Roku Premiere and Roku Express Review
Roku have been market leader in the UK in terms of service coverage for a long time and their slate of apps and platform support continues to grow thanks to the recent addition of Apple TV+. It seems fitting that we now have the chance to take a look at their latest UK hardware - specifically the 4K HDR Roku Premiere and the recently updated 1080p Full HD Roku Express. We'd usually review these devices separately but the experience is 99% the same with just the end picture being the main difference between the two.
If you're already a Roku user there is little here that will surprise you - the Roku Express update is very much in line with the previous Roku Express hardware, while the Roku Premiere takes the Roku Streaming Stick and puts it into a slightly more or less convenient form factor depending on your needs.
The Roku interface remains unchanged - the first time you set up you'll need to either sign up to a Roku account or sign in to your existing one via another device to add the new device to your Roku ecosystem. Once that's done and your apps install you'll be presented with the usual Roku homepage.
While the Roku interface will automatically install the apps you already use it won't, for obvious security reasons, include any of the logins to those apps - so for the first thirty minutes or so you'll find yourself setting up your accounts on Netflix, Amazon and the newly added Apple TV+ if you have it.
One limitation is you cannot have different apps on different devices - in our household it would be nice to have YouTube unavailable on devices that are solely used by the children but if you remove it on one, the next time you use one of the others it'll remove from there too. We'd also like the option of having parent lockouts on certain applications/channels but that's still unavailable on the current iteration of the Roku interface. You can use pin protection to prevent against unwanted purchases and we'd appreciate this being extended further with more granular control.
All of the core terrestrial catch-up services are here in their full form - no licensing restrictions meaning that some content is missing as on the Fire TV or some Smart TV apps. You have iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5 to cover off the free-to-air stuff. Then there's full support for Now TV, Netflix (including 4K on the Roku Premiere), Google Play Movies, TV Player (which gives you full access to Freeview channels and loads more via a paid subscription via the web) and Amazon (again 4K is present and correct on the 4K hardware). There are loads of other 'channels' available including BBC News, Sky News, Plex, YouTube and Vevo - it's a huge list, that covers almost all bases.
While the Roku stick doesn't support full Google Cast, you can still cast many major apps from your smartphone including Netflix and YouTube. We'd love to see Roku and Google team up to offer more comprehensive casting functionality.
Disappointingly, the remote control supplied with both devices isn't the more advanced model that came with the Roku Streaming Stick+ - that one allowed you to control your TV volume and power on and off, the remote with both the Roku Express and Roku Premiere is the more basic one that just controls the Roku itself. It's also IR based so needs a clear line of site to the Roku device. Thankfully it remains responsive and doesn't have any of the connection niggles that the Streaming Stick remote tends to have.
The other difference between the newer devices and the Roku Streaming Stick+ is the lack of dual-band wifi - here we only have 802.11 b/g/n single-band wifi. While this isn't a deal breaker it means less flexibility and reduced performance over the Streaming Stick. That said, we've heard lots of reports of issues with the wifi module (that is external to the Streaming Stick device) and have experienced problems ourselves - so far, neither the Roku Premiere or Roku Express have suffered similar connectivity gremlins and have performed flawlessly.
It's a shame that no ethernet option has been provided on either of the new devices - the 4K abilities of the Roku Premiere in particular could benefit from the higher, more stable, connection that a wired connection would bring.
With all of the similarities now covered we move onto picture quality - and both devices perform identically for SD and HD content. Netflix, Amazon etc all look as good as you'd expect - sharp, good colour, responsive. There is nothing really to choose between the two at the basic level.
The 4K supporting Roku Premiere works very well at the higher resolution too with HDR support meaning you can get the best possible picture from Netflix and Amazon's 4K material. There is no Dolby Vision or HDR10+ support but it ticks all of the basic UHD HDR boxes.
One more small thing to note - the Roku Premiere draws more power than the Roku Express and some smart TVs may struggle to provide enough via their USB connection. The Roku Premiere is supplied with a USB power adapter though so you can plug it into the mains if required.
In all, the Roku Express and Roku Premiere are essential devices if you find your smart TV doesn't quite cut the mustard in terms of your media playback requirements. It's entirely replaced the built in apps on my Samsung TV and LG TVs thanks to improved reliability over the inbuilt options and the breadth of platform support.
- Roku Premiere
- Roku Express