MobiTV's Streaming Stick Takes on Chromecast

LAS VEGAS - Sure, the Chromecast made a big splash, changing how we use our television sets, newcomer MobiTV could give the Google streaming dongle a run for its money. MobiTV is a cloud-based media platform that powers such apps as Sprint TV and T-Mobile TV. Now the company is making an HDMI streaming stick that will put a vast library of media at your fingertips.

I got a sneak preview of a prototype of the MobiTV Connect at CTIA and came away intrigued and impressed.

(Since the product is still being finalized, MobiTV declined to let me take pictures or video of the device I saw. Image above is concept art provided by the company.)

Though no price information has been announced yet, the company told me it will be "competitively priced." Google's Chromecast costs $35.

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The Chromecast and MobiTV Connect are both black with an LED light on one end to indicate power status, and are about the size of two thumbs side by side. The Connect I saw had an interesting perforated design on all its surfaces.

MobiTV says its device will be more powerful than Chromecast. The MobiTV will have access to a larger variety of titles from the get go than Chromecast did. And the new streaming stick will support third-party titles such as Netflix, YouTube and Hulu, just like the Chromecast. Not only that, MobiTV will give you access to live TV channels via its library. For full access to all these channels, you will likely need to pay a monthly subscription to your wireless provider. A lot of these nitty gritty details are still being ironed out by the MobiTV team.

In the demo MobiTV app I saw, you'll browse shows by title or network channel. You can also pull up a digital program guide (grid-style guide you see on TVs) to see what's on at the time and what's coming up. Thanks to a network DVR feature, you'll also be able to go backward in time to watch shows that had already aired, and schedule recordings like you would on a Tivo.

I was most impressed by the touted Universal Search feature, which will make it easier to find any media you wanted. This lets you search across all platforms, such as the MobiTV library, Netflix, Hulu, Vudu and others, for a single title from one place. Combined with the playlist-making feature in the app, you can put together the most diverse list of hard-to-find titles you want. While I didn't see this feature at work, the concept alone made the couch potato in me drool. 

Everything else in the app will be familiar to Chromecast owners. An icon at the top right of a Wi-Fi symbol surrounded by a rectangle will turn blue when your MobiTV dongle is connected. You also get a basic remote control that slides up when you start playing media that lets you play/pause, skip, mute and show captions.

MobiTV also told me the Connect would be much easier to set up than the Chromecast, and other similar devices. Instead of a tedious process involving a lot of back and forth between your smartphone, TV and dongle, the Connect will need just one step. All you do after opening the app is enter a four-digit code to pair your smartphone and Connect, and the latter will detect what Wi-Fi network you were on and connect.

While it still seems a ways to go before the Connect is available, I am very intrigued by its potential. The streaming dongle market is gaining traction, with devices such as Chromecast, Roku and Alcatel having made devices to cast your mobile screen to your TV, so MobiTV has some serious competition to consider.

Staff Writer Cherlynn Low blames Netflix for turning her into a couch potato. Follow her @cherlynnlow. Follow Tom's Guide at @tomsguide and on Facebook.