It's war out there for makers of media streamers, and we are the beneficiaries. With Google selling its Chromecast in the UK for just £30 and Now TV offering its box for £10, this Roku Streaming Stick looks expensive at £50. But if you have the money to spare, it's the best buy of the three.
The streamer itself is about the size of a large USB stick, and the idea is it plugs straight into the HDMI port on your TV, just like the Chromecast. If your TV has a spare USB port, you can connect a cable to that for power, otherwise you'll need to run a plug to the mains using the provided adaptor.
A good remote control
Unlike the Chromecast, which is just controlled with a phone, tablet or computer, this comes with a proper remote control. This is a good thing: I find it slightly irritating to have to pick up a phone just to watch TV, especially as that means I'm likely to be distracted by a bunch of unread emails and the latest Twitterstorm. The remote is great and doesn't work using infra-red, relying on RF instead. That means you don't need to have a line of sight between remote and stick for the controls to work.
In case you don't want to use the remote, Roku has a basic app that you can use to control the device. It's pretty useless apart from in certain apps when searching for something. In those, you use the keyboard on your phone rather than selecting letters from an on-screen keyboard using the remote. It only seems to work for certain channels: it worked fine for Netflix, but not in Now TV, for example.
A better way of playing TV with apps is by "casting" it from apps to the Streaming Stick. This works the same way it does on Google's Chromecast: if a phone or tablet app supports this feature, an icon appears. Tap it, choose the Roku box from a list and whatever you choose on the app plays on your TV. When it works, which is most of the time in my tests, it works well, and it's a lot easier finding stuff with a phone keyboard than with one on the TV. Unfortunately, iPlayer doesn't support this feature, although Netflix does.
You need to create a Roku account to get it working, which involves handing over credit card details or a Paypal account, plus an address and phone number. That seems a bit much considering you are unlikely to buy anything directly from Roku itself, but you get over it quickly, and the menus are simple to navigate with the remote.
Lots of channels, with exceptions
Once you have logged in, the box suggests various default channels to install: after that's done, you can add more from Roku's store. Most of the big names are included: iPlayer, Netflix, Now TV, 4OD, Channel 5 and everyone's first video-on-demand fav, CNET. Movies can be rented through the Sky Store.