Got A PC-on-a-Stick? You Can Turn It Into A Roku-like Media Streaming Device For Free!

Kannon Yamada 09-04-2013

streaming media usbDell just announced a new kind of computer—one that could potentially replace your home theater PC, while fitting in your pocket. Dell’s announcement marked the first time a major PC manufacturer ventured into the territory of the so-called “stick computers What Is An Android Stick Computer, And How Can You Use It? Miniaturization has been a computing trend for decades, but it seems to have accelerated over the past five years. Even Intel’s NUC (Next Unit of Computing), a hockey-puck sized PC, looks large compared to ARM... Read More ”, a line of product first developed on Kickstarter and then ripped off a thousand times by overseas manufacturers. Checking eBay for “stick computers” will reveal more than a dozen designs, models and variants.


Part of their popularity stems from three factors—low price, ease of configuration and the extreme versatility of Android. Stick computers can replace the function of most lightweight media streaming devices. Why get a Roku 3 when for half the price you can get a stick PC?

This article details how you can get a streaming media USB stick PC in practically no time.


To get started you’ll need the following:

  • Some kind of stick PC.
  • A display that can accept HDMI input.
  • Some kind of USB interface device, such as a mouse or HTPC controller.
  • A WiFi network.
  • Optional: another computer, only if you plan on streaming media to it.

A tremendous number of stick computers exist, of which all use the Android operating system. Some Linux based devices can perform a similar function, such as the Raspberry Pi. Our very own Christian Crawley wrote a thought-provoking article on the Raspberry Pi The Top 5 Amazing Uses For Your Raspberry Pi Computer I’ve recently received my Raspberry Pi after a long wait – and I’ve got quite a few plans for it. The problem is, I’m not totally sure which project I want to attempt first. While... Read More .

Some sample stick PCs:

  • MK808B: This is probably the most popular of the multicore stick computers. It supports Bluetooth, Jelly Bean Android and goes for around $50.
  • Minix Neo G4: Similar specs as the MK808B—comes with greater internal storage and costs around $70.
  • Cotton Candy: This is the only PC-on-a-stick that comes with both Android and Linux, out-the-box. It has good specs and supports local storage.

Step One: Physical Setup

If you take a look at your device, it should come equipped with at least three ports: First, the male HDMI out port, which plugs into your display.  Second, a microUSB port which provides power. Third, a female USB port that provides “on-the-go” support for mice, keyboards and more. Unlike most other Android devices, stick PCs support peripheral devices that plug in through USB.

Optional slots include ports for microSD cards and additional peripheral devices.

streaming media usb


  • The first step requires that you plug the stick-PC’s HDMI male adapter into your display. Most stick PCs come with HDMI extension cables, in case there’s not enough room to directly plug it in.
  • After that, you can connect the microUSB port, which powers the unit on. You have the option of connecting it to a USB port that’s available on most television sets and some monitors or directly to an electrical outlet using an adapter. However, not all monitor USB ports provide the voltage required by a stick computer. Keep in mind that a direct connection to an outlet provides the surest method of setup.

These devices are designed to power on directly after connecting it to a power source. While they can manually turn off via a software button in the GUI, simply pulling the power plug will also shut it down.

After hooking the stick up, you’ll want to load the right software.

Step Two: Software Setup

If you plan on using the device purely for streaming media services, such as Netflix or Hulu, then you’ll only need to install the requisite apps. To use the device to stream media from another computer on your network, you’ll need to setup two different devices—first, the computer that’s providing the streaming media and, second, the Android stick device.

To install apps from the Play App Store, you’ll need to register the device with your Google account. If you don’t have one, and don’t plan on registering with Google, you also have the option of using other app stores to get software on your device. Several independent app markets exist, of these; I recommend the Amazon Marketplace for its low prices and huge software selection.


Multiple software exists that can turn a PC into a media server: James did a quick guide Setup A Perfect Media Center With Plex [Mac & Windows] Plex is widely regarded by many as being the best media player, manager and streaming application around - available for both Windows, Mac and even mobiles (though the mobile apps are not free). If you're... Read More on how-to setup Plex as a server (be sure to use the server version of Plex) and Serviio. To summarize, after installing the Plex server software on your desktop or laptop computer, you will designate from within Plex the folders on your PC that contain the audio or video media files. After completing setup, your Android stick can read these files over the network.

