Sticks are the new boxes, at least when it comes to getting the Internet on your television.
On Tuesday, Roku released its latest tool for streaming 1080p content directly to a TV. Like the $100 Roku 3 set-top box, the new $50 Roku Streaming Stick has a large selection of apps for streaming content, including all the major online services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Instant.
The new Roku stick is about the size of a pack of gum and will be available in April.
As game consoles, cable boxes and other bulky accessories pile up in living rooms, the smaller, more discreet stick approach is becoming an appealing choice for consumers who want to watch Internet content on their TV screens without adding to the clutter.
This is not Roku’s first foray into the stick form factor. But unlike its 2-year-old $90 version, the Streaming Stick will pop into any HDMI port, making it compatible with many more televisions.
The Roku Streaming Stick will compete directly against Google’s well-received Chromecast, released last year. The Google dongle costs only $35 and also plugs into any TV HDMI port. To watch Internet content on the Chromecast, you hit a button on compatible apps from an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet.
Both sticks require a separate power source, either through a USB port on the back of the TV or by plugging into a wall.
The Roku Streaming Stick will cost a few bucks more than the Chromecast but includes a dedicated remote control, like other Roku products. For people who prefer navigating with soft buttons to swiping a smartphone screen, this can be a big plus.
Roku’s biggest advantage is content. Because the service has been around for a while, it has many more streaming options than the Chromecast. There are currently about 1,200 available apps for Roku.
Google recently opened up its Chromecast device to outside developers, so it’s possible a wave of new content is on its way. For now, its big names are Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu, YouTube and Google Play, plus a handful of smaller apps.
A third major competitor in the streaming-to-TV space is Apple TV. Apple’s offering is still an old-fashioned box, but it could just be a matter of time before the company jumps on the stick-shaped bandwagon. It has more content options than a Chromecast but still lags behind the Roku. Of course, an Apple device would appeal to people already deep into the Apple ecosystem.
Cable companies have been slow to update their set-top boxes, and smart TVs haven’t caught on in the same way that easy-to-use Apple TV, Chromecast and Roku have. Roku is also working directly with television manufacturers to integrate its technology into their TVs.