The little box with big (but yet unrealized) dreams
People who enjoy building their own computing hardware will be familiar with the Boxee name. But if you don’t fall into that camp, you’re probably wondering what the heck this weird-looking, not-exactly-a-cube thingy is all about. The answer comes in two parts.
The first part is the software platform known as Boxee, developed by Boxee, Inc. This is a free application that can run atop a number of different operating systems, including Windows, OS X, and Linux. Install the software on the hardware of your choice, and it will collect all the TV programming and movie content you tell it you’re interested in, and present it in an organized portal. Much of the content is free, but can also include premium content—for example, movies from the Netflix and Vudu streaming sites. You can also incorporate your own personal content. Finally, Boxee can run apps—such as Pandora, Flickr, and Vimeo—as well as hook into Facebook and Twitter.
The Boxee Box’s quirky industrial design symbolizes a challenge to the status quo.
The second part of the answer takes the form of a set-top box and innovative remote control manufactured by D-Link. Put these two parts together and you have the Boxee Box. Connect the Boxee Box to your TV on one side, and to an Internet connection on the other side, and you gain access to all the same online content you’d get if you installed the Boxee software on your PC.
At least that’s supposed to be how it works. More on that in a moment.
The Boxee Box is powered by Intel’s Atom CE4100 system-on-chip—it’s the same component that runs Google TV devices such as Logitech’s Revue and Sony’s Internet TV. The box links to your network using either its 100Mb/s Ethernet port or its 802.11n Wi-Fi adapter, and it can host USB storage devices and SD/MMC memory cards. It connects to your TV or A/V receiver by way of its HDMI port to deliver high-definition audio and video (1080p).
The strange shape will prevent the Boxee Box from blending in with the rest of the gear in your entertainment center, but, luckily, it’s small enough to fit just about anywhere. The box uses active cooling, but its fan is very quiet. The Boxee Box remote provides a directional pad, play/pause button, and menu button on one side, and a full QWERTY keyboard on the other. The keyboard delivers solid tactile feedback, and its keys are just large enough to type on without provoking frustration. That said, we still like the Logitech Revue’s close-to-full-size keyboard better.
If you’re running Boxee’s software on a PC, you can stream commercial-supported TV shows from Hulu and all the major television networks, but, vexingly, that’s not the case for the Boxee Box. At press time, all the major TV networks were blocking the Boxee Box from accessing their content, just as they’re doing with Google TV devices. Unlike Google TV, however, Boxee has signed an agreement that will bring Hulu Plus subscription service to the Boxee Box.
The Boxee Box’s $200 price tag is twice that of less-capable media streamers from the likes of Western Digital and Seagate, but $100 less than the Logitech Revue. If you like to rip movies from disc and store them on your network, the Boxee Box supports a huge number of media codecs. It can pass through Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio bit streams to your A/V receiver, too. It’s a 98-pound weakling compared to a genuine home-theater PC, but it’s overkill if all you’re really looking for is Netflix streaming, as that feature comes with most any Blu-ray player.