Roku announced the Roku Streaming Stick today, which manages to pack nearly all the functionality of a full-size Roku box into a device not much bigger than an USB flash drive. It's actually a new version of Roku's old MHL-based Streaming Stick, but there are two major differences: it now works with any TV that has an HDMI input, and it's half the price, at just $49.
So what do you get for the extra $15 over the Chromecast? For one, you get a traditional remote and an onscreen interface. It's a pretty standard Roku remote, and it works via Wi-Fi Direct, so it can still control the Streaming Stick when it's hidden behind your TV.
The Streaming Stick supports nearly every major service -- such as Netflix, YouTube, HBO Go, Amazon Instant, MLB.TV, Showtime Anytime, and PBS -- as well as a huge number of niche content sources. While the Chromecast has added some crucial apps since its launch (including HBO Go, Hulu Plus, and Pandora), it still can't compare to Roku's sprawling and frequently updated library.
Besides the new look, the app also integrates Roku's excellent cross-platform search, which scours several major content sources (including Netflix, Amazon Instant, HBO Go, and Hulu Plus) to find where a TV show or movie is available and how much it costs.
Select one of the services and it plays right on your Roku. It's a great feature to add to the mobile app, where it can be easier to type in search terms, although Roku's predict-as-you-type searching using the onscreen keyboard is pretty quick, too.
In terms of the hardware, the Streaming Stick has 1080p output and dual-band Wi-Fi support. Roku says the internal chip is similar to the one in the Roku 1, so it likely won't be quite as lightning-fast as the Roku 3.
The new Roku Streaming Stick is scheduled to come out in April for $49. I'll have a full review as soon as I get my hands on a review sample, but from my initial impressions the new Streaming Stick has a decent shot at dethroning our current Editors' Choice, the Roku 3.