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Roku's Streaming Stick costs just $99 but needs an MHL-equipped TV

Consumer Reports News: September 20, 2012 11:38 AM

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We've been waiting patiently for Roku's new thumb-drive-sized Streaming Stick, which basically squeezes all the capabilities of its Roku 2 XS Streaming Player into an incredibly small package. The Streaming Stick will arrive in a few weeks carrying a $99 price tag, but there's one more thing you should know: You'll need an MHL-enabled TV for it to work.

We already published a post about MHL—"What is MHL, and Why Should You Care"—that explains why it could become meaningful for many of us going forward, especially as more smart phones support the technology. MHL can handle both 1080p video and multichannel audio, and can send power through the same cable, so devices can recharge while they're being used to avoid battery drain. It also supports control data, so you can control some basic TV functions, such as volume, using the remote.

There's one drawback to the Stick's MHL requirement: Only a handful of HDTVs support it, which could be a showstopper for many of us. Roku says there are 15 "Roku-ready" TVs, from brands such as Insignia (Best Buy), Hitachi, and Apex. But it looks like there are a handful of other MHL-enabled TVs from LG, Samsung, Sharp and Toshiba, which presumably would work with the Roku Stick. You'll have to check whether specific models support it.

In the near future, you may also see some TVs without the built-in Internet capability that come bundled with the Streaming Stick, giving them instant Web worthiness. And we just tested the first MHL-enabled Blu-ray players we've seen, from Sharp; we expect others will follow suit.

If you own or plan to buy an MHL-enabled TV, the Streaming Stick is worth considering. It has dual-band Wi-Fi for connecting to your home network and twice as much memory as the bigger Roku boxes, and it comes with a remote that operates via Wi-Fi Direct rather than Bluetooth. Plus you'll get the same suite of apps and streaming services you'd get with other Roku media streamers.

The Streaming Stick plugs into an MHL-enabled HDMI port in the back of the TV, so you don't have to integrate another set-top box—even one as tiny as the Roku—and an extra wire into your system. Roku also reports that it has added the Vudu streaming service to its roster, which includes Amazon, Hulu Plus, and Netflix.

To find out which TVs currently support MHL, visit the MHL Consortium's website. And if you are in the market for a new set, take a look at our free TV buying guide at ConsumerReports.org.

James K. Willcox

   

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