iBrothers have been a fan of Boxee – a program which turns your MAC, PC or AppleTV into a media player, for some time.
Boxee is a free application which, when installed onto a MAC, Windows PC, Ubuntu or Apple TV, turns it into a powerful media player capable of playing back most video, music and picture formats available.
Boxee distinguishes itself from other media portals in a few ways.
- Boxee will inspect your local video files and using a database lookup allocates a thumbnail and synopsis to each video file. In the case of a TV series, it will also sort them into seasons with a synopsis for each episode.
- Boxee allows you to create an account and share information with other Boxee users
- Boxee has access to Apps which allows internet content such as Flikr and facebook
- Access to internet based video on demand services
While downloading and installing Boxee can be a little daunting to some, and getting it running on a PC connected to your TV does represent some complexities (even the AppleTV conversion isn’t without it’s limitations), once up and running, Boxee is a truly fantastic experience.
Introducing the Boxee Box
It was with great excitement to iBrothers then to learn that Boxee, partnered with D-Link, was bringing to market a dedicated box, preinstalled with Boxee to make hooking up Boxee to your TV a snap. Just this week, the Boxee Box was introduced to Australia.
- A unique look
- 1 x HDMI port
- 1 x Optical Audio port
- Stereo RCA Audio
- 2 x USB ports (for connection of a USB drive)
- SD memory card slot
- Ethernet and wifi
- Unique double sided remote control
iBrothers first impressions
The unit is visually striking. It’s sloped design makes the unit appear to have melted into the surface it’s sitting on. The Boxee symbol on the front of the unit glows when the unit is powered on and fades when playing back media.
The remote control is something new. On one side it has a minimal set of controls while on the reverse, a full QWERTY keyboard.
Playback from a USB connected device was fast. We plugged in a “Western Digital My Passport Studio 500GB” portable drive which powered itself from the USB ports on the Boxee Box and we were surprised to see the unit find our MAC formatted partition along side our FAT formatted partition. The name it gave our MAC formatted partition was a random string rather than the name we had applied to it but it did playback from it none the less.
Some forums have been speculating that the unit cannot run two connected drives so we connected a second drive (Western Digital MyPassport 1TB) formatted as NTFS. Both drives worked fine being powered by the Boxee Box.
Playback of media over our network was not as responsive. It took some time to commence playback but once running appeared smooth.
There has been some harsh criticism to some of the quirks of the unit, many of which Boxee have promised speedy and timely updates to address.
The most noticeable to us was the way in which the unit caches thumbnails and information for programs. Every time you restart the Boxee Box, it re-updates this information from the internet. There will be a fix apparently for this.
Another complaint which is most noticeable is the way the main menu defers to Internet provided content (Netflix) which, for Australia, is somewhat irrelevant as we, in Australia, cannot access that content legally and is therefore blocked to us. Boxee is again, working on an update to enable users to switch to either Internet based or local content as the preferred option.
Even though it defers to Internet content, there is no issue switching to local content (local being on a connected USB drive or your local network).
While the Boxee Box performs a reasonable job of cataloguing your video collection, allocating a thumbnail to it and downloading the synopsis, the system isn’t infallible. When it does not recognise the TV show or movie, you have the option of finding it yourself. The reasons for not being able to find it automatically may be in the way you named the file or that the program or movie simply doesn’t exist in it’s database. For the former, you can do the lookup for the file and once it’s found it in the database, will set it to your file permanently and even survives reboots of the box. If it’s not found, you will need to navigate through the file browser, which is the same way most other media players work.
In regards to online subscription services – Netflix, Vudu and Pandora, these are all US based services and are blocked to Australian ISPs. As such, some of the best features from Boxee are crippled out of the gate. It does appear that D-Link are working with local content providers (eg. ABC’s iView) to have this enabled on the device which looks good for Boxee.
So long as your TV supports HDMI and you are happy to work past the niggles while Boxee fixes them (and you have an internet connection to obtain the updates), the Boxee Box represents one of the better investments in a media streamer we have used.
For the asking price of $299.00, it is more expensive than many of its competitors however, the simplicity of it’s menu system and being backed by a company ready to improve and expand on the content puts it far ahead of many other media streamers currently on the market.