Gadgets always precede stuff you can use them with. Today, there are plenty of TVs with 4K resolution and high dynamic range (HDR), but TV shows and movies you can actually watch in 4K and/or HDR are rare. That's one reason why you shouldn't feel any rush to buy a device like the Roku Premiere+. There just isn't enough 4K stuff to watch, HDR or otherwise, to make it a must-have -- yet.
For the proud owner of a new 4K HDR TV who wants to surround it with the best compatible gadgets today, however, the Premiere+ makes the most sense out of all the choices. The Google Chromecast Ultra beats it with HDR support, boasting both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats, but it lacks a remote and Amazon Video's substantial library of 4K and HDR content. Android TV devices like Nvidia Shield and Xiaomi Mi Box also miss out on Amazon, while the actual Amazon Fire TV handles 4K but not HDR. And among Roku's own 2016 4K boxes, the Premiere+ provides the best balance of features for the price.
You may already own other 4K streaming options, such as a 4K game console, 4K Blu-ray player or the smart TV system built into your TV. If you're fine using those for now, feel free to skip the Premiere+. On the other hand, no other single device can match Roku's selection of 4K and HDR apps and services, and no smart TV system is as simple to use or updated as regularly.
If you have a 4K HDR TV and want a single device to handle all of your streaming needs, Roku Premiere+ is my go-to recommendation for 2016. Here's why.
Your premiere Premiere+ questions, answered
So what's 4K HDR streaming anyway? New here, eh? No problem. Many Internet video services, including Netflix, Amazon Video, Vudu and YouTube, stream some of their TV shows and movies in 4K resolution, which promises higher video quality than their other streams. A few of those services offer an even smaller amount of content in high dynamic range (HDR), promising even better quality -- higher contrast, more realistic colors and other improvements. We say "promise" for a reason: often the differences are tough to discern, even for trained eyes like ours.
The Premiere+ can also serve up lower-quality streams too, and it can access all of the thousands of apps that any other Roku can. Most apps, including heavy hitters like Hulu, HBO Now/Go, Watch ESPN and Sling TV, don't offer 4K or HDR yet. But when they do, I'm betting the Premiere+ will be among the first devices to gain access to those streams.
Should I get it if I don't have a 4K HDR TV? No. Unless you anticipate buying a new 4K HDR TV very soon, my advice is to get the Roku Streaming Stick or another non-4K device and save the money. If your TV has 4K but not HDR, the Roku Premiere (without the "+") might be worth getting instead.
Why shouldn't I just stick with my smart TV system? You can, but it might be annoying. Every 4K HDR TV we've seen has apps that support 4K and/or HDR. Depending on the TV you have, and what services you enjoy, you might be perfectly fine streaming without an external box. On the other hand, Roku in particular has more streaming apps that offer 4K, HDR and standard video streams, and makes those apps and streams easier to find and use. It's also updated more often than most smart TVs, and provides a single, convenient source for all your internet video.
Why do you like Premiere+ better than the competition? The main reason is the selection of 4K HDR apps. Roku devices like the Premiere+ offer 4K from 15 apps: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Plex, Roku Media Player, Fandango Now, UltraFlix4K, 4K Universe, Curiosity Stream, Toon Goggles, Tastemade, Smithsonian Earth, Picasa, Flickr and 500px. That's more than any other streaming device. Roku also streams HDR from Netflix and Amazon, two of the three biggest services that offer it today. (The third, Vudu, doesn't yet deliver HDR streams to Roku, only to smart TV systems with Dolby Vision.)
Why is it better than the Roku Premiere or Roku Ultra? Unlike the $80 Premiere, which is 4K-only, the $100 Premiere+ streams in HDR too. The "+" also includes a better remote: you can point anywhere instead of having to aim (allowing you to stash the box out of sight), and connect headphones for private listening. It also has a MicroSD card slot that (when you insert said card) can help apps load faster and an Ethernet port for wired connections, which can be more stable than Wi-Fi in some situations. Those extras are easily worth another $20 for most buyers.
The $130 Ultra is even better equipped than the Premiere+, adding a remote finder function, a USB port for playback of video files from connected drives and an optical digital audio output. It also has a remote you can use to search via voice (with other Rokus you have to use the phone app for that). Otherwise the two have the same features and processor, however, so we don't think it's worth spending another $30 for most people.
Will it work with my AV receiver? Maybe. We tested it with a couple of late-model receivers, the Marantz NR1607 and the Yamaha RX-V681. It worked fine with the Marantz, passing full 4K HDR video as well as audio up to Dolby Atmos (available on Vudu). The Yamaha, however, caused the Netflix app to not serve 4K, period. I'm not sure whether to blame the receiver or Roku.
As your receiver supports 4K and HDR pass-through to the TV (look for "HDCP 2.2" and "HDMI 2.0a" support), it should work. If it doesn't, you'll either need to buy a new receiver that does, or to bypass your current receiver and connect your Roku box directly to the TV. If that's the case, then the optical digital output of the Roku Ultra could be a lifesaver.
Does it support both HDR10 and Dolby Vision formats? No, it only supports HDR10. Of course many HDR TVs today, namely those from Samsung and Sony, don't support Dolby Vision either, so if you own one of those, you're not missing anything with the Premiere+ or other HDR10-only devices.
But my TV has Dolby Vision. Should I get still it? If you have an LG TV with Dolby Vision HDR and want the best image quality, I recommend using the built-in Netflix, Amazon and Vudu apps instead of the Premiere+, because Dolby Vision on those TVs provides somewhat better image quality. The same goes for Vizio TVs with Netflix and Vudu, but since Vizio TVs lack an Amazon app altogether, getting a Premiere+ makes more sense. It's my go-to recommendation for owners of Vizio 4K HDR TVs who want to add Amazon capability.