Light Reading

Roku Sticks It to Google

Mari Silbey

Although Roku's second-generation streaming stick will not officially launch until April, the company is already taking pre-orders, as it prepares to take on Google's popular Chromecast device.

Ringing in at $50 at retail, the new HDMI adapter from Roku Inc. doesn't beat or even match Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s $35 streaming stick on price. But the new Roku entry does come with a slew of content options that Chromecast can't match, including ESPN, Showtime, and Amazon Instant Video. It also comes with a remote, which means that users can access apps on their TVs without needing a smartphone or tablet nearby.

Retail companies have released a flood of media-streaming boxes over the last few years, but it looks as if 2014 will be the year when streaming sticks take over the market. Aside from Google and Roku, several companies have indicated (or flatly announced) near-term plans to launch their own tiny TV hardware. Plus, MobiTV Inc. has partnered with Jabil Circuit Inc. (NYSE: JBL) to create a white-label HDMI dongle that it says will be deployed by a wireless carrier sometime this year. (See MobiTV Takes Aim at the… TV.)

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), meanwhile, has new gear from the acquisition of Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)'s OnCue service that it's readying for launch. At the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media, & Telecom conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Verizon chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam indicated that the OnCue hardware is closer to the size of a streaming stick than to a traditional set-top. "The set-top box in an OnCue environment is a little bit bigger than the end of my thumb, so it's very easy to tie into the LTE as well as the WiFi network," McAdam said. (See Why Did Verizon Buy OnCue?)

The one area where streaming sticks may not gain ground in 2014 is the cable sector. Despite wanting to spend less on set-tops, cable operators have to deliver more features and better-quality service than most consumers expect to get with over-the-top video. So they're feeling a bit hamstrung right now. (See Can Cable Stick One on Chromecast?)

Even with cable companies sitting on the sidelines, though, the market for HDMI adapters is heating up. Roku and Google are in the lead, but there are more streaming sticks on the way.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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User Rank: Blogger
3/8/2014 | 4:17:59 PM
Google vs. Roku
I was wondering a little about the price difference between Chromecast and Roku's stick, but if you get access to all of Roku's apps vs. what Chromecast has, that's a pretty good deal.
User Rank: Moderator
3/6/2014 | 4:50:43 PM
Re: Roku
No doubt.  The Roku 3 was cheap, high-quality audio / video, low-footprint.  I don't understand the push for the stick, other than an easy counter to Chromecast & its perceptions.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 3:58:26 PM
Re: Cable STBs
The division between slim streaming dongles versus full-sized set tob boxes makes me wonder which side Apple will take when it really tackles the living room market. Apple TV suggests they'll stick with a full STB, but maybe they have something else in mind? 

Given Apple's Carplay development, maybe it will partner with cable companies to create a high-end STB experience? That would be my guess, especially because Apple isn't known to target the low end of any market when it introduces a new product.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 3:53:49 PM
Re: Concerned
All four of my HDMI ports on now taken up. 

FOUR HMDI ports.. that's luxury. I only have 2 HMDI inputs on my TV, so I'm going to run into a scarcity problem very soon -- unless I want to invest in some kind of adapter cable for my other TV accessories.

If only Aereo operated in my town... and had a Chromecast app. Maybe someday.. If the courts allow Aereo to continue to exist.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 12:07:55 PM
Re: Roku
These sticks are exactly why Comcast and TWC are merging. People are spending less on cable. There could be a time soon when a younger generation doesn't pay for television in that way.

In order to compete, the cable providers want to merge together in the industry. Plus, Comcast owns a lot more content now that they have NBCUniversal. 
Jessie Morrow
Jessie Morrow,
User Rank: Lightning
3/6/2014 | 11:24:18 AM
All four of my HDMI ports on now taken up. What to do when the next greatest dongle rears its head? I see some hard deceisons head and most certainly staking out a plot for a new graveyard for old passe sticks.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 9:12:03 AM
Cable STBs
I think it's no surprise at all that cable's sitting out the OTT hardware and dongle frenzy--basic delivery of video to a television (this is OTT after all, bent on cheaper alternatives to fuller-featured cable boxes and subscriptions) is not their game. I think it's interesting that OTT is getting more streamlined and focused even as cable and satellite experiences are getting fuller--whole-home DVRs (the Genie, the Hopper), cloud-based gateways (Xfinity X1 and X2 for instance) and network-based delivery of services. New competitive battle-lines are being drawn that are different from event three months ago.
User Rank: Light Sabre
3/6/2014 | 7:40:10 AM
Re: Roku
Yes I simply mean using the Aereo app on Roku. The image quality didn't bother me nearly as much as it seems to have bothered other people. Also only a few times ran into any buffering issues, and that's over Wi-Fi. Also found all the channels to be a welcome change; I'm not sure why Microsoft insists they're embracing the next-generation of TV with the Xbox One, yet they faile to provide immense options Roku provides in terms of apps/channels. It's not as if licensing most of them cost Roku much if any money, but the variety is impressive.

In fact my ONLY complaint with Roku has to do with their Netflix app, which only uses Dolby Digital Plus for output. My receiver is from 2008 (ancient history, apparently) and doesn't support DD+. Every other incarnation of the Netflix app (on the Playstation, Xbox, etc.) has no problem sending out 5.1 signal using other standards. Even Amazon's streaming app on the Roku doesn't have that problem. But if I want to watch Netflix on the Roku, I have to watch it in stereo.
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
3/5/2014 | 11:51:57 PM
Re: Roku
I'm curious myself how you combine Roku and Aero. Unless you mean simply using both.

Count me as another happy Roku 3 user. The ability to search for desired programming by title, actor, director, etc. is inspired in its simplicity. It beats drilling down into multiple individual apps to find what you're looking for. Simplicity like that gives cable operators stiff competition from OTT services.
User Rank: Blogger
3/5/2014 | 9:29:25 PM
Re: Roku
Interesting, Karl. Can you tell us more, especially about the Roku/Aereo combo? Were there any big viewing gaps left? 
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