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How Roku Streaming Stick stacks up against Google Chromecast

The $50 flash-drive-size media player offers full Roku features

Published: March 05, 2014 09:45 AM
Photo: Roku

Like the idea—and price—of the Google Chromecast video-streaming stick but prefer the broader array of content offered by Roku boxes? Then the new $50 Roku Streaming Stick, which plugs into the back of an HDMI input on your TV, may fill the bill.

Clearly not willing to relinquish the market that's being captured by the $35 Chromecast, Roku's newest player also has the ability to "cast" some content—right now, Netflix and YouTube, as well as personal media—from your smart phone or tablet. Chromecast has a similar though more comprehensive casting capability: It can send anything found using a computer's Chrome browser to a Chromecast-equipped TV. During a recent meeting, Roku executives told us that the ability to cast content from a computer was in the works.

Unlike an earlier version, which required an MHL-enabled HDMI input, the new Streaming Stick plugs into any standard HDMI port. Like the Chromecast, it gets its power from either a TV's USB port or a wall outlet using the included AC adapter.

The Roku Streaming Stick comes with a Wi-Fi remote that has dedicated buttons for streaming services from Amazon, Blockbuster, M-Go, and Netflix, though you can also download a free Android or iOS app that lets you use your phone or tablet as the remote. (Chromecast doesn't come with a remote. Instead, you use your mobile device to control Chromecast's operations.) The Stick remote control doesn't include a built-in headphone jack, a feature we liked when it first appeared on the Roku 3.

One reason Roku's various devices have done well in our streaming media player Ratings is the wide assortment of content available. Roku says it now has about 1,200 channels, including its newest additions—Showtime Anytime, WatchESPN, and WatchDisney. And at the end of last year, Roku finally got YouTube, a service that was oddly and noticeably missing from its channel lineup.

Find the right model for you with our streaming media player buying guide and Ratings.

Although the Roku Streaming Stick doesn't ship until next month, you can place a pre-order at a online retailers, including Amazon.com, BestBuy.com, Target.com and Walmart.com.

Early this year at CES, Roku announced that it was licensing its streaming platform to several TV brands, including Hisense and TCL. The deal enables these companies to bake Roku into their sets, so users get full access to the Roku platform and content without the need for separate Roku hardware.

As mentioned, the new Roku Streaming Stick is actually the second flash-drive-sized Roku player to bear that moniker. An earlier, pricier ($99) version of the player was behind its “Roku ready” program with several TV manufacturers. Roku-ready TVs came set up to accept the older version of the Roku Stick, which required an MHL-enabled HDMI port to work. During our meeting, Roku told us that it will continue making the older Roku Streaming Stick available to manufacturers that would like to include it as part of a bundle, but it will no longer be generally available to consumers.

We've generally liked the various Roku players we've tested, and we'll be purchasing the new Roku Streaming Stick as soon as it becomes available to see how it stacks up, not only to other Roku media players but also to Google's Chromecast. Check back for our findings.

—James K. Willcox

   

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