With broadband becoming more commonplace in households and faster Internet speeds getting more affordable, streaming services are on the rise. Smart TVs have already penetrated the market offering streaming video and audio services through apps. Newer HD media players also support apps with the WD TV Live Hub being a perfect example. The Boxee Box, another very popular media player in the West has finally made it to our shores thanks to D-Link who make the little device. It’s essentially a media player just like the WD TV Live Hub, but with one crucial difference, it runs Boxee’s interface, which is a free and open platform piece of software with very good developer support. Let’s take a closer look at it.
Design and Build
The unusual design of the Boxee Box will certainly grab your attention. At first, it looks as if it’s been damaged or broken, but don’t worry, that’s how it’s meant to look. This unique and quirky design is a hit or miss, either you’ll like it or you won’t. I, for one, quite like it and the compact size which will go well with your HDTV in the hall. The box has a matte finish throughout, except for the side with the logo, which lights up when powered on. The bottom area is covered by a green rubber lining for better grip. The power button is placed on the top and there’s an SD card slot on the right.
Unusual and quirky design
All the connectors are placed at the rear, along with the ventilation holes. The Boxee Box comes with two USB 2.0 ports that are capable of reading NTFS partitioned hard drives. Other ports include a LAN jack, HDMI, Optical audio-out and stereo-out. Wi-Fi ‘n’ comes built-in by default. D-Link bundles an HDMI cable as well in the box, which is nice. However, the best accessory has got to be the remote, which has standard navigation buttons on one side and a QWERTY keypad on the other. This makes typing URLs a lot easier when you want to surf the net. The navigation buttons have a good response and so does the keypad. The keys are rubber coated for better grip and durability.
The Boxee Box is powered by an Intel Atom CE4110 SOC processor. This is from their line-up of embedded systems specifically designed for performing video decoding. That’s pretty much what powers the box and some memory for installing the apps. There’s no internal storage or provision for adding a hard drive.
Interface is simple and easy to navigate
The main appeal of the Boxee Box is the number of supported apps, which currently stands at 205. The apps cover all popular categories from Entertainment, Gaming, Music, Lifestyle to News, Radio, etc. Some popular apps include YouTube, TuneIn Radio, Vimeo, TED, Revision3, CollegeHumor, to name a few. Boot up time of the Boxee Box is quick and on first use you’ll have to create an account and sign in, which is simple enough. Boxee will also check if there are any updates available and will update it accordingly. The interface is very easy and straightforward, you use the D-pad to navigate and the centre button to enter a menu, while the ‘Options’ button is used to move one step back.
The ‘Friends’ menu lets you add other Boxee users, so you can see what they are currently watching. ‘Watch Later’ queues up all the shows that you mark as favorites or ‘watch later’, so for instance if you’re searching for a show and stumble upon other interesting videos that you’d want to watch, simply mark them and they get added in the queue. ‘Shows’ lets you access clips from YouTube videos and other video streaming sites, provided you’ve installed the app. However, you can’t view current shows like - The Big Bang Theory, Community, etc. as they will only work if you’re in the U.S., which is unfortunate. The TV shows will show up if you search for them, but you can’t watch entire episodes, only clips or snippets that are on YouTube or Vimeo.
Not exactly blockbusters, eh?
‘Movies’ lets you access free to air movies from MUBI, which mostly include foreign films (no major Hollywood films), most of which I never heard of. Unfortunately for us, Netflix is not available here, so there’s no chance of even renting movies if you wanted to. ‘Apps’ lets you browse the 200+ apps and install them on the Boxee Box. You can browse through categories or simply search for the one you want. Last but not least, we have the ‘Files’ tab that let you browse for media either from a local drive that’s connected or the network. The browser can be accessed at any time by simply hitting the ‘Options’ button. From here, you can surf the internet, search for a TV show/movie or access the settings.
The Atom SOC in the Boxee Box is quite speedy and since the interface isn’t very graphical, navigating through the menus and apps is very quick and is certainly one of the best interfaces on a media player I’ve come across so far. The Boxee Box also has Twitter and Facebook integration. There’s no ‘app’ for any of these services, yet. So, for now, all you get are updates in the ‘Friends’ sub-menu.
Video player is simple, yet functional
The main USP of the Boxee Box is the streaming video services from various sources around the web. This includes dedicated video streaming sites like YouTube to web shows like Revision 3 and others. These are all free to view shows that you can watch on any computer as well but Boxee aggregates them and presents them in an HDTV friendly format. The selection of apps is by far the most extensive for any media player in the market today, which is what gives the Boxee Box the edge. Hulu is in the works and will be launching very soon for the Boxee Box, but again, it’s for U.S. users only. Besides streaming, you can also connect your hard drive or SD card and use it as a HD media player. It supports 1080p video decoding of most major formats like MKV, FLV, AVI, MPEG 4, MOV and even Blu-ray formats like MTS and M2TS. Audio format support includes MP3, WAV, OGG, DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1.
Adjust the display to your liking
The Boxee Box breezed throughout playback tests without any problems. Skipping ahead was seamless as well with very slight to no audio/video lag. The Settings menu is quite extensive giving you plenty of options for video post processing to subtitle formatting and Parental control. You’ll need the latter bit in case you have kids around the house as not all the apps are family friendly (YouPorn anyone?).
Just like XBMC, once you add your local media files to the library, you’ll find them in the corresponding categories, along with cover art and a short description about the movie or TV show. This not only makes it easy to browse through your collection, but looks very neat and professional.
So, at Rs.13,999, does the Boxee Box warrant a rush to your nearest hardware store? Not really. It’s a bit expensive for what is essentially an HD media player without any built-in storage. Where the Boxee Box really shines though, is in the software department, which is rivalled only by XBMC. That and the support for a growing number of apps for popular web shows, gives it an edge over the competition. If it was priced somewhere around 8K, I feel it would have made for a good buy. In case you don’t want the box, but would like to use the interface, then you can simply download the Boxee software, which is free and install it on your laptop or HTPC and get the same experience. Putting together a rig won’t be as cheap as D-Link's solution and wouldn’t be as compact too. You can buy the remote from D-Link separately, but that’s at an additional cost. Also remember, in order for a good experience, you’ll need a speedy Internet connection for streaming videos, which I feel is crucial if you truly wish to enjoy your Boxee Box. Without that, it’s just another media player.
A very good alternative to this would be the WD TV Live Hub, which retails for around 10K and comes with an internal 1TB hard drive. It doesn’t have a large library of apps and software updates may not be as frequent as Boxee, but it gets the job done.