Crowded airspace in the living room

TiVo’s co-founders Mike Ramsay and Jim Barton, in the new capacity as CEO and president, respectively, of InVisioneer Inc., a Silicon Valley startup, are apparently preparing to release a new TV set-top device and application that combines smart TV capability with enhanced video discovery and curation using an iPad.

The device, called the Qplay TV Adaptor, was spotted by Zatz Not Funny last week in an FCC testing report, typically the last step before an electronics product is released.

Perhaps we’ll hear more about Qplay at International CES next month, but so far, InVisioneer seems to be operating very much in stealth mode. InVisioneer’s website provides very little information on the company or Qplay, other than to say, “We’re building a compelling new way to discover and play media that will become an integral part of people’s lives. We believe in building big and bold, not small and focused.”

A one-line description on the website of Kleiner Perkins, which is backing the venture, says, “We provide a better way to find and watch quality TV and internet video.”

We can perhaps make a few, reasonable deductions as to what they’re about based on the FCC filing (which includes a set-top guide), an online job listing uncovered by Zatz and some detective work by Janko at GigaOM. According to the job posting, “InVisioneer is building a product that sits at the nexus of exciting trends in video, mobile, and social.”

The set-up guide shows that the adapter connects to the TV via HDMI, but then instructs users to use their iPad to configure the WiFi settings. Janko takes it from there:

The QPlay companion box connects to TVs through HDMI, but it comes without a remote control. Instead, users are told to use their iPad to set up Wifi for and interact with the device, suggesting that QPlay functions similarly to Chromecast.

However, there are also some key differences: Whereas Chromecast is primarily about letting users beam content to the TV screen from within a variety of third-party apps, QPlay instead focuses on curation through its own dedicated app. Essentially, QPlay will offer users apps for iOS devices to discover, collect, share and watch videos. Users will be able to make their own playlists of videos, share them with others through the service as well as Facebook and Twitter, browse the playlists of their friends and apparently also rate playlists.

A few other things we can deduce: The device probably doesn’t use the DIAL protocol. If it did, there would be no point in building the device; Google has indicated it plans to release an open SDK for Chromecast that will enable developers to add Chromecast support to their apps so why build your own device and force consumers to add yet another box to the set-top?

Presumably, then, the Qplay adapter is there to allow content running in the iPad app, whether locally stored or streamed, to be mirrored directly on the TV, a la AirPlay. But then why not just use AirPlay, since Qplay appears to be iOS-only, at least for now.

Again presumably, because InVisioneer does not intend for it to remain iOS-only indefinitely, and AirPlay would not work with Android or Windows devices.

The logical conclusion, then, is that InVisioneer has its own, proprietary protocol for enabling mobile devices to talk to the set-top and pass content back and forth.

As I’ve discussed here before, the wireless connection between mobile devices and the TV is emerging as the high ground in the battle for control of the digital living room, and there are already several major combatants trying to occupy it, including Apple, Google and Microsoft (SmartGlass).

While the competition is certainly daunting, it’s early days yet in mobile-to-TV, so there’s still an opportunity for a new entrant to grab the inside track. But the jockeying for position is clearly on.