Streaming stick battle heats up

A few months ago when the Google Chromecast launched, many pondered whether it would be a “Roku-killer”, (Roku being the market leader with a range of the easiest, smallest boxes available). At just $35, the Chromecast cost substantially less than the lowest-priced Roku at the time, but also offered a lot fewer content options, though they are adding new services all the time. Two key differences were the form factor (a little memory stick-sized thing as opposed to a tiny box the size of a deck of cards), and the fact that the Chromecast relies completely on your mobile device as a controller rather than having a dedicated remote.

Roku Streaming Stick available at Walmart.comWell, Roku seems to be fighting back with its own Roku Streaming Stick announced this week and expected to hit the market at the end of March at $49.

The form factor is similar to the Chromecast, a little stick which plugs directly into the HDMI port on your TV (so make sure you have one of those – almost all newer TVs do), and which makes it easier to hide with wall-mounted TVs – no hanging little box to deal with.  Note that both models still need to be plugged into power either in a USB port on your TV or into the wall.

The biggest difference with the Roku Streaming Stick is that it comes with a normal physical remote AND you can also use your mobile device to control it – your choice. According to their research, most people still prefer using a remote control (10% consider it indispensable) so they are serving a market who may still be unwilling to try Chromecast for that reason.

Roku is also still the king when it comes to content library, with over 1000+ channels available as well as the ability to stream your personal media to your TV.  A recent software update across their entire line of Rokus even supports “universal search” – so instead of having to hunt around in each individual service or channel to figure out what shows or movies are available through which one, you can simply start typing the name of what you’re looking for and Roku will point you to the right place to start watching faster.

With their new streaming stick, Roku is also adding the ability to mirror the browser window on your computer (one of the coolest functions of the Chromecast with the Chrome browser), and “push” or “cast” video from Netflix and YouTube from your mobile device to your screen, again, another feature also available on Chromecast.

So which streaming device is right for you?

  • With either Chromecast or Roku Streaming Stick, you are getting that streamlined tiny form factor which plus directly into your TV’s HDMI port plus power.
  • The Roku comes with a remote control – if you have a lot of guests or people rotating through the living room who may not have access to a mobile device to control the Chromecast, this could be handy.
  • The Chromecast is still $35 compared to the Roku Streaming Stick at $49, so if that $14 price difference is really important to you, you’ll need to weigh whether the remote and additional content services are worth that.

Whatever you decide, you can pre-order the Roku Streaming Stick at Walmart and it’ll ship when it releases in a few weeks, or buy a Chromecast now. They are both wonderful, inexpensive little entertainment devices which can enhance any TV so it’s hard to go wrong!

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4 thoughts on “Streaming stick battle heats up

  1. Hi Judi – yes, you can use the other HDMI slot which is just another input. You’ll likely need to switch the “source” on your TV to view it.

  2. I have two HDMI slots on my TV. One is in use. Should I put the Roku into the other one?

  3. @Valerie: That was actually the first-generation Roku Streaming Stick, which went nowhere because it required an MHL (not MDL) compatible HDMI port, which very few TVs have. They have since revised it to work with an ordinary HDMI port plus USB power, just like the Chromecast.

  4. I had no idea my mother-in-law was into bleeding edge technology (neither did she). We ordered her a Sceptre 32″ TV from Wal-Mart back in mid February and it had an option to include a Roku Streaming Stick. I didn’t have any idea how long they had been around. I’ve been building my own HTPCs for 13-14 years now so I was aware of Roku but had never really messed around with it. So it was available as a bundle-in before being available stand-alone.

    Anyway, she’s been using it for several weeks now and its working great. Just a small addendum to the review above–it is not powered by a seperate USB attachment. You just plug it into the MDL compatible HDMI slot on the TV and you’re up and running.

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