The set top box market is pretty crowded, Google has Chromecast and Android TV, Amazon have Fire TV and Apple has the Apple TV. They all tend to tie into the manufactures ecosystems so if you want something that isn’t tied down devices from Roku maybe worth look at.
The Roku Streaming Stick is about the size of a USB memory stick and plugs directly in to the HDMI port on your TV. It comes with a MicroUSB cable which powers the device and there is a mains adaptor included as well so if your TV doesn’t have a USB port on it you can power it from the mains. It also comes with a remote control which works over RF and not infrared so you don’t need to actually point it at the device which is a good thing as the stick is out of sight around the back of the TV.
Setting up the device is very simple just join your wifi network (there is no Ethernet port) and pair the device with your Roku account (via a PIN code). You can then add channels to the device like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Plex and Now TV. The channels mean you can use the device to watch movies and TV shows from the likes of ITV, BBC and Netflix. With Plex you can stream media from your local Plex server so you could use Plex to copy your movies onto and then stream them to you TV, I streamed a ripped Bluray from my Vidabox server running Plex and it worked perfectly. I won’t go into all the channels now but there are a lot including games, Firefox browser and Media Browser. Sky also have NOW TV on it so you can rent movies from Sky and pay subscriptions with your linked Roku account. The whole thing works very well and it is simple to get started.
The Roku Streaming Stick uses Miracast to project the screen of your device onto the TV. Miracast uses Wifi direct so you don’t have to have the two devise setup on the same network which makes pairing very simple. I set it up with my Lumia 1520 Windows Phone and was able to project its screen straight on to the TV, there were a couple of visual glitches at times but system works very well. I should say it is not like Chromecast where you can hand off videos to playback on the device, it is an exact duplicate of the phones screen.
It also works with Windows 8.1 devices, I use it to project my Surface 2’s screen up onto the TV and just as it was with the phone it works very well, I tried playing a game on the Surface and it displayed on my TV with out to much lag and with just a couple of visual glitches. I should say as well mirroring the display it also plays the audio from the device so you can use it watch movies, play games or use with apps like Skype. It should also work with Android 4.4.2 and up but I didn’t have the option on my Nexus 5 running Android 5.0 and if you are thinking of using screen mirroring with an Apple device you are out of luck.
[UPDATE] I found the setting in Android 5.0, you go to Cast Screen then then advanced settings and tick enable wireless display [UPDATE]
As well as the remote you have the option of using Roku apps, I tried the Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 apps where you can use the app as a remote control and you can use the Play On Roku feature where you can send content from the local machine to the Stick, it works with music and photos but not videos. I should point out there is no local storage on the device so whatever content you want to watch is going to have to be streamed.
So if you want a simple media streaming device with access to services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer then the Roku is a great idea. It is also a good option if you want to wirelessly transmit your PC or Phones display onto the TV and is a lot easier than wiring up an HDMI cable. As an Xbox Music pass subscriber I wish it would support Microsoft’s music service but currently the service is only available on Microsoft devices so that is not a fault of the Roku device. It does support Google Play Music and Spotify amongst many other services so you have plenty option to go at.
It’s a simple device and works very well. For £44 (on Amazon) with the combination or devices and services I use it is a better devices then Google’s Chromecast.