Roku, the company famous for their line of set-top boxes that let you pump online streaming video straight into your TV set, is betting big on the success of MHL, a new HDMI standard that’s still in the early stages of widespread adoption. The Roku Streaming Stick, which looks like a thumb drive and does everything that Roku set-top boxes do, works only with MHL enabled TV sets — an odd gamble, some might say, especially considering that there aren’t that many MHL compatible TV sets on the market right now. But Roku’s move isn’t as risky as it sounds. With backing by Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, Nokia and Silicon Image — the five companies that came together to form the official MHL Consortium — it’ll probably only be a matter of time before every TV on the market is MHL compatible.
MHL stands for Mobile High-Definition Link, and in case you haven’t heard about it yet, there’s plenty of reason to be excited over it. Maybe not the over the moon, dancing on your toes kind of excitement that usually accompanies great technological leaps, but it’s certainly an improvement that’s worthy of a few “ooohs” and “ahhhs.” MHL won’t change what the back of your HDTV looks like — you’ll still have your standard HDMI ports — but the data coming through those ports through MHL signaling will serve to bring some added benefits, particularly for mobile users hooking up with their smartphones or tablets.
- Mobile device charging. The good news about MHL is that it eliminates the need to plug in an additional charging cable when channeling video into your TV set from your mobile device. (Those living with tangled messes of wires behind their entertainment centers are now invited to stand and do a few fist-pumps in celebration, just as those who bemoan the short battery life of their mobile devices will also likely do.) Once connected to an MHL compatible HDMI port, your tablet or smartphone will automatically turn your TV into a charging station.
- Remote control operation. One of the additional perks of MHL signaling is the ability to control your smartphone or tablet?s operation through your TV remote, eliminating the need to buy a super-long cable and facilitating hours of viewing without having to get up — something that’s been every professional couch potato’s dream for years.
- Video game play. MHL wasn’t just made for endless hours of high definition video playback. You can also use it to turn your TV screen into a game console, simply by connecting your smart phone or tablet to your TV through the MHL port.
- Hi-def viewing and quality audio enabled. MHL supports 1080p video and 7.1 channel digital multi-channel audio, which is idea for feeling hi-def videos straight from your mobile device into your HDTV without any compromise in quality.
The MHL Consortium says there are about 160 manufacturers shipping MHL compatible TVs and smartphones, with more to come by the year’s end. But it could be the aforementioned Roku Streaming Stick that really helps popularize and drive up the demand for MHL HDTVs. Set for release in October with a reasonable price tag around $99, the Roku Streaming Stick — which is essentially a shrunk down version of Roku’s popular set-top devices that plugs directly into your TV’s HDMI port — comes with its own remote control, dual-band Wi-Fi, and has twice as much memory as the standard Roku box. Connection between MHL capable mobile devices and TVs will be made possible through the use of MHL-specific adapter cables containing MicroUSB on one end and HDMI on the other, which will probably cost between $15 and $20 each.
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