Roku intends to expand their digital media offerings later this year with the Streaming Stick — bringing Roku’s flavor of Smart TV capabilities to perhaps lower IQ sets. This doesn’t exactly mark the first time Roku has thought outside the box, having made their technology available for license in 2010. Yet, that initiative seems to have sputtered with apparently no HDTV takers and only a limited hardware run by Netgear. Whereas the Streaming Stick represents a more palatable hybrid approach for both potential partners and consumers alike.
The Roku Streaming Stick, slated for a late 2012 delivery, is described as the size of a typical USB thumb drive and contains just about everything that makes Roku a Roku, including processing and wireless capabilities in addition to their software experience. The relatively new MHL (Mobile High-definition Link) spec frees Roku of its current HDMI and power cables, with compatible HDTVs from Samsung and Toshiba already on the market. However, while at Sling, we similarly attempted to repurpose the HDMI connector for non-HDMI functionality… and it led to all sorts of user confusion. So I can imagine folks picking up the Roku Streaming Stick assuming they can simply plug it into any HDMI port and ending up frustrated, leading to increased Roku support costs and returns. Which is probably why Roku has also announced a partnership with Best Buy, who intends to bundle the Smart Stick with select MHL-capable Insignia-branded televisions — probably a simpler, cheaper, and all around less risky proposition than say the TiVo TV.
Of course a lot can happen between now and the end of the year. Plus, we don’t imagine Roku would cease development of their successful stand alone boxes. And GigaOm wonders if 2012 is the year Roku looks to sell (to Intel?). But, as a customer, what I’m looking for is more premium content, YouTube, and a refreshed UI to better manage the oodles and oodles of Roku channels.