SAN FRANCISCO (USA TODAY) - Roku on Tuesday poked a stick straight at Google's Chromecast with an updated version of its own Roku Streaming Stick - a thumb-drive sized media streamer that is now $49.99 and can be used on any TV with an HDMI input.
The HDMI version has a design much like Roku's original $99 stick, which launched in 2012 (it works only with a limited number of "Roku-ready" TVs).
The new Stick comes with a remote control and offers access to Roku's formidable Channel Store, which offers scores of entertainment options including Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon video services - 1,200 in all, says Roku.
The updated take on the Streaming Stick can pair with Roku's free mobile app to browse and select channels to stream. It will ship in April but it available for pre-order now.
Google created a sensation when it released its dead-simple Chromecast streaming media player last July. The $35 wonder topped many Best Of 2013 tech product lists.
Chromecast launched with only four apps (Netflix and Google's own YouTube and Play movies and music properties.) That selection has been growing. It now has more than a dozen available apps. And in February, Google released its software development kit for Chromecast to the public, opening the door for any software developer to create apps for the device.
But Roku is the undisputed leader when it comes to entertainment offerings in its Channel Store.
At the CES consumer tech trade show in January, Roku announced a Roku TV platform, coming later this year first on TVs from manufacturers TCL and Hisense. It basically brings a Roku home screen that ties in many content sources in one place. A companion Roku TV remote will have half as many buttons as the standard TV remote, the company said then.
As competition in streaming media heats up, especially in mobile, Bloomberg and others have reported that Roku is considering an initial public offering this year.
In addition to Google's Chromecast, Roku faces heat from Apple's Apple TV box (also due for an update very soon) and potentially, Amazon - which also has been reported as considering coming out with a streaming gadget of its own.
As for the original streaming stick, Roku says it will now be bundled at retail with Roku Ready devices.