Hands-On with the Roku Premiere+

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos with 21

Hands-On with the Roku Premiere+

Roku’s 2016 streaming player lineup has gotten a bit more complex, with more models and some subtle differentiation. After eye-balling the specs lists closely, I settled on the Roku Premiere+, which provides 4K and HDR capabilities. Here’s a quick peek.

Thurrott Premium users who watch or listen to The First Ring Daily podcast will recognize a mistake I might have made with this device, as I literally just discussed this very topic: In an understandable desire to save money, I will sometimes buy a lower-end version of a product I’m going to use regularly, and in doing so receive a less-than-satisfactory experience that I later regret. Point being, sometimes you really do get what you pay for.

It’s a bit early yet for me to claim that I’ve made the same mistake with the Roku Premiere+, as it just arrived yesterday. But in setting up the device, where it is replacing last year’s Roku 4, I’ve already noticed at least one minor difference that I’m not super-happy with. And this difference is tied, quite obviously, to Roku’s decision to add more models to this year’s lineup.

Streamers compared: Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)

Streamers compared: Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)

When Roku announced the 2016 lineup, I immediately started comparing each of the higher-end models to see which one I’d get: We use Roku every day, and since we recently got a 4K UHD television with HDR capabilities, I want to ensure that we’re always getting the best-possible picture. And when it comes to streaming players, there’s Roku and then there’s everything else.

(That said, the sad state of these devices means that few people would be happy with just one. So in addition to a Roku, we also have an Apple TV—which does not support 4K—and an Xbox One S. Someday, I hope, this mess of wires and devices under the TV will no longer be necessary.)

Roku Premiere+

Roku Premiere+

Last year, life was simple. If you had a 4K television, you got the $130 Roku 4. It had major advantages over the competition—like 4K support, obviously, but also its ability to display 4K video at 60 fps, where Amazon’s devices were stuck at 30 fps—and offered the familiar Roku user experience.

This year … things are more complex. If you look at my article Roku Introduces a New Streaming Player Lineup, you will see that Roku now offers three high-end devices: An $80 Roku Premiere, a $100 Roku Premiere+, and a $130 Roku Ultra. But which to get?

The Premiere provides 4K at 60 fps. Excellent.

The Premiere+ adds HDR, which I want. Also excellent.

And the Ultra adds support for Dolby Digital Plus decode, voice search and lost remote finder, none of which I need or want.Comparing the Premiere+ and Ultra online, I see too that the Ultra has a digital optical audio port, which I also don’t need. So the choice is clear: I would buy the Roku Premiere+, saving $30 because I don’t need any of the unique features offered by the Roku Ultra.

Ports: Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)

Ports: Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)


What Roku doesn’t state clearly—and to be fair, I obviously didn’t look hard enough—is a USB port so that you can play local media. I don’t do this a lot, but the thing is, I do in fact use this feature from time to time. I will download a movie from Rifftrax, copy it to USB, and play it from my Roku on the big screen. Now, I can of course just access these videos from my NAS, but that’s a lot more ponderous from a navigation standpoint. It will work. But still.

No USB for you! Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)

No USB for you! Roku Premiere+ (top) and Roku 4 (bottom)

Comparing the outgoing Roku 4 with the 2016-era Roku Premiere+, I see some obvious physical differences. The new device is much smaller and less squat looking than the Roku 4. Not that that matters too much: You pretty much put the thing somewhere under a TV and never really look at it again. But this indicates to me that the 4K-capable circuitry they’re using has gotten smaller and, I assume, less expensive as well.

The remote is now matte, and not the shiny plastic from last year’s model, and for that I am grateful: The previous remote captures finger grease all too easily. There is also a small button change, where the Amazon and Showtime buttons are out, and HBO NOW and Hulu are in. I never use these buttons, so this does not impact me at all.

Remotes: Roku 4 (left) and Roku Premiere+ (right)

Remotes: Roku 4 (left) and Roku Premiere+ (right)

But there are more substantive differences. Where the Roku 4 remote could be used as a game controller, the new remote lacks the A and B buttons. It also lacks the Search button (for voice search, which requires an Ultra). I like the new layout for the directional buttons, though, and prefer the OK button to be in the middle as it is now. Overall, the new remote is a win.

As noted, the Roku Premiere+ lacks USB and digital optical audio ports. I was surprised by the former.

As a smaller and apparently less power-hungry device, the Roku Premiere+ comes with a less professional-looking power adapter. You may think that’s a weird thing to point out, but the new one looks like the type of cheap part you get with no-brand devices from China, whereas the outgoing version has a solid and high-quality feel to it. They are not plug-compatible with each other.

Power supplies: Roku Premiere+ (left) and Roku 4 (right)

Power supplies: Roku Premiere+ (left) and Roku 4 (right)

Setup was as easy as ever with Roku, though I wish I could configure this thing to auto-sign-in to my Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and Google Play Music accounts when I sign-in with Roku. (Only Amazon Video is supported this way.) I was up and running in minutes, and thanks to my TV, I can tell when HDR video is playing. So I can at least confirm that HDR is working correctly, which was in many ways the entire point.

I’ll need to spend some time with this device, but since I won’t be reviewing it per se—what else could I possibly write about something like this?—I’ll make the following generalization.

If you do have a 4K television and already own a Roku 4, I can’t imagine why you would need to upgrade to any of the new devices, even to get HDR. That’s a minimum purchase of $100 for a richer color display in some videos.

