I have been a Boxee fan for quite some time, but to be honest I haven’t used as much as a fan should since getting it to a TV was a pain. There was no dedicated hardware that ran Boxee and getting Boxee to your TV involved hacking onto a device or on computer. So ever since I saw the Boxee Box at CES 2010 I’ve had my money out ready to buy one. Today, it has finally arrived at my door step.
It’s a rather half-assed unboxing, but I just like the way “Boxee Box Unboxed” sounds and of course the rest of the title indicates I will be sharing my feelings… read on…
I hate my cable TV provider. I won’t go into diatribe like any sane person would rage into if you mention the name of their cable provider. But I will say, I want to see the 500 channel $100/month cable TV bill abolished. This is why I have been so excited about Boxee and this whole IPTV mass appeal tipping point we are rapidly approaching. Us nerds have been able to get our online and P2P videos to our TVs for the last decade, but it is becoming more and more out-of-the-box-plug-and-play.
My 10 Foot TV Experience
To give you a reference here is a rundown of what devices I have hooked up to my living room TV and how I use them.
Samsung 55” LED TV (UN55C6500): In addition to everything being viewed though it- it also has its own Apps: Hulu, Amazon, Netflix, MLB.TV, and a bunch of other various video apps. I only use the Hulu app and occasionally the Amazon app if I it’s not available on Xbox Zune. It is connected over a wireless adapter.
Xbox 360s: This has become my most used set top box since it has most of the stuff I want to watch in either one of the applications on the Xbox. When Hulu comes to the Xbox, I can probably discontinue using the Samsung TV apps.
Xbox 360s with Zune Marketplace: I buy a decent amount of videos a la carte though the Zune Marketplace on Xbox. At around $2 per video it’s really convenient, lacks commercials, and while still DRMed I own them and can watch them at any time on my laptop, Zune, or Xbox. It also easily allows me to have a nice on the go library for travel. Unlike Netflix, I can always download them and watch them regardless to bandwidth situation.
Xbox 360s with Netflix: Lots of good commercial free entertainment. Netflix is the new staple soon to be the new CATV- everyone who has it loves it and lets everyone know they love it. For me it makes up a fraction of time spent in the living room, since .
Comcast Crapmaster 2000: I still have cable, I tried to cut it a few months ago, but I was I informed my bill would go up $15/month if I canceled CATV and just got internet because of some limited promotion. The promotion is up soon so I may proudly join the prestigious ranks of cable cutters! None the less, I really only use it for two things, putting CNBC and other news stations on in the back ground and for some random channel surfing.
Samsung Blu-Ray: This helps keep the dust from falling on the second shelf in the component cabinet. Seriously, I don’t use it, I’m over physical media. Changing discs is so 2008. If this didnt come free with my TV, I would have a dusty second shelf.
Boxee Box: Is there room?
Boxee does something that none of the other current device can do, bridge the gap between online video and your TV. Google is trying with Google TV, but Boxee is already two steps ahead and brings a better UI to the table.
Boxee becomes more of a “Cable Box” for online video, since feels a kin to “channel surfing” when using it on the couch. What makes this a different and arguably better experience than a cable box is that it draws on the wealth of really good online content, from internet only syndication, to podcasts, to viral videos. One of the features I love is the “Watch Later” Bookmark widget for all the internet browsers. This allows you book mark any internet video from your browser to watch later on your TV. Its also really cool to use on your laptop as you sit on the couch in front of the tv.
On top of that you also have access to a huge library of cable and broadcast content on demand. Oh, and did I mention the ability to beautifully whip your TV torrent collection into an easy to browse organized collection with all the proper metadata?
So what’s missing?
Live broad casts: I pay $10/month for CNBC Plus. This allows me to watch CNBC Live on my computer without commercials (thank God I don’t have to listen to all those prostate health and scooter commercials). But at this point it’s only for the laptops and actually Google TV, so I can see that it could be on its way in the forum of an app on Boxee. Since there is a pay service for MLB.TV currently available- a cure for the baseball fan. Then what else is needed are some channels to add some live broadcasts to Boxee it become a true cable cutter.
One other thing they can do is to transition people from the cable box is to make it feel like someone is turning on a TV. When the Box is turned on, start playing video automatically, stuff you like based on viewing habits. This appeases the leave the tv on as background noise habit.
Hulu, Amazon, and other services are missing, but many are right around the corner. Boxee is a platform for others to plug into- there are even options for you to use third party app repositories.
The Hardware and Setup
The hardware box is sturdy but plastic like a typical router, appropriately so since it is built by D-Link. With an SD card slot on the side the back is graced with a simple single HDMI cable as the only video out option, two USB ports, Ethernet, R/L RCA Audio, Digital optical, and DC power (Wi-Fi built in). I really wish they would have built in the power supply; the “wall wart” is always a pain.
The remote is a really nice simple and effective solution and the keyboard is decent, but the symmetrical design of the remote makes it difficult to use and even more difficult in the dark since it also doesn’t have a back lit keyboard. I always find myself holding the remote in the wrong direction since you have to continually flip the remote around and there is only a visual cure in the form of a mall logo at the base. There needs to be some tactile indications in the design to designate which way is up on the remote. There could also be more depth and feel to the buttons on the front. The great news about the remote is that it is not IR so you can hold it any way you like and not have to point it at the tv.
The remote however almost becomes a moot point in that there are many applications coming out for smartphones that will replace it, some with interactivity and meta data displayed on the smartphone/device screen. I have tried some with limited success, but I’m sure there will be better ones around the corner.
Set up was sort of a bitch; it’s not something I would be comfortable leaving up to a non-technology friendly person to set up. Not that it was too difficult I think it will leave a substantial minority frustrated. Wireless set up was a breeze, select the network and enter the pass word, no problems. The first problem was that it did not prompt me to update the software- something that would be overlooked by the non tech savvy. Additionally, it required 3 updates, all un prompted. Updates should be automatic, even my Samsung TV always updates the apps and store up to date.
The other thing I had problems with was getting Boxee Box to see my Windows Homer Server to access my music, videos, and photos. I eventually had to make an account for Boxee on WHS for it to be able to have access. Perhaps the problem was my network or my all Windows network, though I haven’t had many issues with other devices.
The Boxee Box is pricier than some of the entry level IPTV boxes like Roku, but does a much better job and brining online video to your living room. It is a bit cheaper than Google TV and judging it based on an hour I played with the Google TV, Boxee Box is easily better.
Boxee has existed for a long time as software so this has made the V1 hardware launch a solid launch. Despite some of its short comings I think it’s a winner for $200 others may want to wait for a few updates. Either way you can pick it up form Amazon for the holidays.