Having tested several media players in the past few years, two Asus oPlay of different models, as well as an LG Smart TV Upgrader. I’m sad to report that compared to the Boxee, the rest of the players I’ve tested are absolutely abysmal.
The menu system:
Saying that the menu system is sleek and intuitive would be an understatement, it is glorious. Initially the Boxee shows you a row of what they call “Featured videos” from different sources, Youtube, Vimeo, etc.
At the top you have your media split into categories, Movies, TV Shows,Files, etc. The key though, is that instead of showing you the media divided into sources, it shows your media subdivided into category groups. For instance, accessing the MOVIES menu, will show you all the movies you have available either locally (by USB drive, local media server, etc) or streaming from the Internet (Netflix, Hulu, Crackle, etc.)
The same goes for TV shows, accessing that menu will show you all the TV shows available either from a streaming source like Netflix, or your local media server, USB, etc.
However, if you wish, by going into the Files menu, you can access your media by local source.
And then there are the apps which are more like shortcuts to various streaming media websites from various repositories, both legit, and if you swing that way, not quite legit. (But not illegal either…)
This is enlightening and makes the Boxee extremely user friendly.
This is a bit more touchy. To begin with, the playback quality will vary greatly depending on the source. For instance, before I had the Boxee, my ISP was a local DSL provider that gave me 8 megabits of bandwidth. When I first signed up for Netflix I specified I had an 8Mbit connection and Netflix happily pushed videos through based on that throughput.
However, a month or so before I received the Boxee I switched to a faster ISP that gives me a sucralose filled 30Mbits of bandwidth. At first with Netflix I didn’t see any difference, some of the more action packed sequences in movies and TV shows came through pixelated, like a mostly censored candid picture.
Then I realized Netflix allowed me to change the settings with which they stream their content to my home LAN. After I adjusted this to 30Mbits, the content that is supposed to be HD comes through in HD (720p) without any pixelation.
Obviously this didn’t affect any local media and all of my divx, mkv and flash movies were already perfect. The same goes to the audio, the Boxee provides a pass-thru for various audio signals including Dolby Digital and DTS through its optical out port.
The unit also streams MP3s, Flac and other audio formats. It can also make slideshows with pictures off a server, USB key, etc.
And speaking of ports
The Boxee comes with six connectors in the back, plus two USB ports. The connectors are one gigabit ethernet port, one HDMI out, one optical out SPDIF, two audio out RCA left and right and lastly the power adaptor.
There is only one button on the unit and it serves as a power button, it can be used as an emergency shut off button by holding it pressed much in the same way as a PC.
Speaking of PC
Its interior consists of an intel Atom processor with 512Mb RAM which makes it an actual PC running a specific flavour of Unix.
Supporting wi-fi fully, with B, G and N capabilities, it doesn’t even require to be wired to your network, however my tests have shown that the bandwidth is fairly limited even in the N spec. This might not be due to the Boxee, but might be because of my D-Link router which has been replaced since the testing but that will be another review for another device (TP-Link TL-WR1043ND Wifi router) when I have time to sit and write one. (I don’t want to give away the punch but the cheaper TP-Link router blows the more expensive D-Link out of the water, but I digress…)
At any rate you’ll WANT to use the gigabit ethernet port if you have a gigabit LAN at home.
The remote control is ‘legen’ - wait for it - ‘dary’ and I could stop the review of the remote control here, but I wont.
Not only is it an RF remote, meaning you can use it from another room if your cabling allows it, but it’s also two-sided. One side has three buttons and a directional navipad, and the other one has a FULL QWERTY KEYBOARD making it the obvious winner to browse the Internet, search YouTube or any show on Netflix, Crackle etc.
Live TV content and sport
Sadly, Live TV is fairly limited through the Internet much the same as sports (there are almost none) and although there is supposed to exist a Live TV USB adapter for the Boxee, I have yet to find a place that carries it at an affordable price. Best deal I’ve found was 70$ for a dongle that still needs an antenna (minimum an extra 40$ for a decent one) or cable input.
The way it looks
Oh…My…God! Most of the reviews I’ve read about the Boxee state that the odd shape is awkward and a lot of people find it ugly. I think these people have no taste for art. This is truly a masterpiece. I’ve placed mine so that it’s the obvious centerpiece of a glass shelf near my television and whenever I have friends or family over it does in fact, become the center of attention, at least for a while before the parrot starts laughing at us or sneezing in the exact same manner I sneeze. (stupid parrot…) At any rate, the Boxee is definitely not made to be stacked.
Quick and intuitive menus.
The remote has a full qwerty RF keyboard.
The way the shows, movies and other media are subdivided is innovative and clear.
Did I mention the remote has a full qwerty RF keyboard.
It looks like it was designed by Eero Aarnio (famous for being the only furniture designer that has both his name and surname beginning with an identical double vowel) or Ame Jacobsen.
Flexible (and plentiful) app repositories.
It has a full qwerty RF keyboard!!!
Incredibly easy to setup and use.
It still needs “some” cabling for power, outputs etc. so that its bikini model looks are somewhat spoiled by something called “cable management.”
Its obvious good looks are somewhat controversial because some people like to ‘stack’ things next to their TVs.
At 189$ it is pricey compared to the 125$ Asus boxes.
I know that in my review of the iPlay Live, last February, I gave it a full popcorn box and it’s difficult to go any higher. This Boxee however, is more like filet mignon, the excellence of the software, the practicality of the (full qwerty RF) remote control, the speediness of the menus, the way the videos are subdivided into groups AND into sources, make this by far the superior streaming media player out there, with a full qwerty RF keyboard to boot!
Furthermore, its odd, boxy look is something to be embraced and venerated rather than stacked under of any other devices because anyhow, other devices are rendered obsolete by the Boxee’s very existence, to the point where anything else you would stack over it, would be pointless, useless.