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Why does Roku’s brand-new Streaming Stick+ use an ancient Mini USB port?

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No one expects Mini USB in 2017

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Roku Streaming Stick+
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Earlier this week, Roku announced its refreshed line of media streaming sticks and boxes. The standouts of the pack are the new Streaming Stick+ and Ultra box, both of which support 4K HDR video and have a new voice-powered remote with buttons for controlling a TV’s power and volume. The new hardware should be shipping to customers next week, and we just got our demo devices in The Verge offices for review.

Naturally, as I do with most review devices that hit my desk, I immediately ripped open the Streaming Stick+ to see the hardware and what comes in the box. And what was staring me in the face is something I haven’t seen in years: a Mini USB port.

That’s right, the brand-new, released in the fall of 2017, 4K HDR-supporting Streaming Stick+ does not use the far more common (and newer) Micro USB port for power. Nor does it use the much more modern, but still relatively rare, USB Type-C port. No, instead it uses a power port that hasn’t been seen on a smartphone since President Obama’s first term. It’s befuddling: Micro USB or USB-C are just as capable of transmitting power and data as Mini USB, so it can’t be a technical limitation.

I asked Roku why it chose to use this clearly out-dated port instead of something even remotely more modern, and the reasoning is interesting. Here’s what the company had to say:

The new Advanced Wireless Receiver (which is built into the power cord) needs to be used with the Roku Streaming Stick+. The mini-USB port will help users not substitute another cable.

See, one of the new features of the Streaming Stick+ is its claimed “4x greater Wi-Fi range,” which should help it keep a smooth and steady stream going even when your TV is far from your wireless router. To accomplish this, Roku moved the wireless antenna out from the stick itself and installed it in the power cable for better reception.

Roku Streaming Stick+ power cable with integrated Wi-Fi antenna
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

Therefore, in order for the Streaming Stick+ to connect to your Wi-Fi network, you have to use the supplied power cable. You can’t just substitute any old cable you have lying around the house in its place. By using Mini USB, a very uncommon connector in 2017, Roku is making the (probably smart) bet that you don’t have any cable around that will fit and can’t easily acquire one at a local store, so you’re forced to use the supplied cable.

It’s an interesting and clever hack that should reduce the number of support calls Roku receives for the Streaming Stick+. It’s designed to stop humans from getting in the way of the Streaming Stick+ working as it should. And it also means that I, a stubborn human, can’t use the Micro USB cable I have wired up behind my TV for my Chromecast to power the Streaming Stick+, as I had originally planned to do.

Roku Streaming Stick+
Photo by Dan Seifert / The Verge

We’ll have more to say on the Streaming Stick+ and all of the other set top boxes released this fall (there are a lot!) in the near future, so stay tuned.