An HDMI Roku Streaming Stick for Everyone

Roku has introduced a new Roku Streaming Stick that connects to TVs via HDMI. This small dongle version of a Roku box comes with an RF remote control, works with any TV that has an HDMI port and will be available in April for $50. Despite its diminutive form, it still packs in over 1,200 Roku channels (apps) like its set-top box big brothers.

While the Roku Stick comes with a remote, it can also be controlled by the Roku smartphone app. This robust app includes an extensive search feature and the Roku channel store. Channels that are chosen in the app are downloaded directly to the stick. The app also allows you to stream music, photos, and video stored on the smartphone directly to the Roku stick. These features work with Roku set-top boxes as well.

This is not Roku's first plug-in dongle. The previous Roku Streaming Stick connects to an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link)-enabled HDMI port available on recent Roku Ready TVs. While the MHL stick will work with any TV that has a powered MHL port, it has added features when used with Roku Ready sets, including being able to use the TV’s remote to control the Stick. I’ve used the MHL stick on a non-Roku-Ready Sony Bravia TV, and it provides a quick and easy way to watch Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix, as well as TV Everywhere apps—HBO Go, Watch Disney, WatchESPN, and more. The price of the MHL Roku stick has been reduced from $100 to $70 but is listed as out of stock on the Roku website. In the future, the MHL stick will be bundled with Roku Ready TVs, according to the company.

Unlike the older MHL model, the new HDMI Roku Stick requires a mini USB connection (cable included) to power the stick. Like most recent Roku models, it supports 1080p and Dolby Digital audio.

A Roku dongle begs to be compared to other small form media streaming solutions like the Google Chromecast. The Chromecast runs $35 and can only be controlled by a smartphone, tablet, or computer’s Chrome web browser. It uses Discover and Launch (DIAL) to connect to the same video source as the one chosen on the mobile device. The lack of a menu system on the Chromecast can be confusing to those who have become accustomed to navigating through an app menu. The Roku system has been one of the most user-friendly streaming media solutions, which is undoubtedly the reason for its enormous popularity. The new Roku Stick may cost $15 more than the Chromecast, but that buys you a remote control.

Sony also has a streaming media dongle—the Bravia Stick. The Bravia Stick is Google TV on a stick. It works exclusively with a limited number of 2013 and newer Bravia TVs. The Bravia Stick is basically the Sony Internet Media Player packed into a dongle with the addition of integrating the apps and menus of the Sony Bravia TV to which it is connected.

Streaming media sticks have the advantage of no extra wires hanging down from the TV and offer an abundance of movies and other media. I must confess that I was not a Roku fan when the first box was introduced, but subsequent models now offer outstanding picture and sound quality and are easy to use. If the new HDMI Streaming Stick performs like the MHL stick, it should be a home run.