TiVo co-founders Michael Ramsay and Jim Barton are back with a new venture dubbed Qplay that hopes to do for online video what TiVo did for television. The duo unveiled their new Qplay device and service Tuesday, and launched an early adopter program during which the Qplay device is available for $49.
Ramsay told me during an interview Monday that the company has ambitious plans to eventually unite video clips from sites like YouTube, premium videos from services like Netflix and Hulu Plus and even live television, but that it decided to start with a more modest offering. “Today, we are at square one,” he said.
So what does square one look like? Qplay is a video streaming device that is about the size of an external hard drive. It doesn’t come with a remote control, but instead is controlled solely by an iPad app. Video playback is started directly from the cloud, much like it’s the case with Google’s Chromecast, making it possible to keep videos playing even when another iPad app is used, or the iPad is turned off entirely.
One of the differences to Chromecast is that QPlay organizes everything around queues, or Qs, as the company likes to call the. Queues are essentially playlists for videos, some of which are automatically generated based on RSS and Twitter feeds, while others are curated by Qplay’s users.
Queues play nonstop, which is supposed to create a more lean-back, TV-like experience. Ramsay showed me a few queues, including a news feed based on a variety of Twitter feeds from news publishers, which he said can be watched without interruption without ever repeating itself. Other queues he showed off were based on his YouTube subscriptions, queues shared by other users on the service, videos the National Geographic shares through its Twitter account, and finally a watch later-like queue that can be fed by a bookmarklet.
The other big difference to Chromecast, and other media streaming devices for that matter, is that Qplay wants to integrate all media into a single app instead of forcing users to access many different apps for their favorite videos. “There used to be 500 channels, now there are 500 apps,” he said. At launch, Qplay supports videos from YouTube, Vimeo, Vine and other publishers.
Premium video services like Netflix and Hulu Plus won’t be available during the early adopter phase, but Ramsay told me that the company is planning to offer access to these services soon as well. He showed me Netflix already integrated into a demo build of the iPad app, and explained that the Qplay device is based on Android, and thus capable of running a number of premium video apps. The goal was to eventually offer the ability to add TV shows from Netflix and YouTube videos to the same queue, he said.
Of course, the timing of the launch and other details including the desire to work with Netflix come as no surprise to Gigaom readers; I’ve been tracking Qplay’s progress since late last year, and broke the news on Monday that the launch was imminent. In that story, I also reported that the company’s terms of service hinted at plans to monetize Qplay through service fees.
Ramsay said Monday that Qplay’s app will always be free, but that the company does plan to offer value-added services that it could charge for down the line. These could include the ability to upload, host and share personal videos, but Ramsay and Barton are apparently also considering to get back to their roots and add live TV to the device. Ramsay told me that the Qplay hardware could be easily extended to add live TV viewing and recording.
A new take on the DVR from the inventors of TiVo — that actually sounds like an interesting premise. However, I’m still skeptical about the Qplay device and service in its current form. Numerous iPad and Android apps have tried content aggregation and personalization before, often with little success — and it’s uncertain whether a device like the Qplay adapter will really make the difference.