Roku announced today that it will soon release a $50 streaming stick device that closely resembles the Google Chromecast but comes with two key advantages: It includes an actual remote control and it of course features Roku's much wider array of supported services. While I feel that today's Roku devices are already superior to the Chromecast, this inexpensive device should settle the argument for most others.
As always, there's one exception: If you're a heavy user of Google entertainment services for some reason, the Chromecast will make some sense. Check out my Google Chromecast Review for the details.
But let's talk Roku today.
Today, the firm sells three living room set-top boxes: The Roku 1 ($49.99), the Roku 2 ($79.99) and the Roku 3 ($99.99). Each comes with a remote control, unlike Chromecast, and each supports over 1000 entertainment channels including all the heavy hitters. We use a Roku 3 daily in the living room, and I have a Roku 2 in my office for the elliptical. Both are primarily used to access Netflix.
But Roku has announced a fourth option, the Roku Streaming Stick. Like the Chromecast, this is an HDMI dongle, so it will attach to the side or back of your HDTV and could effectively be hidden most of the time. It can be powered via USB if your TV has such a port, or using a wall charger, like Chromecast. Unlike the Chromecast, it comes with a remote.
From a functional perspective, it's a bit hard to place the streaming stick inline with the other Roku devices. It features "cast" support for Netflix and YouTube apps like the Roku 3 (just like Chromecast, obviously), and dual-based wireless like the Roku 2 and 3. But it is lacking a few features I like from Roku 3, like a USB 3 and microSD ports for adding storage.
The price is clearly designed to get Roku into Chromecast territory, and while $49.99 is absolutely more expensive than the Chromecast's $35 price, it's close enough and, remember, it does come with that remote.
The Roku Streaming Stick ships April 15, 2014. I will be reviewing this device next month.