Roku Sticks It to Google
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