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Hot Streaming Sticks Add Smarts To TVs

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. – One of the hottest trends in smart TV technology is the over-the-top (OTT) streaming stick, as proven last week with the announcement that Amazon’s Fire TV Stick was the hottest selling device on its site, and the revelation that Walmart’s Vudu service is preparing a streaming stick of its own.

News on these two latest devices follows the success of Google’s Chromecast device and Roku’s various streaming sticks, all of which have appealed to consumers looking for relatively inexpensive ways of accessing over-the-top streaming services from outboard equipment that takes up little space.

According to recent FCC filings, Walmart’s Vudu service is preparing to launch a video-on-demand HDMI dongle called the Vudu Spark.

Although the service is reserving official announcement of the details, the filings seem to indicate that the Spark’s primary purpose is to access the Vudu online store and videoon- demand rental service. Vudu is found on many – but not all – the major smart-TV platforms and IPTV adapters, so offering a Vudu stick would give such homes the ability to add the service to their existing TVs or smart TVs, in addition to providing the service to anyone interested primarily in Vudu.

Clearly, Vudu is not yet in the same league as major OTT services like Netflix, but it is gaining followers interested in UltraViolet-enabled movies and must keep pace with Amazon, which continues to add Amazon Prime subscribers interested in accessing its Instant Video service as well as the opportunity to purchase movies and TV programs from its Cloud-based locker.

For the time being, Walmart is only formally sharing that it intends to release more information on the Spark in coming months.

Based on information filed with the FCC, Walmart apparently won’t be adding additional services to the Spark, as the other sticks do. In fact, most of the other sticks, gaming consoles, smart TVs and OTT devices carry Vudu.

The Spark will apparently include a remote control powered by Zigbee RF.

Remaining to be seen is how much Walmart will charge for the Vudu stick. Currently, Chromecast is available for $35 and offers a host of apps and services.

Meanwhile, Amazon, which is now shipping the first allotments of its $39 Fire TV Stick, has already declared its own stick the “fastest-selling” device ever.

Amazon launched the device to Prime customers at a limited time price of $19, which apparently drew so much activity that the retailer started announcing later and later expected shipment dates, extending into the early weeks of 2015.

The Fire TV Stick, Vudu’s Spark, Google’s Chromecast and Roku’s various streaming sticks are all thumb-drive-like devices designed to connect to the HDMI ports of a TV set.

Other than the Chromecast, all also include a remote control or can be alternately controlled by an app on smartphone or tablet.

Amazon’s Fire TV Stick is less powerful than its Fire TV box, which launched earlier in the year, but not much, according to reviews from some of those who received early shipments.

Like the Fire TV box, the stick carries a host of apps and services, but emphasizes Amazon services above others in recommendation listings.