Roku is expanding its lineup of media streaming boxes by shrinking things down. On Tuesday, the company announced a new Roku Streaming Stick, which offers the same streaming features and access to the service's 1,200 channels that other Roku boxes enjoy but in a dramatically smaller device.
At 0.5-by-1.1-by-3.1 inches, the Streaming Stick squeezes Roku's features into a compact package. The idea is to offer up a Roku device that tucks neatly into the back of a TV screen, plugging into one of your TV's HDMI ports and remaining out of view.
In fact, this new Streaming Stick is a lot like one Roku already makes as part of its Roku Ready offering. In that program, TV, AVR, Blu-ray and other device makers would build Roku Ready-certified products--Roku says it has 20 partners--and users could add instant streaming by plugging a streaming stick into an MHL port on a device. The difference now is that Roku is making a Streaming Stick that works specifically with HDMI ports on television sets.
"We heard from customers that they liked the form factor" of the stick, said Lloyd Klarke, director of product management for Roku. "What they wanted was a stick they could attach to their monitor at home."
And that's the main selling point of the Roku Streaming Stick: It's a device that can provide a full Roku set-top box experience while staying out of sight. Roku sees the Streaming Stick appealing to people with wall-mounted TVs who don't want the extra cable clutter from a connected set-top box.
The Roku Streaming Stick costs $50--the same as a Roku 1 set-top box following a price cut to that product announced Tuesday. Like the Roku 1, the HDMI Streaming Stick lets you access more than 1,200 channels of movies, television shows, music, and other programming in up to 1080p HD video. Roku will continue to sell its Roku 2 and Roku 3 boxes for $80 and $100, respectively. (The former features a remote with its own headphone jack so you can stream shows in peace; the latter comes with a motion-control remote for playing games.)
One glance at Roku's Streaming Stick will immediately invite comparisons to Google's Chromecast, the $35 dongle that plugs into an HDMI port and lets you stream Internet content onto your TV. That's a comparison Roku is anticipating, and it's happy to point out the amount of streaming content available to Streaming Stick users. "What we really want to make sure that people understand is that this a full solution," Roku's Klarke said.
The Roku Streaming Stick is powered by a mini-USB port on the device, and comes with its own USB cable and power adapter. It also ships with Roku's standard remote control. And Roku plans to update its iOS and Android apps with a search feature that replicates the on-screen search capabilities for mobile devices. Klarke demoed the upcoming app update for me by typing "Morgan Freeman" onto his mobile device; 67 options popped up showing where Morgan Freeman movies were available on what Roku channels and how much they would cost to stream.
The April launch of the Roku Streaming Stick comes in the midst of a busy time for the streaming service. Klarke tells me that there are cumulatively 8 million Roku players out in the wild streaming 1.7 billion hours of programming in 2013; by Roku's math, that translates to 13 hours per week per player. And Roku expects that number to grow. Later this year, it's rolling out the Roku TV, where its streaming service will be built into smart TVs built by Hisense and TCL.