Roku announced a new streaming media stick that’s compatible with standard HDMI ports, in hopes of slowing the growing momentum of Google’s Chromecast.
Roku today unveiled a new “Streaming Stick” media player model that can be used with the standard HDMI input ports of HDTVs that lack newer MHL-compatible inputs. The new embedded Linux-powered devices will become available this April, says the company.
Roku’s new streaming stick works with any HDMI port
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This is not Roku’s first stick-style media streaming player. The earlier model, announced two years ago and shipped in the second half of 2012, was designed to obtain both its power and remote control signals from the HDTV into which it plugged, by virtue of a new input port standard known as MHL.
Contrary to Roku’s hopes, MHL has been relatively slow to penetrate consumer’s living rooms, however. This led the company to recast its first-generation Streaming Stick as being intended for use with “Roku-ready TVs” — translation: TVs with MHL input ports. (We note with interest that the Roku-ready model is currently labeled “out of stock” on Roku’s website.)
Roku’s new HDMI-compatible Streaming Stick is positioned closer to Chromecast’s $35 price-point, particularly in light of its inclusion of a decent Roku remote. Additionally, it connects to HDMI and power in a Chromecast-like manner, as shown below.
Roku’s new HDMI Streaming Stick sips power from a DC adapter or USB
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An early pioneer of streaming media players, Roku debuted its iconic Linux-powered “Netflix Player” in 2008, and followed it up with roughly-annual enhancements and cost reductions ever since. Last April, the company announced that it had shipped its five millionth Roku player.
Roku TV UI
Earlier this year, Roku proudly announced that its Linux-based streaming media player technology is being embedded directly within next-generation Smart TVs. “Today we announced Roku TV. That’s right, actual TVs,” wrote CEO Anthony Wood in a blog post.
Which to get: Roku or Chromecast?
How do Roku’s Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast compare?
First off, it’s worth noting that Roku’s Streaming Stick and Google’s Chromecast devices offer different styles of content. Whereas Chromecast is highly limited in terms of Chromecast-specific apps — currently just 14, plus Chrome browser “tab casting” — Roku claims to provide “more than 1,200 channels (more than 750 channels in Canada, the U.K. and the Republic of Ireland).” On the other hand, Chrome browser “tab casting” can instantly redirect the contents of a Chrome browser tabs to an HDTV via the Chromecast device, which is something you can’t do with a Roku player.
And then there’s the remote control function. With Chromecast, you use a smartphone or tablet as the remote control, whereas Roku’s Streaming Stick comes with a full-fledged, easy-to-use remote control, just like the ones supplied for years with Roku’s popular streaming media players; plus, excellent official Roku remote control apps are available for free download for both Android and iOS handhelds.
A valuable feature absent from both devices, is something akin to Apple’s AirPlay, which can remotely render most multimedia content from an iPad or iPhone to an HDTV via an Apple TV box, despite hints of progress on the Android side through evolving DLNA and Miracast support. Hopefully both Roku’s and Google’s HDMI-stick gadgets will add these over time.
So which should you get — a Roku Streaming Stick or a Google Chromecast?
If I had to choose just one, I’d go for the Roku in light of its vast array of apps, user-friendly UI, and excellent remote control. However, I like having the Chromecast too, since it offers the possibility of future AirPlay-style content-casting from my Android smartphones and tablets to my HDTV; plus, the Chromecast’s capabilities seem to be evolving fairly rapidly at the moment. That said, my no-longer-supported Vizio Co-Star and Logitech Revue keep reminding me about Google’s broken Android TV promises.
The Roku Streaming Stick, HDMI version is available for pre-order now, priced at about $50, from etailers including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Target.com, and Walmart.com, and directly from Roku’s website. Roku says the device will begin shipping to customers in April, at which time it will also become available in brick-and-morter stores. For our international streamers, the new Roku Streaming Stick is $59.99 in Canada and £49.99 in the U.K. and in the Republic of Ireland.