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Summary:

Roku’s new streaming stick costs $100, but comes with a nice built-in surprise: The device uses Wifi Direct to communicate with Roku’s remote control, and the company has confirmed that it is working on ways to use the technology in an AirPlay-like fashion.

roku streaming_stick-3

Roku’s new streaming stick will start shipping this October for $100, the company announced Thursday morning. The device will provide the same Roku experience as the company’s set-top boxes when plugged into a TV set with a so-called MHL display port, with a few interesting differences: Consumers will be able to use their TV remote controls to navigate Roku’s menus, and the stick supports Wi-Fi Direct, which could eventually enable AirPlay-like mirroring.

Roku will start selling the new device to U.S. customers through its website and Amazon.com first, with additional retailers and territories to be announced in the coming months. The stick offers more or less the same features as Roku’s top-of-the-line Roku2 XS box, which also retails for $100. Asked whether it is going to be difficult to get people to pay that much for the stick, Roku Director of Product Management Lloyd Klarke told me: “People tend to spend more on things that are small.”

Pricing aside, there are a few things that are innovative about this new product: Roku uses MHL, a relatively new display port technology that makes it possible to power the stick from the TV and send control commands back and forth between both devices. This means that users will be able to navigate through Roku’s apps with their traditional TV remote control, as well as adjust the volume of their TV with Roku’s remote.

The company partnered with a number of TV set manufacturers, who will market their devices as Roku-ready. Some of the partners that will go to market first include Best Buy’s Insignia brand as well as Hitachi and Apex Digital. However, the stick will work with any MHL-compatible TV set, even if it is not explicitly marketed as Roku-ready.

Also interesting: Roku has replaced Bluetooth with Wi-Fi Direct to send control commands from the remote to the stick. I was told by Klarke that the primary motivation for this was lower power consumption, but Wi-Fi Direct could also be used to mirror a PC’s desktop, or stream videos directly from your mobile device to your Roku. Think AirPlay, but for Windows PCs and Android phones. Klarke confirmed that the company is working on such a solution, but wasn’t able to provide any further details.

Roku’s streaming stick will also ship with a dedicated, Wii-controller-like gaming remote that can be used to play games like Angry Birds. Klarke said that Roku already offers access to more than 50 casual games, with many more coming to the platform soon. “Gaming is working for Roku,” he said.

Other news announced by Roku Thursday will include a new mobile app and a partnership with Walmarts VUDU video-on-demand service.

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