Today, Roku announced a new version of its media player on a small USB-sized stick. With access to the same channels as the current Roku players and built-in WiFi, it will connect directly to TVs via the Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) port, turning it into a Smart TV. The first partner for the Roku streaming stick is Best Buy with its own Insignia-branded TVs (planned ship in 2012). The Streaming Stick will be shipping in the second half of this year.
Update: According to Roku, there will be multiple versions of the stick sold. While there are no details on how many models, we should see 1080P, Dolby Digital and game support on at least one model.One of the distinguishing features of the Roku media player has been its easy set up. Given that the Streaming Stick uses no cables for power and it directly connects to the TV, it has the potential to make set up even easier. The Streaming Stick will integrate with the Insignia TV’s remote control. It’s unknown if Roku games such as Angry Birds will be supported on the Streaming Stick.
Chances are that if your TV supports MHL, you may not even know it. MHL uses the same physical connectors as HDMI cables. While the Streaming Stick will physically plug into any HDMI port, it has to be MHL enabled (MHL and HDMI are not signal compatible).
MHL was originally developed as an alternative way to connect mobile devices to HDTVs. There are a small number of TVs on the market right now that support the standard including select Samsung LEDs including the 6300 and 7000 series. Roku states that the Streaming Stick should work with any MHL enabled TV. The MHL standard supports 1080P and Dolby Digital sound so hopefully the Roku will not sacrifice any functionality in this area.
While the Streaming Stick frees up TV manufacturers from having to develop apps and app stores, companies such as LG and Samsung are probably not ready to abandon their own stores. Whoever owns the app store gets part of the app revenue. One wonders if TV app stores have generated any significant dollars for Samsung, LG or Google. Outside of video streaming services and social apps which are free, there hasn’t been a killer app to drive the adoption of Smart TVs.
Best Buy also launched an Insignia TV with a TiVo interface last year to mediocre reviews. Today’s announcement may be a sign that we may not see any new versions of the Insignia TVs with TiVo.