Roku has brought streaming to the masses with its handheld, affordable box-top devices. With a variety of models and options—including the recently launched $50 Roku LT with HBO GO support—the product is something of a god-send for those without gaming consoles or the ability to sign their lives away to cable companies.
Now Roku has introduced the Roku Streaming Stick, making the whole thing that much easier, and very nearly eliminating setup. These Streaming Sticks are about the size of a USB flash drive, plug into an HDMI port, and bring the Roku platform into your home. And while they might looks like USB sticks, they aren’t really the same. They support MHL—Mobile High-Def Link. A self-powered technology (meaning you won’t need to charge it) that was made to specifically connect cell phones to HD TVs.
Sounds almost too good to be true—so of course there’s a small catch. At the moment, only a few TV sets support this technology and have the specific HDMI port that the Roku Streaming Stick requires to work. The Streaming Stick will be available bundled with TVs, or available on their own by the second half of 2012.
So the device’s potential partially relies on whether or not TV manufacturers will support MHL technology. Otherwise, it’s severely limited (in addition to the new Insignias that the Streaming Stick will first bundle with, Sony, Toshiba and Samsung have some models with MHL input available).
It also shows Roku is happy with its place in the TV platform world. Smart TVs with their own built-in apps and streaming services continue to invade the market. Gaming consoles aren’t going anywhere either. But lower-priced TV sets for college kids and miniature apartment owners need love to, and that’s where an affordable, flash drive-sized streaming product with 400 channels steps in. While price hasn’t been announced yet, we imagine it will under-sell much of the competition.
Even though there are a few early strings attached, the benefits are many. The Roku platform is quickly becoming one of the most accessible and fully-featured options available. Streaming is catching on quickly, but there’s still some hesitation about the unknown. It puts a lot more power into the user’s hands, which means there’s generally more up-front costs and decisions to be made on your part. Roku has managed to eliminate or limit most of those hang-ups, and packaging it all into a device you can hold in the palm of your hand (and use your own remote with) adds some extra incentive.