Streaming hardware startup Roku has spent the last several years building devices to make dumb TVs smarter, and unlocking a whole lot of over-the-top video content along the way. Today, the company is introducing a new version of its Streaming Stick that will be a lot more affordable at $49, as well as a lot more accessible, by connecting to a TV’s HDMI port.
Since about 2008, Roku has enabled viewers to access a wide range of streaming content by hooking their TVs up to their Internet-connected set-top boxes. Starting with just Netflix, Roku has expanded its content offering to make available more than 1,200 content options through its channel store.
Two years ago, Roku shrunk its components down enough that the company could offer its full-featured streaming service onto a device that was just about the size of a USB thumb drive. The Streaming Stick, as it was called, initially sold for $99 and was packaged as a way for CE manufacturers like Hitachi and Mitsubishi, who didn’t have their own connected TVs, to give their customers access to streaming-video services.
The newest version of the Streaming Stick has all the same features as the original, but it is being offered at a lower price point and it doesn’t depend on a TV being “Roku Ready” to work. While the first iteration of the Streaming Stick depended on an MHL-enhanced HDMI port to work, any old HDMI port will do for the newer version.
That means that it won’t draw power directly from the port — you’ll have to plug it into the TV via USB or into a regular power outlet to get it to work. It also means that the new streaming stick can’t be controlled by the TV’s remote control, as earlier versions were. Like Roku set-top boxes, the streaming stick comes with its own RF- and Wi-Fi-connected remote to search and navigate various menu items.
At $49, the new Streaming Stick is priced within reach for anyone who wants to connect their TV to a wide variety of new streaming services. It’s available for pre-order now, but slated to go on sale at a number of online and brick-and-mortar retailers and ship to consumers in April.
The Streaming Stick follows Roku’s strategy of having multiple devices at different price points. It’s now in line with the Roku 1 streaming box, which is seeing its price reduced $10, from $59 to $49. The Roku 2 and Roku 3 boxes, which each have more features available, are holding steady at $79 and $99, respectively.
The updated Streaming Stick is Roku’s first new product launch since it updated its set-top box line last spring, when it introduced the high-end Roku 3. But you can expect a line of Roku-powered TVs from manufacturers like Hisense and TCL to be launched later this year, which will put the smarts of its streaming service directly into connected televisions for the first time.
Meanwhile, Roku is reportedly getting closer to an initial public offering, not long after raising $60 million from Fidelity. With Google’s Chromecast opening up its SDK, and a new Amazon streaming box expected in the coming months, it’s not a moment too soon.