Techwars: Roku Streaming Sticks it to Chromecast


Google Chromecast, you’re not the only stick in town.

Roku announced the Roku Streaming Stick today, which manages to pack nearly all the functionality of a full-size Roku box into a device not much bigger than an USB flash drive. It’s actually a new version of Roku’s old MHL-based Streaming Stick, but there are two major differences: It now works with any TV that has an HDMI input, and it’s half the price, at just $49.

The Streaming Stick sports Roku’s signature purple color, and it’s designed to connect directly into a spare HDMI port on your TV. It’s just a little over three inches long, and there’s not much else to the device, save for the HDMI connector, a micro-USB port, an indicator light, and a tiny button to reset the stick. The micro-USB port lets you power the device by connecting it to a USB port on TV (if it has one) or using the included power adapter.

If this all sounds familiar, that’s because the design is awfully similar to Google’s $35 Chromecast, and it’s hard not to see the updated Streaming Stick as a response to Google’s popular streamer. So what do you get for the extra $15?

For one, you get a traditional remote and an onscreen interface. It’s a pretty standard Roku remote, and it works via Wi-Fi Direct, so it can still control the Streaming Stick when it’s hidden behind your TV. (On the other hand, the tucked-away location means it likely won’t work with a traditional IR-based universal remote.) Note that the remote doesn’t have the neat headphone jack for private listening, so you’ll still need to step up to a Roku 2 or Roku 3 for that feature.

The other major perk over the Chromecast is you get access to all 1,200 of Roku’s apps, or “channels” in Roku’s parlance. This includes nearly every major service — such as Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, Amazon Instant, MLB.TV, Showtime Anytime, and PBS — as well as a huge number of niche content sources. While the Chromecast has added some crucial apps since its launch (including HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and Pandora), it still can’t compare to Roku’s sprawling and frequently updated library.

The new Roku Streaming Stick is scheduled to come out in April for $49. I’ll have a full review as soon as I get my hands on a review sample, but from my initial impressions, the new Streaming Stick has a decent shot at dethroning our current streaming box Editors’ Choice, the Roku 3.


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