A new version of the Roku Streaming Stick, announced today, sees updates that allow it to perform almost as well as its higher-priced stablemates. The newly enhanced $50 HDMI streaming dongle still outputs in HD and lacks the 4K capability of the company’s top-of-the-line Roku 4 streamer box, but faster processing speeds and updates to the Roku mobile app give the Streaming Stick a big boost.
Roku’s new ultraportable streamer is a bit skinnier and longer than the previous Streaming Stick. It’s also 100 percent less purple. Roku has switched the stick’s color to black, but the really important changes are hidden from view. For one, the stick is now powered by a quad-core processor—eight times the processing power of the previous stick, according to Roku chief marketing officer Matthew Anderson. Anderson says that as the streaming market has matured, apps now have more artwork and other CPU-intensive content than ever. This can often slow down streaming sticks when loading or browsing, as they use lower-end components and lack the muscle of larger puck streamers.
Roku’s engineers have worked on quicker performance, boot-up speeds, and faster navigation with the new stick. Part of this is the new processor, and part of it is the work the team has done to improve wireless performance over the stick’s dual-band 802.11n connection. The stick is a little longer because of the new antenna placement, and it has some interference-busting shielding.
Roku wouldn’t divulge whether the new stick’s internals match those the HD-streaming Roku 3 box, but the performance improvements will help close the gap between the $50 stick and the $100 set-top player. An important update to the Roku mobile app will minimize the differences even further.
The new Streaming Stick still comes with a dedicated remote control, and it will still lack the headphone jack and voice-search microphone of the Roku 3. However, users of the stick will now be able to get both those higher-end features by using the free Roku app for iOS and Android.
That app will let you use voice-search capabilities with the newer stick, and the latest app update also adds the “private listening” feature of higher-end Roku devices. Connecting to the same Wi-Fi network as your Roku box and tapping a headphones icon will mute the sound coming from your TV and use your mobile device for audio pass-through. So now, you can use your phone and headphones to watch stuff at full blast while the baby sleeps in the next room.
The feature also supports Bluetooth headphones paired with your phone, but there are a few limitations. Only one person can use the private listening feature at a time, and the feature is limited to the brand-new Streaming Stick. According to Roku, the mobile app will recognize when it’s connected to the new stick and display the headphone icon accordingly.
If you already own a Roku device and are itching for new features, you’ll be happy to know that the Roku OS is getting an update as well. The main thing to look for is the dynamic list of “Popular Movies” and “Popular TV Shows” that Roku says will refresh four times a day. In case you don’t want to dive into the platform’s 2,500 or so channels or use its multi-channel search function, it’s a new discovery tool for movies and TV shows. This one, you just browse through: It surfaces content that’s trending across several streaming channels, driven by searches, streams, and things that are happening in the news.
The Roku Streaming Stick goes up for preorder today, and in the meantime, the older model will be available for $40 until the last one is gone. Roku says the new version of the stick will start shipping in the next two weeks. The Roku OS 7.1 will start rolling out to all Roku devices today, but the company says it could be two weeks before it shows up on your device.