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Roku Premiere review

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.

Roku Premiere streams in 4K for less
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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.

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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.

Why do you like Roku better than the competition? The main reason is the selection of 4K HDR apps. As of January 2017, Roku devices like the Ultra offer 4K from 17 apps: Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, Vudu, Plex, Roku Media Player, Fandango Now, UltraFlix4K, 4K Universe, Curiosity Stream, Toon Goggles, Tastemade, Smithsonian Earth, ifood.TV, Picasa, Flickr and 500px. That’s more than any other streaming device or TV.

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