No Netflix, No Problem? TiVo Founders’ Qplay Set-Top Places Bet on YouTube and Other Free Video

No Netflix, No Problem? TiVo Founders'

Here comes another device built to haul Internet video to HDTVs. But with the new Qplay gizmo, you won’t be able to watch Netflix’s “House of Cards” — or any other subscription-video content.

Instead, the Qplay adapter currently is able to access only free Internet video sites, including YouTube and Vimeo, stringing clips together in a way meant to resemble traditional TV. The device was created by Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton, who founded DVR pioneer TiVo (as they are eager to let everyone know).

Can a device focused on bringing free Internet video to the TV gain any traction? Qplay is charging into an already-crowded segment, and will have to vie against Roku, Apple TV and Google’s Chromecast adapter. It’s worth noting that each of those devices provides access to YouTube content, along with Hulu Plus, HBO Go and other premium video services.

Ramsay and Barton believe Qplay’s secret sauce is the personalization it brings to the Internet video viewing experience. The 2.3-by-4.5-inch Qplay adapter lets users curate Internet video themselves; watch playlists shared by other users; or set the device to automatically create a continuous video stream.

Essentially, the startup’s founders argue, accessing content from YouTube and other online video sites is too time-consuming — people just want to sit back and watch TV. Qplay uses an iPad as a remote control, similar to Google’s approach with Chromecast.

“With TiVo, Jim and I focused on creating a great consumer experience that put the viewer in control of the video they watched,” Ramsay, Qplay’s CEO, said in announcing the launch of the product. “We’re applying the same focus to Internet video with Qplay and are creating a new kind of consumer experience that exploits the full potential of the Internet to give viewers a unique way to control their video entertainment.”

At some point in the future, Qplay could add access to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and other premium content services, according to the company.

Starting Tuesday, Qplay is selling a limited number of TV adapters for a “discount price” of $49. (The startup is calling it an “early adopter” launch.) Given the product’s focus on free online video, demand for Qplay could be relatively soft. Note that Google was slammed by an unexpected surge in demand for Chromecast last summer, driven by its offer of three free months of Netflix.

Qplay’s 15 employees include engineers from Apple, Google and TiVo, according to the startup. The company, based in San Jose, Calif., was founded in August 2012 and initially funded by Redpoint Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers. The startup is not disclosing funding.

Watch a video about Qplay, featuring a spokesman with a 5 o’clock shadow: