Boxee Box: Why you want one

Boxee Box

    The second of the internet streaming boxes that I’m reviewing for my company’s Christmas giveaway (full details here) is undoubtedly the most hyped of the trio; the Boxee Box by D-Link.  Boxee has a huge internet following and is quickly becoming the HTPC user interface of choice.  Boxee makes applications for Windows, Mac, and Linux that create a nice user experience while sitting on the couch and looks great from across the room.  This allows you to hook up a computer to your TV and not necessarily have the Windows or Mac desktop showing on your TV, but more of a simplified user friendly look and feel.  Enter the Boxee Box.  Now you don’t even need the computer, you simply hook this box up to your TV and you’re ready to go.

What’s in the box?

    The Boxee is a bit of a step up from the Roku XD and comes with more features, an easier user  interface, and of course… a higher price tag.  So what all comes in the box?  Well, obviously the  Boxee Box itself, the awesome remote (more later), a HDMI cable, the required power cable, and a various array of manuals.  In my personal opinion, all makers of devices that require or use HDMI cables should include them, because despite what all the electronics stores are trying to tell us, they are not expensive cables.  I’m glad to see that D-Link provided one here.  That actually made my day (ok, so not really).

    The Boxee Box itself is a rather interesting shape… think a cube that is sinking in quicksand and you’ll get the idea.  That is actually the first thing people notice about it when checking it out; it is interesting to look at.  At just under 5 inches tall and just over 6 inches wide on angle (the best way to position it so you can Boxee Box 2get to everything), the device is larger than the Roku XD, and will definitely be in a unique place in your A/V rack… most likely the top.  As far as connectivity is concerned, we’ve got some things to play with.  Of course it has an HDMI port, left and right stereo RCA jacks, optical out, two USB ports and… drum roll… a SD/MMC slot; which is super cool in my opinion.  If you’re having friends over and you want to show off those new birthday pictures or pictures from your last vacation, no problem.  Just pop the memory card out of your camera and straight into the Boxee Box and view your pictures right on your TV.  Beautifully simple.

    A second ago I commented on the fact that the remote is awesome… and I will say again, it is awesome.  One side of the remote (pictured above) has the navigation buttons on it, and the other side has a full keyboard.  If you’re used to using the keyboards found on most smart phones today, you’ll be right at home with this device.  I have heard a common complaint that the play / pause and menu buttons are easy to accidentally press while you’re using the keyboard on the other side; which I will agree with.  I went menu surfing a few times on accident while trying to type something in.  Once you understand what is going on though, it is easy enough to avoid this mishap… so while it can be a problem, you’ll work around it quickly.

Setup and Use

    Initial setup of the Boxee Box is a breeze.  When you first connect the device and power it on, it asked me to update the operating system… which is really cool in my opinion.  Mainstream devices need to do this automatically.  Once the update is complete you’ll need to use the onscreen tool to adjust the unit to your screen size and then login or create a new Boxee account. And unlike the Roku unit, not computer required.

    One thing that jumps out at your right off the bat is that Netflix is missing from the user interface.  Nope, you’re not seeing things… it’s not there.  Boxee promises it will be there by the end of the year, so a near future update should fix that (is it just me, or is Netflix quickly taking over the universe?).  If you were thinking maybe you’d satisfy those cravings with Vudu, you’ll also be disappointed to find that, while there is a link to a Vudu app, when you click it, it informs you that it is coming soon.  Again, Boxee promises this will be out by the end of the year (actually in a couple weeks from this writing) so never fear.

    So what all kinds of content can you get to?  All the usual suspects from the Roku box, like a (native) YouTube app, NHL, Revision3 TV, as well as Twitter, Facebook, and tons more apps / shows.  If you can’t find quite what you’re looking for by default, browse the internet for Boxee Repositories and find what the fans on the internet have come up with.  To do that, simply launch the apps from the main screen and then go to the menu button.  You’ll see Repositories there, which you can punch in a URL and it will download the Repositories from the website you’ve entered.  Pretty cool stuff.  From the digging I did, boxeehq.com is the ticket for finding a good listing of Repositories… but at the time of this writing it is unfortunately down, so I have no idea what all they offered.  Check out the forums at Boxee for some ideas though.

    The Boxee Box itself isn’t limited to just internet content.  In addition to the SD/MMC card reader on the side of the unit, you can plug USB hard drives or memory sticks into it as well and play all your downloaded content right on your TV.  If you have a large MP3 collection, you can play those as well… as a matter of fact, it plays just about any file type you can think of.  Heck, you can even attach a USB hard drive to the Boxee Box and use the device like a NAS if you want to.  Don’t worry about saving files back and forth… just save it straight on the Boxee across the network and carry on with your day! Pretty freaking sweet!

Conclusions

    The Boxee Box is admittedly more expensive than the Roku HD… about $120 more to be exact (as of this writing, Amazon.com has them on sale for $199), but you get everything on the Roku, plus a lot of cool stuff which in my mind makes it worth the extra cost.  I would personally use the extra features and the ability to use network content in addition to internet content, but I totally understand that some people just wouldn’t.  That said… I love this box.  The keyboard on the back of the remote was genius, and the user interface is clean and easy to use.  The one thing I would hope they improve on is that some of the apps don’t buffer very well, leaving you with a lot of starting and stopping of video… kind of annoying… BUT, if you have a fast internet connection (5MB or faster… I’m on 1.5MB DSL currently; don’t laugh) you may not notice it quite as much as I did.  Still though, not all the apps suffered from this and the video stream came in just fine.

– Dan Thompson

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