Boxee Box Review (Continued)

December 19, 2010

Boxee BoxContinued from: Boxee Box Review

Use and Performance: As I mentioned earlier, most of the other Boxee Box reviews were written before the first firmware update was pushed out. By the time you read this I will have installed and used my Boxee Box with the third firmware update for nearly a week. That’s one of the main reasons I prefer not to write reviews at break-neck speed to “beat” the other guys. There is no beat the other guy here, I want to be able to tell you whats its really like to own and use a piece of gear not rip open and box and thrown down a stream of consciousness. That said, I’m three weeks plus into the Boxee Box and I’m more interested in whats next than what wasn’t included at launch. Sure Netflix would be a big plus but I’m getting a ton of use out of the Box as-is.

As far as bugs and problems I’ve encountered with the Box they’ve been few and far between. About the only ones I’ve yet to find a resolution to were a .MKV video file that wouldn’t play past a certain point, being able to ‘browse all’ by content type however I haven’t ruled out my own error on that one (I’m still able to browse individual folders and drives), and having audio drop outs on an occasion or two after turning on subtitles (restarting the video corrected the problem). Aside from those issues and getting used to the remote (simple once you get the hang of it), Boxee Box is pretty much like operating a DVR, you browse recordings folders across your network and click to play them. Finding and playing Youtube (and alike) content is a breeze and there are content sources as varied as comedy videos to live concert recordings available right from the menu.

About the remote, as you may be aware the rather innovative little remote included with the Boxee Box it is not an infra-red remote and that has some users complaining about compatibility with universal remote. One way I rationalize it is the fact that its also a QWERTY keyboard (on the reverse side) so if you’re accustomed to HTPC’s and or already have a wireless keyboard for your your A/V system, at least this ones a lot smaller and easily tucked out of the way.

boxee remote

Getting back to those aforementioned firmware updates for a moment. I know firmware updates can sound a little ominous and in some cases they can be a hassle but considering we’re talking about a device that’s intended to be attached to a network, and the fact that you’re automatically prompted to update when one’s available, it really isn’t much of a concern.

So what was in that first firmware update? Mostly fixes to minor incompatibilities and annoyances. I’m told the second release will spruce up the GUI a little and further expand on bug-fixes to problems that cropped up after launch. At this point (after early December’s update) I’m mostly set and operational on just about all the file-types I play. By the time of this post there was actually a third firmware update. The most recent update (12/13/10) added a default view to cater to local or online file viewing, an A-Z navigation tweak for long file lists and the ability to mark movies as watched/unwatched.

HQV Benchmark DVD Results:

Color Bar/Vertical Detail: 10 (Pass)
Jaggies 1: 5 (Pass)
Jaggies 2: 3 (Pass)
Flag Test: 10 (Pass)
Detail Test: 10 (Pass)
Noise Reduction: 10 (Pass)
Motion Adaptive Noise Reduction: 10 (Pass)
3:2 Detection: 10 (Pass)
Film Cadence (Mixed): 40 (All Passed)
Horizontal Video Titles: 10 (Pass)
Vertical Scrolling Titles: 10 (Pass)

These tests above were performed with the standard definition HQV Benchmark DVD . The Boxee Box passed all tests but “Jaggies 2” scoring a 3 of 5 which is still impressive, especially considering I’ve seen other sites report multiple test failures with the HD version of this disc. Second guessing myself a bit, I wanted to make sure the receiver wasn’t somehow affecting the results even though it was being fed a progressive signal. I bypassed the receiver and plugged the HDMI cable directly into my display, same results all passed with the 2nd jaggies test scoring a 3 of 5.

Ok, it was time to rip my HD HQV 1.0 Benchmark disc and run those tests as well, I knew the Boxee Box read Blu-ray folders but I was also able to browse an .ISO of the HD HQV Benchmark through the Boxee Box as well.

HD HQV 1.0 Benchmark Results:

HD Noise Test: 25 (Pass)
Video Resolution Loss Test: 20 (Pass)
Jaggies: 20 (Pass)
Film Resolution Loss Test: 0 (Fail)
Film Resolution Loss Test Stadium: 10 (Pass)

So while I scored slightly better results than anticipated based on what other reviewers have observed, (I didn’t start benchmarking until after the third firmware update, that could account for the differences) I still recorded a fail in the HD film resolution test pattern. This is an all or nothing test and in its defense the Boxee Box still passed the second (stadium) film resolution loss test. Not too bad in my opinion, I’ve yet to really see any video issues while watching a film I’d attribute to cadence detection.

Conclusion: In a sea of potential contenders like AppleTV, RokuHD, GoogleTV, WD-TV Live and so on, it can be hard for one media streamer/player to stand above the rest. Each of the players mentioned above have their own individual strengths and weaknesses. However unless you have an unlimited budget and nearly as much rack-space, there’s only so many “boxes” one can reasonably expect to use.

While not everything to everyone (and what product is) D-Link & Boxee have brought a hardware media center solution to the table that really leaves very little to be desired and much of what is missing is slated to be added in the near future. Boxee Box plays just about every file-type conceivable, its interface is simple to use, it offers support for HD audio and the video quality is top notch (minor technical shortcomings aside).

So do I recommend the Boxee Box? I bought one, that’s pretty much the highest recommendation I can offer but I’ll add one caveat to that. I bought mine with the the thought of possibly moving it into a second room one day; should something “better” come along in the future. That said (aside form Netflix) I can’t really envision what “better” looks like in a sub-$200 at this price point. At $199 Boxee Box was a good buy in my opinion, should that price drop to say $149 or even $99 I think it would a must-have for those looking for an easy to use media streamer with great image quality.

Simple, easy to use interface
Plays just about every format and codec imaginable
Reliable wired network performance (after early firmware update)
Innovative, easy to use remote with integrated QWERTY keyboard

Netflix and Hulu Plus support missing at launch (Netflix support “before the end of the year”)
Minor file incompatibilities
Remote not back-lit
Needs MCE compatible adapter for IR remote integration

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Uncategorized