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Roku Streaming Stick

There are a burgeoning number of ways to receive content streamed from the internet to your living room TV, and no single provider is proving significantly dominant. One service that is certainly popular, though, is Roku. Here's our hands-on look at the recently-launched Roku Streaming Stick.



Two questions are immediately worth addressing regarding the device: what is it, and how does it compare to Google's Chromecast?
In short, the Streaming Stick (which was announced in March) is a small dongle that plugs into an HDMI port in the back of a TV to provide the user with a host of "channels" streamed from the internet. Netflix, Now TV and BBC iPlayer are some examples of the channels available.
The basic premise is that serving such internet-based content to a living room TV provides a better viewing experience to users, than having to watch content on a laptop. Roku provides a remote control with the Streaming Stick, to make the experience as similar as possible to normal couch-based viewing.

 Unpacking the box reveals the Streaming Stick itself, the remote control and a cable to power the device via a USB port on the TV or a plug socket. A plug adapter is also provided. A short set of instructions explains how to get going, but it will be pretty straightforward stuff for anyone who's ever set up a new TV or similar. Language, network and timezone settings are requested, before the device is activated by inputting a code that is sent to the user's email address. The Streaming Stick connects to the user's home Wi-Fi network and is dual-band wireless N. compatible, so it will work with most home routers.


A remote control, power lead and instructions are included in the box underneath the Streaming Stick itself 

 Users need to set up a Roku account if they don't already have one, and input payment card or PayPal details for any purchases. Restrictions are set at this point to determine when a PIN should be used for authorizing payments, if at all. Users are then taken through a process of choosing what initial channels to install. The usual suspects are there, such as Netflix and YouTube, as well as regional options. Being based in the UK, I was offered UK-based TV channel catch-up services like 4OD and Demand 5.


The UK version of the streaming stick that I tested offers over 500 channels, with more offered in other countries. There are over 1,000 in the US, for example. The device is compatible with HDTVs only and plays up to 1080p HD video. Users can also play games and view their own photos and videos via a number of different apps.
 

Verdict

The Streaming Stick is great for watching films via Netflix or the Sky Store (depending on regional availability), catching up on TV shows and grazing on niche content. It will, as the packaging proclaims, "be fun," but it will not blow your socks off. If you're a discerning consumer of content, then consider what Roku is offering carefully in relation to what you like watching before making a decision.
The device retails for US$49.99 (or £49.99 in the UK).





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