Roku is taking on Google's Chromecast device with the launch of a version of its Streaming Stick that works with any HDTV to deliver access to Netflix, YouTube and 1,200 other Internet-delivered channels.
Roku's Streaming Stick for HDMI, to begin shipping in April, is listed at $49.99 -- $15 more than Google Chromecast. But unlike Google's set-top-on-a-stick, which relies on smartphone or tablet apps to control content playback on TV, the Roku product has a separate remote control.
And Roku says that's key: "A lot of the consumer feedback we have is: People really, really want a remote," chief marketing officer Matthew Anderson said.
That said, the new HDMI-compatible Roku Streaming Stick can be controlled via free apps for Android and iOS devices, just like Chromecast, to browse and select channels to stream. The Roku stick also supports "casting" Netflix, YouTube and personal media from mobile devices to their TVs.
The Internet-video player segment had been a two-horse race between Roku and Apple TV, before Chromecast crashed the party. Meanwhile, Amazon.com has been rumored to be readying its own set-top device, with a possible launch this spring.
The new Roku Streaming Stick is actually the same form factor as the Roku Streaming Stick, which the company launched in 2012. But that product uses the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) spec, which is not as widely supported on HDTVs as the standard HDMI interface. Still, the original stick is not going away, according to Anderson: In 2013, Roku certified 60 different TVs and other products from 14 partners and this year that will expand to 125 devices from 20 partners.
To date, Roku has sold around 8 million video-player devices in the U.S. According to Anderson, viewing among Roku users was up 70% in 2013 versus the year prior, to a total of 1.7 billion hours. The average Roku household spends about 13 hours per week using the devices, while the top 25% of users spends 36 hours with them.
With the launch of Roku's HDMI Streaming Stick, the company is phasing out the Roku LT model. It will continue to offer the $50 Roku 1 set-top, the $80 Roku 2 set-top (which includes an audio jack in the remote) and the $100 Roku 3, which adds support for videogame apps.
The goal with the new Streaming Stick was to get it under a $50 price point. It rounds out Roku's product lineup across traditional standalone players, stick-based devices, and Roku-based TVs, which are set to debut in the fall of 2014 from Chinese manufacturers TCL and Hisense. "This spreads us across the board," Anderson said.
The new Roku Streaming Stick also will be available in Canada (for $59.99 Canadian), and in the U.K. and Republic of Ireland (for Â£49.99).
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