Qplay Net-Top Box Arrives, Impresses and Alas, Disappoints

by Kendra Chamberlain

-Only Plays YouTube and a Few Other Video Sources

-$50 Price Tag

The Online Reporter got its hands on a Qplay net-top box this week, and we were eager to unbox and test out the newest streaming media player. Qplay is a streaming media player that plugs into a TV set via an HDMI cord and lets a viewer stream video on the set using an iPad as a remote, via a Qplay app. The name stems from the fact that users can create curated “queues” of video from across online sources to play on the TV set. The NTB was conceived of and created by TiVo founders Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay, who have been working on the device since 2012.

 

qplay box

Qplay box

The Qplay player – which we erroneously reported was an HDMI dongle last week – is more physically akin to a Roku or Apple TV, though it functions much like Google’s dongle, Chromecast. Qplay comes with a $50 price tag, a bit more expensive than Chromecast, but in line with the streaming sticks that Roku offers. As mentioned above, it uses an iPad app for navigation and control.

The Good and Bad
Qplay’s creators have launched the device in an “early adopter” phase, meaning there are still plenty of details to work on, and the limited device support is certainly one of them.

Here are our immediate reactions using the device:

The pros:

-Content selection is pretty diverse, given its limitations. Luckily for Qplay, YouTube is a window into a vast, entertaining and at times strange world of short-form entertainment, that these days runs the gamut from viral bedroom confessional to professionally-produced, practically TV series.

-Links to YouTube/Google account, Twitter, Facebook. That gives the app a pretty in-depth and accurate pool of video to pull from.

-Blissfully without ads. The YouTube ads don’t carry over onto the TV screen.

-Aggregates content across sources. This is the biggest difference between Qplay and Chromecast. The Chromecast app lets you queue video but only on an app-by-app basis. Qplay, on the other hand, brings all the content, from all of its participating content sources, together under one interface. This is a forward thinking approach to long and short-form Web video content, in which consumers can seek out videos that vary in terms of source, length and quality, all in one video consuming session.

The cons:

-Limited content sources. No Netflix or Hulu or HBO Go, like Chromecast has. Qplay said it’s working on adding Netflix now.

-Tricky interface: navigating through the app and getting it to properly communicate with the TV was a little tricky. This is an ultra-beta release, though, so some glitchiness is expected. Qplay offers a handy, quick tutorial video on how to use the app, which I watched twice. Eventually I figured out how to stream videos to the TV set. There was a bit of a lag, but that’s expected.

-Limited multi-tasking on the tablet while content is streaming to the TV set. I could easily exit the Qplay app and use other apps on the tablet without interrupting the video stream on the TV set, but moving around the video playlists in the Qplay app proved problematic, as tapping on videos initiated a second stream to the tablet, meaning there were two videos playing at once. Also, the user isn’t able to add videos to the queue without interrupting the video stream on the TV set, which I found frustrating.

-Creating queues requires a lean forward. The user cannot add a video to a queue without tapping on it, and ultimately initiating playback on either the tablet or the TV set. I found I had to browse through the lists, start a video I wanted to watch, then quickly add the video to the queue. After about 10 minutes I had compiled a list of videos, which I then I tried to stream it to the TV set in a lean back setting.

-There are definitely some glitches to work out. Unfortunately, I was unable to get my whole queue to stream to the TV set. Instead, the NTB seemed to get stuck on the first video in the list, which was a video entitled “160 Best Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Quotes.” It began erratically restarting itself. I let it play out, hoping that at the end of the video it would jump to the next video in the queue. It did not. Instead, it started the Schwarzenegger video from the beginning. I also tried to jump to other videos in the queue manually. The new video would play for a few seconds before the NTB would revert back to the Schwarzenegger video. I was caught in a Schwarzenegger time loop. It was, in fact, the only video I was able to play in full on the device from my queue, but had no problem streaming Qplay’s already curated playlists.

Right Idea, Rocky Execution – at Least for Now
As mentioned before, the device is in an early release phase, so the interface glitches will be worked out in time, we hope, though they did pose a significant obstacle to our viewing session. The overall idea is spot on: aggregate online video into one interface, enable consumers to mix and match, and create their own programming lists of Web video, which are then played back on the TV set in a lean back experience.

At this stage, it’s not immediately obvious how Qplay has …

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