Over 2010, there were a plethora of media players released in the consumer electronic space from brands like Western Digital, Apple, Netgear, Roku, etc… Add in the iterations of digital cable boxes released with similar features as well as new Smart HDTVs with built in apps and the space is already insanely crowded. In order to appeal to the average CE consumer, you really have to bring something original to the space.
Enter the Boxee Box created by D-Link, a uniquely designed set-top box that brings file functionality and organization to streaming web content. It’s a result of the evolution of a piece of software called Xbox Media Center, an interface designed for the original Xbox that cataloged all of your media. This software is still highly popular for the diy home theater PC crowd, but Boxee has taken it a step further with releasing hardware to compliment the software. The box is priced at an MSRP of $199, arguably high for the set-top crowd but vastly cheaper than the typical HTPC build. It’s also priced about $100 less than the Logitech Revue, a clearer competitor to the intended use of the device.
You will be immediately taken aback by how much the Boxee stands out from other set-top solutions. It’s definitely designed to be noticed rather than blend into your home theater system. The unit actually has 7 sides, sits with a corner sticking up at an angle and uses a combination of black with bright green accents for the color palette. I was surprised at how many of my guests actually complimented the industrial design of the unit as well as the color choices. While everyone is trying to make their tech blend into the home theater space, it’s really interesting that Boxee has succeeded at the opposite. If the hardware gets more exposure in brick and mortar stores, I wouldn’t be shocked to see people purchasing it because it’s different rather than using Apple’s strategy of minimalism.
On the top of the unit, you will find the only button visible on the unit; the power button. Once powered up, the Boxee logo glows in green on the left side of the unit. On the opposite side, there’s a SD/MMC card slot for cards up to 64GB. On the back of the unit, you will find the wired 10/100 Ethernet jack (wireless N is included as well), a HDMI 1.3a out, a SPDIF Optical out, a Stereo Out, the power plug connection and two USB ports for expanding out storage to USB drives or an external hard drive. On the rear of the unit, you will find the ventilation for heat and the bottom is lined with a rubberized green material to avoid sliding around. The Box is small as well measuring a maximum of 5 inches each way. Internally, the Boxee Box is simply a tiny computer. It’s driven by 1 GB of RAM, an Intel CE4100 SoC and a motherboard that’s about the size of one of the new Apple TVs.
In addition to the main unit, the other items in the packaging include the power adapter and the Boxee Box remote. The front of the remote has a directional pad for on-screen navigation and three buttons. The top button plays / pauses content, the middle button selects items on the menus and the bottom button exits you back through the content to the main menu. My main issue with the remote is that it’s incredibly easy to confuse which side is up and pressing the buttons feels flimsy. They should take a page out of Apple’s book and design something more similar to the most recent aluminum Apple Tv remote.
On the opposite side of the remote, you will find the full QWERTY keyboard for typing out what you are looking for. It was a perfect fit for my hands and is definitely bigger than the average cell phone keypad. However, if you prefer your Apple devices, you can download the Boxee app for your iPhone or iPod Touch to navigate the user interface. There’s also a Boxee app in the works for the iPad, but it’s not clear if it will include remote features. There’s no need for line of sight with the remote, so fell free to point is anywhere while typing.
When powering up the Boxee Box for the first time, you will need to register for a Boxee account. It’s pretty painless and takes less than a couple minutes to complete. The unit asks you about overscan immediately and you can adjust the corners of the content box if you so choose. If you aren’t plugged into a wired connection, the unit will also ask which wireless network to use and ask to enter the password if needed. Like Apple TV, this is the only time the unit will ask you as long as the network name remains the same. During the setup process, you can also link up social accounts like Facebook and Twitter to share what you are watching as well as see what your friends are watching.
From being completely powered off, it takes about a minute to turn on the Boxee Box and have it log you into the service. Popping back on from sleep mode is incredibly fast though; about a second to turn it back on. Once you have completed registration, the simple, cartoonish pop up on the screen and you can begin navigating the menu. Boxee adopted the simplicity of Apple’s U.I. design and only give you a few starting options before drilling down into menus. You will see icons for Friends, Watch Later, Shows, Movies, Apps and Files. These options can also be accessed in a mini-pop up menu while watching content by pressing the menu button. Friends is designed for you to check out what your buds are viewing and Watch Later is similar to Netflix’s queue. The other four options are directly related to content.