China e-commerce giant Alibaba Group has ventured into the Internet TV space with the unveiling of its smart TV operating system (OS) and set-top box.
This is part of plans to form the nucleus of a TV-centric ecosystem allowing Chinese consumers to access digital content, share content with mobile phones and other devices, as well as shop and pay bills via their TVs, according to Alibaba's official blog on Tuesday.
Among the OS features are e-commerce and e-payment functions, which will allow users to order products on Alibaba's group-shopping Web site, Juhuasuan, and pay via Alipay, Alibaba's e-pay service. Taobao Marketplace and Tmall, two of China's largest online shopping portals, will be integrated at a later date.
What sets the Smart TV OS apart from PC and mobile systems is its interface and design, which have been optimized for television screens, added Alibaba officials. The smart TV OS was developed by the company’s AliCloud subsidiary, the unit behind Alibaba's mobile OS (AMOS).
Users will be able to use their mobile phones to control the Smart TV OS-equipped TVs, and stream content to their handsets to TV screens. There will also be an applications store for video games, its Xiami music streaming sevice and other apps.
According to Alibaba, several major Chinese manufacturers have agreed to market TVs incorporating the Alibaba OS. These include Skyworth, Haier, Changhong plan to launch sets that run the Alibaba Smart TV OS in the "near future".
A set-top box to link TVs to the Internet, called Wasu Rainbow, is expected to be released in the next few months. This is part of a collaboratoin with Wasu Media, one of the first companies to receive an Internet TV license from the Chinese government, and claims the largest Internet TV user base in China with more than 8 million registered users.
Alibaba has been diversifying into many businesses over the past year, with invsetments in a travel site, logistics, online finance and cloud computing. In Q1 results released last week, it tripled its net profit to US$669 million ahead of a speculated IPO.
The Internet TV space in China has been under the spotlight in recent months, with search giant Baidu acquiring video streaming site PPS Net TV for US$370 million. Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi has also been pushing its Internet TV streaming service delivered via its set-top box, Xiaomi Box.