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Roku's Dongle Replaces Set-Top Box for Capable TV's

By Adam Dickter
January 4, 2012 1:22PM

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"It essentially includes everything in a Roku player -- built-in Wi-Fi, processor, memory and software -- and will deliver all the channels found on the Roku platform today," said Roku CEO Anthony Wood. "It will also benefit from regular free software updates and channel enhancements."

Be careful not to mix up your USB flash drive and your Wi-Fi enabled, Internet TV streaming device.

That could become a concern now that Roku has introduced a plug-in Streaming Stick that performs the same function as a set-top box, allowing compatible TV's to play Internet content. To be released in the second half of this year, it's about the size of a portable "thumb" drive.

The road to merging TV and the Web has been a slow one, but it's just a matter of time before all sets become smart. The Smart Stick makes the process simpler by plugging into mobile high-definition link (MHL) enabled HDMI ports on TVs, with no additional power supply, to be controlled with the TV's remote.

Cheap To Upgrade

In a company blog post announcing the product, Anthony Wood, CEO and founder of Roku, said the device is intended to eliminate the need for expensive hardware upgrades to accommodate more and more streaming content. Since the Streaming Stick will only cost between $50 and $100 (to be announced) it's easier to replace it than an expensive TV.

"It essentially includes everything in a Roku player -- built-in Wi-Fi, processor, memory and software -- and will deliver all the channels found on the Roku platform today," Wood said. "It will also benefit from regular free software updates and channel enhancements."

Content on Roku devices is provided by partners and accessed through the Roku Channel Store.

The diminutive form factor is "certainly intriguing," said digital home analyst Michael Inouye of ABI Research. But he said the convenience of plugging it in will vary by TV model, especially considering that mounting and bracket systems may get in the way.

"The use of MHL is also newsworthy but might also limit the device's market potential, at least initially," Inouye added. A new standard that is likely to emerge on more products at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, MHL uses the HDMI connector on TVs to deliver power and other critical elements for the streaming experience.

New Toshiba and Samsung TVs include MHL as does Best Buy's Insignia brand, which Wood said will be "among the first" to include the Streaming Stick as a bundle.

Dangle Your Dongle

Those who want to use the Streaming Stick on a non-MHL TV would evidently have to buy an active cable adapter/dongle to add MHL support, Inouye noted.

"While the addition of an adapter/dock might diminish the allure of the dongle's form factor it might still be possible to dangle it behind the TV and still avoid the additional clutter of another set-top box," he said. "MHL is targeting the mobile space so as more of these devices include MHL the consumer electronics devices will likely follow suit in kind."

So although the stick may be a bit ahead of its time, "ultimately this might portend things to come," Inouye said.

Tell Us What You Think


Mike Carrick:

Posted: 2012-01-08 @ 6:47am PT
SO - in theory I drop by my friends house with HBO on the dongle, watch some flix, and take it home when I go. Or in a year, my HBO GOes to the motel with me when I travel? how COOL.

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