Set-top boxes are so 2011. Roku, a company that helped popularize cheap streaming video boxes, is out to changing the game with its new Streaming Stick.
The Stick, which is about the size of a USB flash drive, plugs into your TV and gives you access to Roku’s more than 400 apps. It packs in Wi-Fi capabilities, a processor, and storage — you can think of it as a miniaturized version of Roku’s set-top boxes.
The device will likely be embraced by consumers who want access to TV apps but don’t want to sully their home entertainment system with yet another box, with its requisite wires and remote. Since it can turn pretty much any HDTV into a Smart TV (with one caveat, listed below), Roku says it will also bundle the Streaming Stick with some televisions, which means TV manufacturers won’t need to worry about bundling their own Smart TV software.
A Roku representative tells me that the Stick will output 1080p high-definition video, and it won’t be different functionally than existing Roku set-top boxes.
The Streaming Stick connects to an HDMI port on your TV — but the rub is that your TV has to support the MHL protocol, which will allow the stick to draw power and be controlled by your TV’s remote. Newer HDTV sets made within the past five years should support MHL, but sets older than five years could be more problematic. You’ll be able to update the Stick’s software, just as you would any Roku device.
Roku says the Streaming Stick will cost between $50 and $100 and will be available in the second half of 2012. Given that Roku’s set-top boxes start at $60 and top out at $100, the company would be better off keeping the Streaming Stick as cheap as possible.