Roku Premiere review: More 4K streaming apps for less money

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The Good The Premiere is cheaper than most other 4K streamers and offers more 4K apps. Unlike the Chromecast Ultra, it actually includes a remote (and an Amazon Video app). Roku's ecosystem offers more apps, better search and more customization than any other.

The Bad Lack of HDR and other important features make it a worse value than the Premiere+. Content in 4K is still uncommon, and your 4K TV probably already has compatible apps. Some app interfaces are less polished than on rival devices.

The Bottom Line Although I prefer slightly more-expensive devices with better features, the Roku Premiere is still an appealing way to add more 4K apps to TVs that lack HDR.

7.9 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Ecosystem 10
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Value 7

Editors' note, Feb. 3, 2021: The original Roku Premiere streaming box reviewed here debuted in 2016. In 2018 Roku debuted a new device, also called the Roku Premiere, that remains in the company's lineup today. It's physically smaller and adds HDR capability. In general we advise people to get the Roku Streaming Stick Plus instead of the Premiere, because it has a voice remote that can control a TV and doesn't require line of sight, which in our opinion is worth the extra money.

 The review below remains unchanged from its original publication on Jan. 30, 2017.

When Roku announced three different 4K-capable devices last year, I immediately pegged the two higher-end units, the Premiere+ and the Ultra, as the ones I liked best.

The third is the Roku Premiere reviewed here, and after plenty of hands-on time with all three my opinion hasn't changed. If you want want a 4K streamer, the others make more sense.

Of course there's always an exception. If you have a relatively inexpensive 4K TV that lacks HDR (high dynamic range), particularly one with an anemic selection of built-in streaming apps, the Premiere is worth considering. It's cheaper than any other 4K-capable streamer on the market aside from the Xiaomi Mi box and the Chromecast Ultra -- and both of those are hobbled by lack of Amazon Video and its prodigious selection of 4K TV shows and movies. It's also better than the 4K capable Amazon Fire TV box, unless you're really into Alexa and voice commands.

On the other hand there's plenty of reasons to spend a few bucks more to get our favorite 4K streamer, the Premiere+, or even more for the Roku Ultra or the Nvidia Shield. Unlike those devices the Premiere can't stream high dynamic range, and since HDR can really improve image quality, owners of HDR-capable TVs should definitely get an HDR-capable device. The better Rokus also have plenty of worthwhile extra features -- like Ethernet ports and point-anywhere remotes with headphone jacks -- that the base Premiere lacks. And the Shield is just a do-everything beast.

If you're a 4K TV owner who just wants Roku's great app selection in a single device, and wants to save as much money as possible, the Premiere is worth checking out. But for a streamer you'll use every day, we think it's worth spending a few bucks more.

What you need to know about Roku Premiere

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. We say "promise" for a reason: often the differences are tough to discern, even for trained eyes like ours.

The Permiere 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 yet, or restrict it to certain devices. Historically Roku gets 4K streams before many other devices, but there are always exceptions. Hulu's 4K, for example, is currently restricted to the newest game consoles.

David Katzmaier/CNET

Should I get it if I don't have a 4K TV? No. Unless you anticipate buying a new 4K TV (that lacks HDR) very soon, my advice is to get the Roku Streaming Stick or another non-4K device and save the money.

Why shouldn't I just stick with my smart TV system? You can, but it might be annoying. Most 4K TVs have built-in apps that support 4K. 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 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.