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Christmas Gift Guide

Roku's new $49 Streaming Stick

HDMI-compatible

Small, simple

Micro-USB for power

Fits behind your TV

AC adapter included

Roku Streaming Stick vs. Chromecast

Roku Streaming Stick vs. Chromecast

Remote included

No headphone jack

More apps

More channels

New app coming in April

Integrated cross-platform search

Plays right on Roku

The box

Back of the box

Unboxing

Happy streaming

Remote underneath

AC adapter, Micro-USB cable, and manual

Specs

Hardware

Power consumption

USB cable length

Coming in April

Google Chromecast, you're not the only stick in town.

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.

Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The Streaming Stick sports Roku's signature purple color and it's designed to connect directly into a spare HDMI port on your TV.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
It's just a little over three inches long and there's not much else to the device, save for the HDMI connector, a micro-USB port, an indicator light, and a tiny button to reset the stick.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The Micro-USB port lets you power the device, by connecting it to a USB port on the TV (if it has one) or using the included power adapter.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The tucked-away location of the Streaming Stick means it likely won't work with a universal remote.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
Roku includes a power adapter and a Micro-USB-to-USB cable.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
If this all sounds familiar, that's because the design is awfully similar to Google's $35 Chromecast. It's hard not to see the updated Streaming Stick as a response to Google's popular streamer.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The Streaming Stick is slightly longer but doesn't have the bulbous end of the Chromecast.
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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.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Note that the remote doesn't have the neat headphone jack for private listening, so you'll still need to step up to a Roku 2 or Roku 3 for that feature.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
The other major perk over the Chromecast is you get access to all 1,200 of Roku's apps, or "channels" in Roku's parlance.
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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.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Roku also showed off an upcoming version of its overhauled mobile app, which is due in April.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
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.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
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.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
Roku also had the retail packaging for the Streaming Stick on display.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
While it may not match Apple's celebrated packaging, it's clearly a step above your typical retail box.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Pull out the Streaming Stick and the remote is underneath.
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At the very bottom, you'll find the power adapter, a Micro-USB cable and the manual.
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The Streaming Stick measures 0.5-inch high, 3.1 inches long, 1.1 inches wide, and it weighs 0.64-ounce.
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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.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
Roku rates the Streaming Stick's power consumption at less than two watts when streaming HD video.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
I didn't have a tape measure on hand, but the Micro-USB cable easily reached across the length of the TV in the demo.
Caption by / Photo by Matthew Moskovciak/CNET
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.
Caption by / Photo by Lori Grunin/CNET
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