The next step is to install any video player and MediaHouse on your Android device. I found that the default media player on my device offered good enough performance, however; MX Player provides an excellent viewing experience. The advantage of this setup is that MediaHouse doesn’t cost a dime and streams media from any DLNA compatible device. To my knowledge, it’s the only free software of its kind (thanks to Reddit user Thunder_B*st*rd for the recommendation).

Using the stick PC simply entails firing up MediaHouse. You’ll need to pair your device to the computer with the server software installed.

usb media streaming device


After pairing, clicking on Browse will reveal a series of file directories, separated by category. Choose the media that you’re looking for, such as audio, and keep going deeper through the file directory. Eventually you’ll find what you’re looking for.

usb media streaming device

For other DLNA streaming softwares, check out Tim Brookes’s great rundown of the top six streaming services 6 UPnP/DLNA Servers for Streaming Media to Your Devices UPnP devices are able to see and communicate with one another, and one of the best uses for this technology to stream media around the house. Read More .

Overall, the setup process is extremely simple. However, before showing your unit off to your friends, you’ll want to bling your magic stick out.

Step Three: Accessorizing

Because these tiny computers support USB peripheral devices (and in some cases Bluetooth devices), a great controller combination is an Air Mouse. For those unaware of this amazing invention: It’s similar to a wireless mouse, except it incorporates accelerometers which track the motion of your hand. You wave the controller like wand and the on-screen mouse mimics this motion—perfect for use with a home theater computer.

Also pictured below is a simple AC adapter.

streaming media usb

Another option is a mini keyboard that incorporates a touchpad into a tiny keyboard. Such devices are both inexpensive and highly functional.


Getting your stick computer streaming media requires very little effort and money nowadays. Considering that it provides an excellent replacement for a more expensive device, getting a stick PC can actually save you a fair amount of cash, if you ever need a streaming media USB device.

My experiments with the Stick-PC yielded a great deal of benefit for myself—but I’m not the only person who might benefit: They’re great for the elderly, because of their great simplicity, particularly if paired with an Air Mouse. They’re also great as stand-alone desktops for students who only need word processing and media streaming.

If you ever need a streaming device, consider getting a stick computer.

Related topics: Media Streaming, Roku.

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  1. somu1795
    April 9, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    its cool ..... atleast better than and more flexible than raspberry pi

  2. null
    April 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    I think it it easier to use a cellphone or tablet some are simply much easier to use I think. Plus I dont have to add peripherals. Price is the major factor. But like the topic said if you have a stick lying around then make use of it.

  3. IA
    April 9, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Is there a browswer installed on the device that can play flash video? I mean can i visit pulocker. com and play a video using this device??

    • DalSan M
      April 9, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Most of these devices run Android 4.0 ICS in which Flash Player is either built in or you can download the installer from a third party site. If the basic browser doesn't play Flash, other browsers can be installed such as Ma xthon or Firefox. Even if it has 4.1 JB on it, the Flash Player installer can be downloaded and installed. Otherwise, TV Portal can be installed from 1Mobile Market, giving more site options to watch shows and movies through the app. A streaming media player needs to be installed to play the video streams.

  4. Clyde Atwood
    April 9, 2013 at 7:46 am

    How does a Kindle Fire HD stack up to these?

    I love the idea, but if I can use the Kindle Fire HD to do the same job, I'd love it. Otherwise I'm gonna give the stick a shot!!!

    • DalSan M
      April 9, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      As long as you can connect the Kindle Fire to the TV and the Fire can install these or similar apps to view streaming content, then it should work out fine, if not better because of having better specs.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 9, 2013 at 9:06 pm

      DalSan's explanation is very good. I would add that the Fire by default comes locked down - meaning you must root it to get the same experience offered by a stick-PCs.

      However, the basic functions of the Kindle Fire are really good. Being able to connect to a TV and use the tablet's touchscreen as a controller is a really great way to manage your media. That said, if you were ever interested in rooting your Fire and installing apps directly from the Play Store, you can. One of our writers did a write up on it. He also put together a guide on the subject - sort of an advanced users manual. I highly suggest checking them out.

      But in short, the Kindle Fire offers a very unique user experience. It's a heck of a device that, although more costly, can do pretty much the same things that a stick PC can do. Although rooting comes with its own risks - you should be extremely careful if you attempt to do so as it can ruin your device.

