Roku announces thumb-sized set-top 'Streaming Stick'

By on January 4, 2012, 5:00 PM

Roku is celebrating the new year by unveiling miniature set-top solution. Dubbed the "Roku Streaming Stick," it's approximately the same size as a USB flash drive but packs most of the functionality you'd find in a standard set-top box, such as integrated Wi-Fi connectivity and flash storage. The device plugs into your television's HDMI port and uses the new Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) spec to provide access to the company's software platform, which includes an array of Web service applications.

Naturally, this form factor offers many benefits. The Streaming Stick is more portable, requires less effort to set up and doesn't need an external power source. Despite those advantages, the device seems to serve a very niche role. MHL still lacks widespread support among current-generation HDTVs, so Roku is waiting on next-gen models to come with technology. However, a sizable portion of those devices will be "Smart TVs" with integrated access to popular streaming and social networking services.

In other words, the Streaming Stick will charge people for features their TVs already have. Roku has reportedly partnered with Best Buy to bundle its device with the retailer's Insignia TVs. Speaking with Gigaom, the company said it sees plenty of potential in lower-end TVs that don't bother adding streaming software. But again, we're not sure how many budget TVs will go the extra mile to add MHL if they skip other Smart TV-like features. For now, we'll have to assume Roku knows something we don't.

Without railing on the device too hard, it does offer least one other discernible benefit. Unlike other consumer electronics, people tend to use their TVs for six to eight years before replacing them. It's highly unlikely that the manufacturer of your TV will keep its software updated for that long. Not only will Roku offer support for lengthier durations, it's a lot cheaper to replace the Streaming Stick with a new model than it would be to chuck your entire TV because it lacks the desired software functionality.

The company plans to offer several models, including one that will let you play games using Roku's motion controller. The device is set to launch toward the second half of 2012 with pricing set between $50 and $100. The market should see plenty of competition over the coming 12 months. Boxee is said to be preparing new products, Apple will continue to elbow its way into the space and, undiscouraged by last year's failure, Google is expected to make another push with Google TV devices.

User Comments: 5

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j05hh j05hh said:

I have a Roku 2 XS and love it.

Guest said:

I cannot wait for this to come out. TW can then take their giant expensive clunky set top boxes and sell them as door stops at a flea market. I am so glad that people will no longer be held up and robbed blind by their cable companies.

Guest said:

...umm, and who do you think you pay to get access to the internet for broadband service to use such a device if not a cable company? Most Americans have few alternative options, and most of those alternative options all set similar pricing schemes. The way they compete is not with price, but with offered features. The cable companies will continue to be able to "screw" us, the consumer.

...and if not Cable, then the Telco companies providing the internet access.

Guest said:

So will it work on a tv that doesn't have MHL?

Taharial said:

A niche market indeed. I can't imagine there would be a huge amount of HDTV users that don't already have some other device that at least has access to Netflix.

I would imagine most HDTV owners purchased an HDTV because they wanted to either game or watch blu ray quality movies. Considering you'd need internet access for this device to work, you'd most likely already own a PC or possibly a game system that could stream through your TV.

I wish them the best though. Ultimately the free market will decide if Roku will make it or not.

BTW, am I the only one that doesn't feel like my cable provider is an evil entity out to screw me over at every turn?

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