Roku this morning introduced the third generation of its lower-cost streaming service, the Roku Streaming Stick, priced at $49.99, and a competitor to other sticks and dongles, like Google’s Chromecast or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. The new device now includes a quad-core processor which will make using Roku’s software feel speedier than before, and it also introduces a way to use the Stick and Roku’s mobile application for private listening.
That is, thanks to a forthcoming mobile app update, Roku Streaming Stick owners will be able to plug in their headphones to their smartphone, then push a button in the app to stream the audio from their program to their mobile device. Wireless headphones will also be supported.
A similar feature has previously been available for the Roku streaming player models (3 and 4), thanks to a headphone jack on the accompanying remote control – but it had not yet been possible for the stick.
The company says the new device has 8 times the processing power of the prior version, and with the quad-core processor it now tops the processing power of other competitors’ sticks, including those from Google and Amazon.
This is meant to be a big selling point for new Roku, as this entry-level device is meant to attract those who want the convenience of a portable form factor, but who don’t want to suffer from a poor streaming and browsing experience. That hasn’t always been the case with Roku’s earlier models, however – its previous generation sticks could feel a little slow, especially in comparison with its streaming players.
While Roku doesn’t break out which of its devices are the most popular in terms of sales, the company did tell us that overall, the streaming stick category is the fastest-growing in the wider market. That’s why it makes sense that it’s now rolling out a new model – its last update to the Stick was in 2014, after the initial version was introduced in 2012.
In addition, the updated Stick includes other features like more performant, dual-band MIMO wireless for connectivity; the ability to cast video from apps like Netflix and YouTube to the TV; the ability to use the Roku mobile app to play personal videos, music, and photos as well as use it as a remote control; and the recently launched “Hotel and Dorm Connect” feature which makes it easier to connect to wireless networks that have an authentication page.
Like Roku’s newest streaming player, the Roku 4, the Roku Streaming Stick will also run the latest version of the company’s operating system, Roku OS 7.1. This includes changes to the Roku Feed that help you better discover new shows and movies, track those that are coming soon, and follow your favorite programs so you know when new episodes are available.
The update comes at a time when Roku has established itself as one of the leading players in the streaming device market, with roughly 10 million active account holders across 10 countries who are streaming more hours than ever before via their Roku devices. In 2015, streaming was up 73 percent over the year before, for example.
To some extent, of course, Roku’s growth is a reflection of the larger shift away from watching live TV to streaming services, and the need for hardware devices that make that possible for those times you still want to watch on the TV’s big screen.
However, Roku’s advantage in this space is that, because it’s an independent product without its own streaming service to promote, it can be agnostic about its offerings. Today that means over 3,000 streaming channels, and 300,000 movies and TV episodes. Meanwhile, devices like Chromecast, Android TV and Amazon Fire TV/TV Stick don’t always play well with each others’ competing services.
Plus, Roku’s simplified menu and minimalist remote control are a better fit for a more mainstream audience who find the software and hardware from companies like TiVo more complicated to learn.
The Roku Streaming Stick is available for pre-order on Roku.com and will retail later this month at stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and others. The retail price is still $49.99, as with the prior model.