Media streamers are getting to be like the possessions of the Three Bears, and consumers are Goldilocks: The products are basically fairly similar, and it's just a matter of finding the balance between features, ecosystem, and price that makes one just right. The $50 Roku Streaming Stick aims for the sweet spot between Roku's line of set-top boxes—the top model being the $100 Roku 3—and the $35 dongle-shaped Chromecast from Google. And it mostly nails the best parts of each, with the familiar, user-friendly Roku experience in a small Wi-Fi-enabled stick that you can hide behind your TV.
Like the Chromecast, the Streaming Stick plugs in to a free HDMI port on your HDTV, but it still needs to be powered separately, so you connect the included USB cable to a powered USB port on your TV, or you can use the included adapter to plug it in to the wall. Then you just change your TV's input to that HDMI port, and use the included remote control to navigate the setup steps, which include adding the Stick to your Wi-Fi network, downloading firmware updates, logging in to a Roku account, and adding channels.
ROKU. If you have powered USB ports on the back of your TV, the Streaming Stick can stay totally hidden.
As convenient as the dongle form-factor is, when I tried to set the Stick up on my home network, I wished it was a real set-top box with an ethernet port so I could at least complete the initial steps with a wired connection to my router—if not just leave it wired all the time. The Stick had trouble connecting to the 802.11n network created by a dual-band Apple AirPort Express just a few feet away, and Roku's support suggested I try replacing my router. I've actually been meaning to do that anyway, but wasn't able to by press time—instead, I tried setting up the Stick on Wi-Fi networks at work and at a friend's house, and on those networks, it whipped through the setup process in just minutes, completely error-free. That made me feel better, but I'm still bummed about—and stumped by—its continued refusal to work at my house.
This remote rocks
Once it's up and running, though, the Roku Streaming Stick works just great. Its remote doesn't have the headphone jack or the motion control (for games) that the Roku 3 remote has. You can actually use the Roku 3 remote with the Streaming Stick, but the headphone jack and motion control features won't work.
ROKU. So glad to have a remote, even if it doesn't have the cool headphone jack that the Roku 3 remote does.
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