If you own a 4K UHD/HDR television and are still using an older (non-4K) Roku, it’s time to upgrade. Just be more careful in comparing the specs than I was: I think I may have sprung for the additional $30 just to get that USB port. But your own needs, of course, may differ.

Anyway, quibbles aside, Roku’s devices remain at the top of a confusing field of living room streamers. And they remain highly recommended.


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  1. 2 | Reply
    skborders Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    I still use a Roku 2 or 3, I can't remember. I don't use it every day but it still does everything I want it to. I still have a 1080I Plasma I bought 10 years ago, so I won't upgrade the roku until I have a higher res tv.

    1. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 1 week ago
      In reply to skborders:

      Sound like my situation.  If those darn old Plasmas weren't so good...  :)

  2. 0 | Reply
    Ryster Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    Every peice of media I own sits on my NAS, which also runs Plex Media Server which auto-catalogues the files and makes them instantly available to all my devices, and all my friends' devices too. I love Plex, I really do.

  3. 0 | Reply
    zybch Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    If you need to get the TV to confirm you're watching an HDR stream, doesn't that indicate that your appreciatin of HDR is perhaps, confirmation bias?

  4. 0 | Reply
    mclark2112 Alpha Member #1239 - 1 week ago

    You could return it, and get the better one. 

  5. 0 | Reply
    kenosando Alpha Member #1382 - 1 week ago

    I have a Roku Streaming Stick, but I would like upgrade to a UHD-compatible Roku, so after this hands-on, I am wondering if finding a Roku 4 is the best option? I don't need anything the Ultra provides, and really, just need 4K compatibility, no HDR, optical-out, or even USB. The 4 has the remove finder, which I always need, so it does sound appealing to hunt down a Roku 4 (hopefully) for cheaper than the Premier.

  6. 0 | Reply
    Skolvikings Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    I just posted a comment, and it showed up. Then after a couple minutes a popup came on the screen and said a duplicate comment was detected. WTH?

  7. 0 | Reply
    Skolvikings Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    I own the Roku 4 but I'm tempted to upgrade now that I see they've added the replay button back to the remote.

  8. 0 | Reply
    richgnoe Alpha Member #1097 - 1 week ago

    So are any of them better than the 4 which I think is too big and has fan noise


    1. 0 | Reply
      jbuccola Alpha Member # - 1 week ago
      In reply to richgnoe:

      Our Roku4 is also very temperature sensitive - when it runs hot, it slows WAY down. Found a clumsy solution, which was to place it UNDERNEATH the media cabinet, where it is cooler and wide open to airflow. The previous spots where we ran Roku3 (behind TV, inside the media cabinet) are completely untenable for the device as it becomes unresponsive to remote inputs.

  9. 0 | Reply
    Michael Rivers Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    For streaming Rifftrax, I used to download the episodes to my PC and then use "Cast to device" to play them to my Xbox One. Now that I have an Apple TV, it's much easier to use my iPad to stream the episode to the Apple TV -- no downloading in advance necessary. I believe Roku supports "Cast to device" as well. Plugging in a USB stick seems like a pre-Media-Center solution. 

  10. 0 | Reply
    FreeJAC Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    What does this mean? "And the Ultra adds support for Dolby Digital Plus decode" My Roku 3 does DD+ decode from Netflix at 1080p currently. Paul you must not have a 5.1 audio system hooked up to that beautiful 4k UHD TV. If you did, DD+ support would matter.  That is too bad, good sound is worth half the picture IMHO! 

    1. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member # - 1 week ago
      In reply to FreeJAC:


      Oh I get. The Ultra is capable of decoding the DD+ internally in the device the P+ passes it to the recevier to decode.

    2. 0 | Reply
      bassoprofundo Alpha Member #408 - 1 week ago
      In reply to FreeJAC:

      Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get the point of being able to decode DD+ internally if you don't have analog 7.1 outs to be able to split the signal.  In the past, on DVDs, then Blurays, etc., the high end ones had onboard decoding and analog outs so you could output something like a DD or DTS signal to an older pro logic receiver and still get 5.1 surround.  

      Is the point here that it can decode and downmix into a stereo signal for something like a TV to interpret?  If yes, than I still don't get the advantage.  Streaming services that offer DD+ streams undoubtedly offer a stereo stream as well for compatibility reasons.  How would a DD+ signal downmixed on the fly be superior to a native stereo signal?  What am I missing?

  11. 0 | Reply
    ErichK Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    Still getting along nicely with a Roku 3 and my 1080p Insignia TV.  The new lineup looks nice though.

  12. 0 | Reply
    awesmdiver Alpha Member #148 - 1 week ago

    Roku sent me an email to get the Ultra at $50 off die to being a previous Roku user. I had the Roku 4, so it was a no-brainer which version to get, the Ultra. Nice device, but overall still not a fan of the UI for both the OS and most of the apps.

  13. 0 | Reply
    lvthunder Alpha Member # - 1 week ago

    I use the new Apple TV.  What I like about it is there is only one of them.  The only difference between the two is how much storage there is for the apps.  They both have the same features.  I think that makes it easier to sell to people.  Do you really think normal people want to make the choice of which Roku to get.  Sure the enthousiests get the difference, but regular people won't.

    1. 0 | Reply
      zybch Alpha Member # - 1 week ago
      In reply to lvthunder:

      One of the new dreadful ones with the unusable remote?

      I have 2 older ones and they're great, but that new one is just toxic.

    2. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member # - 1 week ago
      In reply to lvthunder:

      Regular people are also price conscious. They default to the cheapest option. New Apple TV kind of prices themselves out. They are priced more to compete with the gaming consoles IMHO.