  5. Shaun Campbell
    April 9, 2013 at 7:32 am

    This may be Jeff Dunham's new bit; a computer....on a steeck.

  6. DalSan M
    April 9, 2013 at 5:50 am

    I use UPNPlay android app to play streaming media from my computer to my android devices, and either the built-in Windows media streaming background service or an older TVersity streaming software on my PC to stream media to various devices around the house. I have an LG G2X with HDMI out to connect to HDTV's. For online content, I use Crackle, TV Portal, YouTube, XMBC, and other various apps from Google Play store, Amazon App Store, and 1Mobile Market. I'm hoping to get HDTV's in every room and Android stick devices with these apps in order to break free from cable/satellite providers and their extreme pricing packages that increase in price all of the time. These make plain HDTV's into better than smart TV's.

  7. Tom Six
    April 9, 2013 at 4:47 am

    Nice, Now...I want one of these, too.

  8. Chris Marcoe
    April 9, 2013 at 3:12 am

    So, what is the difference between a "Stick" computer and an android phone? Or a stick computer and a Raspberry Pi?

    Seems like this stick comp is not as versatile. Maybe a little more portable, but not much. And you are limited to Android or Linux. Where as a pi, you could put nearly anything except iOS or Windows. And they are more expensive than the Pi too. How does it compare, processer speed/RAM/price with the Pi?

    Answer being: The cotton candy cost 200 dollars. The other 2 are also more, but not as much more. Being 50/70 dollars/ And they all have 1G RAM as opposed to the Pi's 512M. And their processors are faster. 1.0Ghz (1.2 on the Cotton candy) compared to the Pi's 700mHz. Though, some Pis can be overclocked to up to 1Ghz.

    So, I guess this makes me sound like a RasPi fanboi. But, I'm just not seeing it with this, especially the cotton candy for $200. Maybe its the fact that it is going to be much easier to set up and use with these sticks. But I'm not convinced.

    • Kannon Yamada
      April 9, 2013 at 5:49 am

      I'm glad you asked! There's several major differences - first, not all Android phones have a functional USB host mode, meaning many cannot support peripheral devices, such as mice or keyboards. Second, they're cheap. Stick computers sometimes go for $30 on Amazon or elsewhere (you just have to keep your eyes peeled for good deals). Third, the HDMI out part makes connecting to your monitor/TV easy. A lot of phones don't support the feature. Personally, I think phones will eventually displace a lot of dedicated devices. My current phone can wirelessly output video so it's really a matter of time.

      The Raspberry Pi is a darn good piece of electronics. You can get better spec'd stick-PCs, on sale, for about the same price. Plus you get a case. Although for those with a healthy do-it-yourself attitude, I would advise getting the Pi. I just saw someone build a processing machine for Bitcoin with one:

      I only mentioned the Cotton Candy because of its name and optional Linux build. To be honest, aside from it being visually stylish and having well placed components, it's overpriced. In the same price-range is the Acer C7 Chromebook, which can do very similar things as the Cotton Candy.

      There's a large variety of stick-PCs available on Amazon and eBay. In the $60 range you can get a relatively high end PC stick. It's definitely a competitor with the Pi.

      • Chris Marcoe
        April 9, 2013 at 2:10 pm

        Wow. Great reply and answers. I think, for me, the draw for the Pi is the DIY part of it you mentioned. Considering the fact that I am plannning on rinning 6 sensors, 2 cameras and COSM access for my local school with it. (Hopefully the kids will like the chickens.)

    • Nevzat A
      April 9, 2013 at 6:29 am

      I was thinking the same. Thanks for the clarification.

    • BoloMKXXVIII
      April 9, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Don't let the clock speed fool you. Raspberry Pi can be overclocked (usually) to 1ghz but it is safer to run at lower speeds. The Pi runs a different family of ARM processors than most Android sticks. Comparing clock speeds is not a good indication of the actual difference in speed. The Android sticks are usually much faster. (Yes, I do own a Pi for those who would ask)

  9. Jimmy Anderson
    April 9, 2013 at 1:50 am

    I did this with some old MK802's. Streams well but limited format support mean't my MBP was going crazy transcoding everything. Havn't tried the XBMC build via Berryboot yet, might have more success.