Hot on the heels of the Google Chromecast, how does Roku's HDMI dongle measure up to its main rival? Find out in our Roku Streaming Stick review
The Roku Streaming Stick transforms your telly into a smart TV by simply plugging into an HDMI port. The clever little HDMI stick is in direct competition with the Google Chromecast, as well as Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV.
The device looks like an oversized USB stick and enables access to a vast number of streaming apps with the big hitters being Netflix, Sky's Now TV and BBC iPlayer.
At present, it can't cast content from your computer, as Google's version can with chrome tabs, but Roku has said that this will be possible "in time".
Roku Streaming Stick: Size and build
The stick itself sports Roku's telltale purple hue and although it looks a little plasticky, for most it will probably be hidden round the back of their TV.
Unlike Google's Chromecast, the stick doesn't come with an HDMI extender cable, so if your TV setup doesn't enable it to be plugged in easily, you'll need to shell out for your own cable.
The remote control is Wi-Fi based, rather than IR, which means that it doesn't need a direct line of sight to the Roku stick. The design is almost identical to Roku's previous remotes - a pleasingly simple design that's absolute child's play to use. It's a bit chunkier and the the OK button being in a slightly different place takes some getting used to for seasoned Roku users.
Roku Streaming Stick: Setup
Setup is very simple - just plug it into an HDMI port on your TV and then hook up the power adaptor to the mains. Alternatively, if you have a powered USB port on your TV you can plug the cable directly in there, although be warned, some ports won't provide enough power to do this.
The friendly onscreen instructions will prompt you to connect to your Wi-Fi network, then it'll ask you to sign into your Roku account, or set one up if you don't already have one. You'll need a credit card for this, but you won't be charged a penny unless you buy extra apps from the Roku Channel Store.
Roku Streaming Stick: Interface
The stick uses the familiar Roku onscreen interface, which is very intuitive and pretty much idiot proof. You get a few apps straight out of the box (e.g Netflix), then you can choose additional apps from the Roku Channel Store, which is a doddle to navigate around.
The search function could be slicker - something that we hope will come with the next software update.
You can also download free iOS and Android apps that enable you to use your smartphone as a touchscreen remote control, if the supplied button-based remote is just not hipster enough for you. This is a nice touch, and the navigation is nicely laid out, while the apps can be scrolled through slightly more fluidly than when using the traditional remote.
Roku Streaming Stick: Content
Roku offers more than 500 channels of content of varying use and quality. Obviously some of the channels that make up that impressive number aren't really worth bothering with but there's a hell of a lot of good stuff to choose from.
Along with Netflix, iPlayer and Now TV, other big names include YouTube, Demand 5 and Spotify. Amazon Prime Instant Video is notable by its absence, which is a shame as the US version is available on the American model of the Streaming Stick.
Roku told us that Amazon is a strong content partner and that it intends to bring streaming from Prime Instant video to the UK, but it can't be specific on timing right now. We hope it's soon, as this would mean that pretty much all the major movie streaming services would be covered.
Along with video and photo apps like Flickr, Vimeo and Picasa, you can also add Facebook which, although probably a rather chunky way of regularly checking your feed is a great way to show off your holiday snaps on the big screen in classic slideshow style.
There are also a good number of channels where you can stream 'classic' (we use the term loosely) films. Mostly arranged by genre, the channels vary wildly, but mostly offer free streaming, or ad-free viewing for a small fee. Films tends to be B-movies, but there were plenty that we'd heard of.
There's also a healthy selection of free games, but obviously nothing approaching the quality of the likes of Call of Duty or Battlefield 4.
Roku Streaming Stick: Streaming
The Roku sports a dual-band wireless connection (compared to the Chromecast's single band connection), which should mean smoother, more consistent streaming. Content is streamed at up to 1080p HD, depending on what's available.
We didn't have problems with buffering or lag, even on the niche movie channels and picture quality was great on newer stuff like Mad Men and Game of Thrones and a tad soft on older content like obsucre 70s horror flicks.
Roku Streaming Stick: Verdict
While both great devices, we reckon the Roku has the edge over the Chromecast. It may cost a tenner more, but we reckon it's worth it for the app selection, plus the promise of Amazon Prime Instant Video and casting from your laptop in the future.
If you've already got a games console like the PS4 or Xbox One or a smart TV then you probably don't need the Roku. However, if you've got a non-smart HDMI-toting TV then this nifty little stick is an absolute bargain.
Roku Streaming Stick release date: Out now
Roku Streaming Stick price: £49.99