Chinese smart phone maker Xiaomi may be getting ready to sell some of its wares in the U.S., but its smart TV devices likely won’t be part of that U.S. line-up any time soon: Xiaomi VP of International Hugo Barra told me on the sidelines of a press event in San Francisco Thursday that Xiaomi’s TV set is heavily customized for the Chinese market, thanks in part to content licensing agreements, and the company isn’t looking to strike similar deals in the U.S.. The same goes for Xiaomi’s Mi Box mini, a streaming device that the company introduced last month.
However, never say never: Xiaomi revealed last year that it plans to invest $1 billion in online video content, which could eventually pave the way to target Chinese expats, or even wider audiences, outside of China as well. With that in mind, it’s worth taking a closer look at Xiaomi’s Mi TV, the company’s 47-inch smart TV, which was on display at the press event as well.
Mi TV is based on Android, but it doesn’t look at all like the Android TVs Google is currently introducing with manufacturers like Sony and Sharp. Instead, Xiaomi has custom-built its own user interface, which boasts access to TV, movie and game content as well as an app store and access to user-generated local and cloud content.
At the center of the experience is definitely Xiaomi’s movie and TV content, which the company is licensing from China’s ICN TV. “Essentially, you get a Netflix-style subscription for free,” Barra told me.
Barra stressed that all of the content available through Mi TV is licensed, and said that it’s possible to offer free content in part because licensing costs in China are a lot lower.
Mi TV also offers access to Android games, which can be played with an external game pad.
Mi TV users can also access Xiaomi’s Mi Cloud service, which offers personal media backup and synching across devices. That way, they are able to view photos and videos taken on Xiaomi smartphones on their TVs.
Xiaomi President Bin Lin said Thursday that Mi Cloud already stores 30 billion photos. Over time, the company wants to extend the cloud functionality to connect all kinds of devices through the company’s IoT platform.