Boxee Box Unboxed- First Impressions

boxee box main Boxee Box Unboxed  First Impressions

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?

Yes

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.

Conclusion

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.




16 Comments

Jason Dunn on November 13, 2010 4:21 AM

Nice overview! One thing I’d disagree with though: for anyone that’s invested in a Harmony Remote, it SUCKS that the Boxee Box can’t accept IR signals…yeah, the remote is cool and all, but I don’t want ANY remote but my Harmony. The fact that I’m going to have to reach for a special remote just to use the Boxee Box blows. It’s my #1 dislike about it.

AJ on November 14, 2010 4:04 PM

Grahm,

Thanks for the review. Like you, I’ve been waiting for the Boxee Box, in my case to replace my (original) Xbox running XBMC.

BTW, Comcast raised my Internet fee after the “promotional period” was over, but I told them I wasn’t paying $60USD a month for Internet. When they said there’s nothing I could do, I told them to transfer me to cancellations as I would switch to DSL then and there. Comcast immediately offered Internet for me at $40USD per month. If you have another high-speed ISP, you can give that a shot.

AJ on November 14, 2010 4:05 PM

I meant to say “When they said there’s nothing THEY could do” instead of “…nothing I could do…”

nick on November 15, 2010 12:28 AM

This being abi, I’d like to hear a bit about the Boxee box’s music library browsing/streaming/playback functionality.

Goodfeather on November 15, 2010 5:49 PM

Boxxy? Boxxy! Boxxy is now an electronics item?

Chris C. on November 15, 2010 7:01 PM

spell checkkur!! lol

Thanks for the 1st impression write up, this thing’s been long in coming. I’ve been using the standalone boxee s/w for some time now & think that it is pretty cool, with lots of avenues for entertainment, plus repositories for grabbing addons for further user tweakage.
The lack of decent HD programming is definitely a weak point, and I have not been impressed w/ Netflix’s current meager online library. But this content delivery method is to be the wave of the future, so I imagine it will get sorted out soon.

Andy on November 15, 2010 8:04 PM

You can stream Hulu on your Xbox 360 right now using PlayOn. I bought a lifetime license a while back and it works great. It can also stream media from your PC and handles more formats than the Xbox alone. May be worth looking into if you really want Hulu on the Xbox.

lemuel bacod on November 16, 2010 3:33 AM

Sweeeeeeeet

Narg on November 17, 2010 12:07 AM

Lying cable companies!!!!

It’s not your entire bill, just the internet charge that will go up $15/per month. Better than the added $100 for the cable alone. You should net $85 in total for dumping the worst TV known to man.

Frost on November 17, 2010 6:39 AM

Why own a giant 55″ tv and not even utilize it for bluray? What a giant waste of money. The Boxee device is pretty cool though, thanks for the overview.

Physical media is going nowhere and we’re so far off from a all digital world it’s not even funny. It’s super niche right now. You have people just now understanding the allure of dvd discs and digital cameras if you even pay attention to things outside geek culture.

Such ignorance is mental and you’re a fool for ignoring blu.

The Clintidote on November 18, 2010 9:07 PM

Agree with Frost; downloaded video looks/sounds like crap compared to full 1080p/lossless audio found on Blu-ray. Compressed, blocky images look awful on a large screen.

You must not be very picky about your image and sound quality for movies if you’re satisfied with streamed/downloaded video content, lossy compressed audio and an LCD display.

Blu-ray media and players will be around for a long time – at least as long as people care about quality.

Grahm Skee on November 19, 2010 6:58 PM

The problem for me with Blu-Ray is two part. One, psychical media, im tired of having to keep a library of discs around the house- its more clutter. Two, they are too expensive. $30 for any new release movie on blu ray. As far as comparing it to online streaming video, you would be surprised, Netflix you might have a noticeably lacking but marginal difference to a Blu-ray disc but when you get into 1080p HD content from Amazon and Xbox/Zune video you would be really hard pressed to tell the difference- if there is any perceived difference at all.

You are correct when you say that Boxee doesn’t even come close to Blu-ray, but to say that about other digital content you are far off. Psyciclal media is dying and will be more or less dead in 5 years- only to show up in specialty shops like vinyl record stored today. Look at any walmart- look how drastically they have cut their physical media departments compared to even 2 years ago. Look at all the empty blockbuster stores…

blu-ray may not be dead, but its in the hospice.

The Clintidote on November 19, 2010 8:21 PM

Grahm, where do you live that you have to pay $30 for a BR movie????

You can get them just about anywhere online for 50% off list price, but I use price-watching websites to get the best prices; except for Criterion releases (where I’ll pay half price) I never pay more than 40% of list price and usually less; that’s a minimum 60% discount.

For movies stickered at $35-40 list, I pay anywhere from $10-13 brand new, including shipping. For Disney and Pixar it’s tough to get that low; I usually hit $14-15 on these. Patience pays off, bigtime, but if you wait too long prices often go back up quite a bit – try to get a cheap price now on “Bug’s Life” for instance.

I have well over a thousand titles (about half DVDs) and a very good database; it tells me that I’m paying about 25% less, on average, for Blu-ray releases compared to what I used to spend on DVDs.

Another big advantage for me, in addition to vastly-superior AV quality, is that I can pop in whatever I want any hour of the day or night – no waiting for Netflix in the mail or downloading a compressed, lossy thing.

unquestionablepresence on November 21, 2010 10:28 AM

Streaming content, even at 1080p, still can’t come close to an actual blu-ray disc. Streaming content runs at a much lower bitrate than a BD disc. Streaming content also almost always suffers from major compression artifacts like macroblocking, and you won’t get lossless audio like Dolby TrueHD, DTS HD-MA, or pcm. you’re lucky if you even get more than stereo. In any case, for a lot of content, streaming is “good enough,” but definitely not what I would call “good,” especially on a 55-inch set.

אפליקציות לאייפון on December 2, 2010 9:03 AM

Why own a giant 55″ tv and not even utilize it for bluray? What a giant waste of money. The Boxee device is pretty cool though, thanks for the overview.
Physical media is going nowhere and we’re so far off from a all digital world it’s not even funny. It’s super niche right now. You have people just now understanding the allure of dvd discs and digital cameras if you even pay attention to things outside geek culture.
Such ignorance is mental and you’re a fool for ignoring blu

Gazbin on February 8, 2011 12:53 AM

I have a 50″+ TV too and don’t watch many BD discs.

Bluray is in my opinion a very temporary store & transport medium. I own both BD player & PS3 but think it’s just not worth sinking too much money down that hole. I can understand why so many people buy 2nd hand DVD’s at a under $5 and dump then on a NAS and everything else just download as required. Very convenient and tidy!

Personally, I don’t enjoy not being able to skip straight to the movie and go red in the face when any commercials or stupid unnecessary menu’s appear. I’ll happily pay for anything that removes that barrier!

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