Like the smartphone, the set-top box continues to shrink in size while adding new capabilities as services go IP and much of the computing power gets tucked into all-service gateways and the proverbial cloud.
One form factor that’s becoming increasingly popular at retail, and is starting to show its face in the MSO-supplied technology ecosystem, is the set-top “stick,” an out-of-the-way, dongle-like device that can be plugged directly into a TV set’s High Definition Multimedia Interface port.
Depending on the deployment scenario, these gadgets can be used to mirror Web content on a laptop or mobile device, access over-the-top video, connect to a cloud DVR or even support a full pay TV service.
The latest to hop onto this trend with both feet is Roku, which last week unveiled a $49.99 retail device that will take a run at the $35 Google Chromecast. Roku’s newest gadget is actually the company’s second streaming stick — unlike its predecessor, the new “HDMI Version” is not limited to new “Roku- Ready” TVs outfitted with Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) technology. Roku’s new product can operate on any TV with an HDMI port; the MHLbased version will be relegated to bundles offered by TV makers that sell Roku-Ready sets.
Although retail distribution is where most of the HDMI set-top stick opportunties are, it won’t be long before the form factor starts to weave its way into the cable operator ecosystem, as suppliers such as Netgear and Alticast work up versions that use the Reference Design Kit, the set-top software stack being managed by Comcast and Time Warner Cable.