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What is a 'Roku-ready' TV, and why would you want one?

Consumer Reports News: April 08, 2013 09:08 AM

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Most of us enjoy getting extra content on our living room TVs, but not everyone has a set with that built-in capability. One popular way to add this feature is through a streaming media player, such as a Roku 3 or Apple TV. But there's another, less obtrusive option: a small flash-drive-sized stick that fits into a special HDMI input on the back or side of your TV.

Probably the best known of these devices is the Roku Streaming Stick, a small, purple streaming-media player that delivers all the Roku features we've come to like. The pint-sized player, which costs $100, slips into an MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) slot on the TV, which looks like a standard HDMI input.

The Roku Streaming Stick, which supports 1080p video and multi-channel sound, has built-in Wi-Fi and doesn't require a power cord, so there's nothing else to attach. You can even control it using the TV remote control, though it does come with its own gesture-based remote, which is useful for playing games.

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But the TV has to have an MHL-equipped input. (Read more about MHL, or Mobile High-Definition Link.) That's why you're seeing some TVs and Blu-ray players being marketed as being "Roku-ready," which means they've been certified to work with the Stick. So far there are Roku-ready TVs from Hitachi, Insignia, and Sceptre that support the Streaming Stick, plus Oppo Blu-ray players and even a mini projector, the 3M Streaming Projector, which comes with a bundled Streaming Stick. (At CES, Roku said Apex Digital, Coby, Element, Haier, Hisense, TCL, and Westinghouse Digital would also offer Roku-ready TVs this year.) But many other MHL-enabled TVs will also play nicely with the Streaming Stick.

If your TV doesn't have MHL—and most older sets don't—another option is the Favi SmartStick, which works similarly but can be inserted into any HDMI input. But since the SmartStick lacks MHL, it can't be controlled with the TV's remote, and it needs to get its power from a microUSB-to-USB cable that plugs into a TV's USB port. You also need to run the IR receiver from the Stick to the front of the TV for the included IR remote to work. (Favi sells a Still, it costs only $50 for a 4GB version, or $80 for an 8GB Stick.

If you own either of these stick-like streamers, we'd like to hear about your experiences. And if you're lucky enough to have both, let us know which one you like better.

James K. Willcox

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