Hands-On with the Roku Premiere+

Posted on October 13, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Music + Videos with 24 Comments

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)

Nope.

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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