June 30, 2009
I’ve wanted to try Boxee for a long time now but something else always got in the way, well I finally got around to it and I’m almost kicking myself for not trying it sooner. Boxee is a cross-platform media center that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and now Windows. The majority of my time thus far with Boxee was with a pre-alpha windows version; however Boxee recently released build 0.9.12.6570 for XP, Vista and Win 7. What few lingering annoyances I found with the pre-alpha build that I was running, seem to have been resolved with 6570.
But before we get too far into the particulars I should explain how Boxee intends to separate itself from the rest of the media center herd. I suppose the answer is multifaceted, but in essence Boxee wants to become more than just another media center, they’re hoping to tap into the social media blitzkrieg. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Delicious, and others have forever changed the way we share content and the folks at Boxee are of the opinion that media centers shouldn’t be left out of the fun. Boxee allows you to share video picks with friends and in-turn view their recently viewed list (should they feel so inclined to share). Keep in mind you can share as much or as little as you like, it’s entirely up to you.
Ok, so that’s the idea in a nutshell, but what’s it really like? How’s it work and is it even worth signing up for? Right off the bat Boxee has a different feel to it. The menu system is smooth and once you shed off the trappings of conventional media centers and adjust to Boxee’s way of doing things, it starts to feel intuitive. Boxee’s a lot to take in early on which is a bit surprising given how spartan the interface appears. Notice I said appears because once you dive in a little deeper you’ll quickly see there are a ton of settings and features to tweak should you wish. If not, no worries. Most of Boxee’s cool features work right out of the box. (One day I’ll quit saying right out of the box about things that have no box, but old habits die hard).
Like I mentioned earlier, the social aspect of Boxee looms large. As soon as you first login, you’re presented with a pane of media sources and media that your friends “liked”. Fear not though, Boxee comes pre-friended with its founder Avner Ronen. You can see Avner’s activity including recent likes (think thumbs up), what’s new panel, recently added media, and recently viewed content. From there you’ll see a left hand menu bar that contains just about everything you’ll need for quick launching a file or starting a stream. In this respect, Boxee is a full-fledged “traditional” media server (sans the DVR functionality) in addition to its networked content forte. To be quite honest, if I found myself faced with the proposition of only using Boxee as my main media server I can’t say as I’d miss MCE all that much. I do continue to use Windows Media Center however, but I’ll keep my eye on Boxee’s progress.
Another cool feature for those of you with an iPhone is Boxee’s iPhone controller app. Don’t have a MCE remote? No problem, just download the app from the iPhone store, fire up Boxee on your computer, pair the app with your client and away you go. Getting back to some of Boxee’s showcased content for a moment, an instant favorite at the home theater blog household was the Apple movie trailers area, followed up shortly behind with the Hulu feeds. To catch you up on the status of Hulu on Boxee I’d point you at this post from ‘All Things Digital’, a while back Hulu requested that Boxee remove the Hulu area showcasing their content. However, the public Hulu feeds are just that, publicly viewable and as such are still on Boxee (at least at the time of this post). One other important thing I’d like to point you toward is the Boxee blog. I’d have to type a novels worth of text to give you an idea of just how much content is available on Boxee or, I could just point you toward the Boxee blog.
Whether its Rotten Tomatoes, the National Film Board of Canada, Google Video, the BBC, Major League Baseball, Bass Edge (yes Bass Fishing tips), or my own personal favorite Blair Butler’s Fresh Ink, there really is just about something for everyone on Boxee. Of course Boxee is still in alpha/beta stage and it isn’t perfect. There are the occasional hang-ups and freezes but it does seem like they’re getting less frequent as the updates roll out. I suppose my only other minor complaint is well, harder to pin down. I suppose for me at least some of the menu navigations are a little less than intuitive. It’s not a huge deal and if pressed to describe what I’m trying to get the hang of, I’m not even sure I could. Maybe I’m just suffering from GUI overload. On any given day I work on two different operating systems and as many as 5 different applications between them.
All in all Boxee is a fantastic app, and if you’re still one of the unwashed masses yet to run a HTPC in their living room, try this little experiment. Install Boxee on your main PC, spend some time with it, learn the GUI, find some favorite content to add, and then use the app for awhile. If you can honestly say that you can find as varied content as what you’ve discovered on Boxee, and or could just take a pass on the whole thing, then yes a HTPC definitely isn’t for you. I have a feeling however that a good majority of you will instantly see that there’s a lot more out there than what’s on cable or satellite. Stay tuned for more on Boxee, it’s already become an indispensable part of my home theater system and I look forward to seeing what the Boxee team comes up with next.