Roku Sticks It to TVs

Roku is probably one of the most successful network media players out there, and they seem to keep getting better. The boxes keep getting smaller and programming choices available through them keep growing. It’s a great way to make a dumb TV smart.

But now Roku has decided to think small again. The company has announced the Roku Streaming Stick, which looks like a typical USB thumb drive. Plug it into an HDMI port of a supported television, however, and you get streaming access to video from the Internet using a wireless connection to your home network.

The one speed bumb in the preceding paragraph is the single word “supported.” The Streaming Stick relies on Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) technology, which is not yet widely implemented. Roku announced that Best Buy intends to produce HDTVs under the Insignia brand that will support the Streaming Stick sometime this year, though the Roku press release did not offer any more specific details.

The problem is that the a typical smart TV offers much of what the Streaming Stick delivers, so it will likely appeal more to buyers of low-end models who want to add smart-TV-style access to streaming video. Unlike the existing Roku boxes that will work with older sets, however, this new device will only work with new televisions that have MHL support. Still, it could provide a lower-cost upgrade route for consumers who buy a low-price HDTV now, but who decide they want to add streaming video support later. Since the average TV will probably see eight to ten years of use over its lifetime, this could be an attractive feature. Whether or not this represents a large-enough market for Roku to make the product successful remains to be seen.