Xiaomi set-top box suspended video streaming service last night, not indicating when to resume (announcement in Chinese). One week after its launch, SARFT, the state authority of radio and video, reportedly stepped in, unsurprisingly  (source in Chinese). Even though Xiaomi reached partnership with WASU who had obtained license from SARFT, streaming content directly from online video sites to TV — Xiaomi’s enables video streaming from Sohu, Tencent and other sites — hasn’t been allowed.

According to SARFT rules, thrid-party set-top boxes must partner with and only provide with content from seven licensed players, who have less content than online video sites and offer inferior services.

Another player, LeTV, handed over all content on letv.com to its partner CNTV, the online video service operated by the stated-owned CCTV, to get those videos permissible to go through set-top boxes.

Qvod’s solution is any different?

Back in 2005, Shanda Box, a device offering entertainment content and games on TV, was one of the first to dream on transferring TV set to the harbor of digital families. Wang Xin, founder of Qvod, was leading the Shanda project back then.

Recalling why it failed, Wang pointed out that, apart from factors like timing and price, “it’s better to leave set-top box to SARFT and carriers”. (source in Chinese) Wang founded Qvod, an online content streaming and software provider, in 2007 after leaving Shanda.

Though profiting from online gaming management software and other services, his company has been working on solutions similar to Shanda Box. Now the company is about to launch Qvod Big Screen, a USB-disk-like gadget and accompanying software for connecting a smart phone to bigger screens, TV or pads. Plugging it in to a LCD TV, it can display pictures or play videos from a smartphone.

To avoid authorities, he describes the new product is cell phone accessory that SARFT and the like won’t care. He thinks, different from set-top boxes who need licences to carry content, smart phones are entitles to play online videos, and Qvod gadget just functions  like a projector. The gadget will be prices less than 500 Yuan(about $60) — Xiaomi set-top box is at 399 Yuan — and is expected to ship 5 mn pieces in a year. Also the company will set up an app store within the gadget later (source in Chinese).

Qvod has celebrated investors, Zeng Liqing, former COO at Tencent and an angel investor, and Zhou Hongyi, CEO of Qihu. You just cannot help thinking the whole idea of avoiding authorities and riding the hype of Xiaomi box is what Zhou Hongyi, if not both of them, would come up with. Judgement and ethics aside, consumers and online content providers must be happy to see the authorities being bypassed and online content being streamed freely on a bigger screen. But, would SARFT and the like believe that a USB-like gadget is anything different by nature from a set-top box?

Tracey Xiang is Beijing, China-based tech writer. Reach her at traceyxiang@gmail.com

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