The Hippo


Apr 19, 2014








Sticks in a stream
Bring Internet content to your TV fast and cheap

By John Andrews

There’s no shortage of ways to get Internet video content flowing to the television in your living room. If you shamefully didn’t buy some variety of smart TV with connectivity and apps and all built right in, you can connect with a video game console, Blu-ray player, or any one of several set-top boxes loaded with nothing but video streaming services.
But all that is so cumbersome, isn’t it? Smart TVs cost a lot, and other options have cabling and take up space in your entertainment center. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a complete, compact piece of hardware that just plugs into your television?
By now you should know how this goes: yeah, they’re everywhere.
Roku Streaming Stick: This little purple wonder is about the size of a (large) USB flash drive, only instead of a USB plug, it has an HDMI connector on it. Plug it into any “Roku Ready” HDTV and voila, your dumb television just got a whole lot smarter. You might be familiar with line of Roku’s set-top boxes, which stream content from more than 500 channels, including the biggies like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon. Your television remote controls the Streaming Stick.
So what’s “Roku Ready”? It’s branding that means at least one HDMI port on your HDTV is really an MHL port, which provides power as well as picture, audio, and control data. It’s a pretty new standard, so this is more for future-proofing a new TV purchase than converting an older HDTV without MHL ports. It’s coming out sometime in October.
Now, if you want a more full-fledged PC experience, you have a couple more choices.
FAVI SmartStick: It’s white, not purple, but otherwise looks pretty much the same as the Roku Streaming Stick. Inside, though, is a full Android operating system. It comes with version 4.0, also known as Ice Cream Sandwich, pre-installed, so it includes a Web browser. If you don’t like the stock apps, you can install anything you want from the Google Play app marketplace. Attach external USB storage or insert a microSD card and it can play movies and music from there, too. It even supports the DLNA standard, so it can stream media from your computer as well.
Even better, you can use the SmartStick on HDTVs without that newfangled MHL port. All you need is a regular HDMI port and a USB port to supply power. Well, and a mouse and keyboard, which FAVI will happily sell you. They’re taking pre-orders now, and SmartSticks start at just $49.
Miniand Tech MK802: Pretty much everything about the FAVI SmartStick applies here, except the MK802 does require a cable to plug into an HDMI port rather than clicking right in. Just a slightly different hardware design; still accepts USB and microSD storage, still comes with Ice Cream Sandwich, still needs just a USB port for power. It costs a little more, $74, but that’s good right now, not as a pre-order.
In fact, if you search around on Chinese wholesale sites, you can find a lot of similar hardware. The ones detailed here actually have their own Web sites, so I’m inclined to trust them a little bit more. Emerging tech often comes from companies just outside the mainstream, so as always, proceed at your own risk.
Stick my username in and follow @CitizenjaQ on Twitter.

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