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Obviously, a device that’s made for consuming content is only as good as the content provided. This is currently the ‘Achillies Heel’ of the Boxee Box platform. As a set-top box, it’s failed to provide access to two of the most popular online streaming services since launch, Netflix and Hulu. You can find Netflix support in boxes that cost half as much. On the main Boxee blog, they have promised Netflix by the end of January, so that solves half of the problem. As of an update that rolled out today, they also released Vudu support opening up the Boxee Box to the vast library of HD rentals at Vudu. But to really bolster their TV show support they need Hulu Plus as well.
The current selection of streaming television shows and movies boils down to the sources and their overall quality. It’s tough to find high quality high definition content as well as getting it to play quickly and smoothly. Comedy Central seemed to be able to handle it pretty well and new episodes of South Park, for instance, played flawlessly. Much of this content is advertising supported, but it’s a far cry from the 8 to 17 minutes worth of ads in a typical 30 to 60 minute television show. One main problem with accessing this streaming web content is that it’s prone to service hiccups, thus forcing you to reload the entire video, try to find the spot where you were and wait for endless buffering. It also likes to crash the Boxee box from time to time, incredibly annoying when compared to the reliability of a box like the Apple TV.
Granted, this is the fault of the content provider rather than Boxee, but it would behoove Boxee to warn people about these problems. Television support is currently much strongly on the Boxee platform than searching for a movie, likely because the TV studios are more advanced at rolling out support for the web than the movie studios. Currently, the majority of the web video are simply indie films. However, once Vudu and Netflix are rolled into that section, I can imagine that it will be filled with recent flicks.
One really fantastic aspect of the Boxee Box is its ability to seek out content by category, mostly when it’s searching your library of media. It automatically searches all the sources on the network to find your ripped music, movies, etc… It’s also smart enough to find the corresponding cover art and information to go with the media. If you have tons of movies all over the place on different computers, the Boxee Box can organize it for you like a digital librarian of sorts. Playing the digital content is really quite simple and will work well, assuming you have upgraded your wireless network to handle HD media streaming around the house.
Beyond video content, you will also find a smattering of apps at your disposal like Pandora, Flickr, Vevo or simply anything that uses an RSS feed to syndicate content. Music on Pandora will continue to play while you navigate around the menus, a nice touch. You can choose through all of Boxee’s apps as well as create your own based on site.
Three Reasons to Buy Boxee Box:
- A form factor that impresses in size and style. You will be hard pressed to find a gadget that’s as uniquely designed for home theaters as this one. It’s also less than half the size of the huge Logitech Revue, a device that has similar features.
- Compatibility with an enormous amount of file formats. I rarely had a problem with any of my DVD or Blu-ray rips from my personal collection of discs. The problems that I did have were a result of poor encoding choices on my part.
Three Reason Not to Buy Boxee Box:
- Excellent audio and video quality. The user interface looks well polished and darn good on a high-def screen. HD content also looked fantastic and I has no handshake issues with HDMI running from the Boxee into my receiver for 5.1 sound and out to the HD projector.
- The lack of compelling web content....for now. This can hardly be laid squarely at the feet of Boxee, but rather the studios and other organizations that provide web content. But if I can’t buy the Boxee Box and cancel my overpriced Time Warner cable bill, then what’s the point?
- Social can’t survive with Boxee’s small user base. I love that Facebook support is baked into the software, but I don’t have any FB or Twitter friends that use Boxee. I also don’t want to share everything I’m watching with my friends, so you need to give me a compelling reason to share that information.
- It’s still too confusing for the average home theater owner. They will be frustrated by the complexity of the interface and inability to play certain types of web content. Furthermore, it’s an extremely tough sell to the significant other that already can’t handle the current home theater setup.
As a piece of hardware, I love the fact that I can run giant Blu-ray rips through the box without any problems. However, I can do the same on other set-top boxes that are more than half the price. If order to differentiate itself, it needs to provide more robust access to content, a better-thought out approach to social and a more streamlined interface for the basic user. Based on the current state of the hardware & interface, I can’t recommend the Boxee Box to the average home theater owner. There are far too many unknowns at this point. If the miserable launch of Google TV is any indication, accessing a wealth of Internet TV from your home theater is still at least a year or two from fruition.
However, if you are the type of cutting edge consumer that rips / catalogs all their media and is looking for a way to consume that media in the living room along with streaming Internet video, the Boxee Box is probably right up your alley. It’s also a safe bet for continued hardware support as updates roll out fairly frequently. More information can be found on the Boxee Blog .