Roku Streaming Stick Hits Market, Death Knell For Google Chromecast?

Jonathan Vankin

The Roku Streaming Stick hit the market today, and the new device could spell trouble for Google's streaming device, the Chromecast. Both devices are small, about the size of a pack of gum, and plug directly into a television set's HDMI port. Both offer significant advantages for customers who want a low-cost means to turn an ordinary TV into a smart TV.

The purple Roku Streaming Stick became available by online mail order Friday from outlets such as Amazon, Target and Best Buy as well as the Roku site itself. The device will go on sale in physical retail outlets in April.

Google released its Chromecast, also a streaming device in the form of a "stick" — or "dongle — that plugs into a TV's HDMI port less than a year ago. While company has not publicized any sales figures, Google has claimed rather vaguely to have sold "millions" of the devices, which at $35 a pop have a price advantage over the $49.99 Roku Streaming Stick.

But the Roku Streaming Stick has one significant edge. The Roku device simply carries more content. Roku Streaming Stick users can access all of the approximately 1,200 channels available to users of the company's popular line of set-top boxes. Those include ESPN, PBS and the hundreds of specialized micro-targeted channels not yet accessible with the Chromecast.

Of course the most popular streaming service, Netflix, can be accessed from either device.

The Roku Streaming Stick released Friday is actually the second attempt at a "stick" device for the Saratoga, California-based company. But the previous version could be used only on TV sets made to accept the Roku device. The new, HDMI version is compatible with any TV that has at least one HDMI port, which in the current market is most every TV there is.

Unlike Google Chromecast, which requires users to use a computer or mobile device to pick channels and control functionality, the Roku Streaming Stick comes with its own hand-held remote control, basically the same device used to control Roku set top devices. But the Streaming Stick can also be controlled via a mobile device app.

Like the Google Chromecast, the Roku Streaming Stick allows users to stream YouTube videos from a mobile device.

Undoubtdely, the Roku Streaming Stick will also sell "millions," though Roku does not have the hype machine that Google has at its disposal. The battle between the two, highly similar devices will certainly prove as interesting to watch as, say, most of the movies on Netflix.