you do not own a 4K HDR television. There is no Ethernet port, so you will have to connect to a Premiere through a WiFi connection.
The Premiere seemed overpriced when it was first released, but now at $20 less it’s a decent value for people wanting to stream in 1080p or 4K without HDR.
If you’re thinking of buying a Roku Premiere, there are two offers worth considering. Buy it directly from Roku, and you can get a free 2-month trial of Hulu. Just follow the instructions to redeem your code for the free Hulu trial.
DirecTV Now will give you a Roku Premiere for free when you sign up and prepay for two months of their service, regardless of the channel bundle. The entry-level bundle will give you 60+ live channels like AMC, ESPN and Bravo for $35 per month. There is also regional sports networks offered in many parts of the U.S. and thousands of on-demand movies that come with a subscription.
Otherwise, you could buy a far less expensive streamer. The new Roku Express gets you in the door of streaming content just fine at $30. Same is true for an Amazon Fire TV streaming stick at $40 if you wanted a voice remote.
Roku Premiere+ has a great advantage over Amazon Fire TV by its ability to stream HDR content. Amazon Prime actually offers HDR content, but ironically you can’t stream it on their Amazon Fire TV devices.
Xiaomi’s Mi Boxcan stream 4K HDR content and it’s priced at $69. But it won’t have nearly as many apps as a Roku device.
Mi Box operates on Android TV software and supports HDR10 streaming, 5GHz bandwidth, Google Cast and a voice remote. For a few dollars more, you can use a USB adapter to create an Ethernet connection. NVIDIA SHIELD TV is also making an aggressive push into the 4K HDR streaming market in 2017 with their updated console. The SHIELD TV is trying to separate itself with voice-activated features compatible with SmartThings. The Shield TV is much better fit for people interested in having a streaming device that can double as a reliable game console or platform to stream and record live over-the-air (OTA) channels pulled in from an antenna.
DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue on Roku Premiere+
2017 could end up being the year that live streaming television goes mainstream. Roku and other major players in the streaming device market would be wise to pay attention.
PlayStation Vue, DirecTV Now are among a half dozen companies that are offering favorite bundles of premium channels like AMC and even regional and national sports channels once exclusive to cable and satellite subscriptions.
Sony rapidly expanded PlayStation Vue support to Roku, Android, Apple TV and Android TV.
DirecTV Now, which is owned by AT&T, has been aggressively promoting its live streaming service, offering free 7-day trials to new customers. The company has also been giving away a Roku Premiere to each new customer, who prepays for two months of service. The promotion started shortly after DirecTV Now rolled out its app for Roku. Its app has an impressive interface compared to competing live streaming services on Roku.
I bring this up because it’s too bad Roku doesn’t have a better PlayStation Vue app. Roku isn’t as much to blame as Sony, which develops the app. Jared Newman wrote a thoughtful piece for TechHive about Roku working to improve the user interface with its lineup of apps.
Roku Premiere+ is clearly among the top media streamers for 4K and HDR content. If you are considering buying one, you may want to take advantage of the promotion that will get a free 2-month trial of Hulu when you purchase a Roku directly through their website.