First Look: Roku Streaming Stick

Apr 19, 2014 by

Roku released a new Streaming Stick at the start of this quarter, and this one works in any HDMI port…not just MHL-enabled ports. The advantage, of course, is that you don’t need another box sitting next to your TV—you can just plug the thing right into your TV and, in many cases, power it from one of your TV’s USB ports, too.

Our first look at this new device yields mixed reactions. It’s nice that it’s compact. It’s nice that it costs less than $50. And it’s very nice that the remote doesn’t need line of site. On our test television, this is replacing a Chromecast dongle, so all of these qualities put the products on par.

The Roku, however, offers significantly greater content opportunities with hundreds (thousands?) of Roku channels. Of course, it’s probably the big ones you’ll care about more than anything else, but Roku definitely supports the long tail, too. It’s also nice to have a physical remote control that you can operate without having to look at it and the available Roku app as an alternative (although seriously, guys…that app needs some work).

That’s the good. Now the bad. Our test television is wall-mounted, so we plugged the Roku stick into one of the side-mounted ports. Unfortunately, the way our HDMI ports are oriented [is this standardized?], the back of the Roku stick is visible, compete with ugly serial numbers and bar codes.

Unlike the Chromecast, the Roku stick doesn’t trigger our test television’s source selection when it wakes up, so that means we need to switch inputs manually with the TV remote. While we’re considering the remotes, another peeve is that the Roku remote makes no attempt to offer any pass-through controls for the TV volume or power, either. So if you’re using the Roku Streaming Stick on a TV, you’re stuck using two remotes. And that universal remote isn’t going to help at all–the Roku remote does not use IR.

The biggest negative is that the Roku Streaming Stick is slow, slow, slow. The interface is somewhat laggy, though whether that’s the remote or the UI is hard to determine. More annoyingly, a cold startup takes about 60 seconds. That might not seem like much, but here’s the scenario: You turn on the TV because you want to watch something on Roku. You switch to the Roku as the source (which you have to do manually), and you wait. You see the word Roku. Keep waiting. Now the Roku letters are dancing. How cute. Keep waiting. Wait some more. Now the screen has a purple hue, but nothing on it. No messaging, no “please wait” to let you know it should be doing this, no progress indication of any kind…then finally after a full minute of waiting, the Roku menu appears. Too slow. Way too slow. This needs work—if nothing else by giving some indication of what’s going on.

So do we dislike the Roku Streaming Stick? No. At fifty bucks, it’s hard to resist, but we certainly wish they’d thought more about some of the usability issues. If you don’t yet have a streaming box, and you don’t mind the little black box sitting somewhere in your entertainment center, though, you may want to just shell out the $100 for the Roku 3. It’s significantly faster and adds gaming and local storage playback options.

 

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