Lauren Goode

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Roku to Launch Cordless Streaming Stick for TVs

Roku, maker of competitively priced set-top boxes that stream Web video on TVs, is introducing a new device it thinks will offer a simpler option for Internet connectivity than some “smart” TVs.

Today, the company is unveiling plans for its Roku Streaming Stick, a flash-drive-sized dongle that plugs into the back of television sets to enable the same streaming capabilities as a Roku box.

The Streaming Stick will deliver HD streaming video and feature Wi-Fi capabilities, a processor and upgradable software. The Stick won’t require any cables or a separate remote. It will, however, work only on TV sets with HDMI ports that are enabled for Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL).

Roku founder and CEO Anthony Wood said the company plans to continue making Roku set-top players. But as the television industry shifts more toward smart TVs that connect to the Internet without use of an additional device, Roku wants to be the solution that TV manufacturers look to in the interim.

The connected TV category is forecast to grow at a 30 percent compound annual rate between now and 2014 — up to more than 123 million shipments, according to a report from DisplaySearch earlier this year. The report also predicts continued complexity in the market, with a variety of streaming video services available to consumers, and tech giants like Apple, Google, and Microsoft — in addition to smaller companies like Roku and Boxee — offering boxes for streaming Internet media.

Wood points out that despite the growing number of smart-TV shipments, Roku believes the actual connectivity rate on those TVs is still relatively low. Consumers, he said, are still looking for devices that can be easily upgraded when it comes to getting the Internet on their television sets.

Roku hasn’t yet determined the price of its Streaming Stick, but Wood said it would likely cost between $50 and $100, and will ship in the second half of 2012. While Roku hopes to partner with television manufacturers to bundle the dongle with TV purchases, the Streaming Stick will at first be sold individually, as well as alongside Insignia brand TVs from Best Buy.

California-based Roku launched in 2008 with the introduction of the first Netflix streaming player. Its lineup of devices now includes the Roku LT, the Roku 2 HD, the Roku 2 XD and the Roku 2 XS, which have around 400 channels and apps, including Netflix, Pandora, HBO GO, Vimeo, Hulu Plus, and Amazon’s streaming video service. The Roku 2 XS also offers Angry Birds, which can be played using a Roku XS remote.

Wood said sales of Roku players are up 300 percent over last year, with around 2.5 million Roku devices sold. He added that the company has been focused recently on casual games, with the introduction of Pac-Man and Jeopardy game apps on Roku, in addition to Angry Birds. Roku is also broadening its retail presence to more than 13,000 storefronts across the U.S.

Roku isn’t the only small set-top box maker shifting its strategy to adapt to the growing market for smart TVs. Boxee, maker of the Boxee Box, recently said it would offer a Live TV dongle for watching TV programming through the Box. Shortly afterward, the start-up also said it would be releasing its last software update for its PC-based application, as it focuses more on TV-compatible devices.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus