December 19, 2010
It’s been quite a while since our original Boxee (software) review and while a lot has changed much of what made Boxee compelling has only gotten better with the introduction of the Boxee Box by D-Link. Now with Boxee Box there’s a small, self-contained device specifically built for the Boxee platform, no HTPC required. For those unfamiliar with Boxee I still recommend downloading the software version for reference, while Boxee Box doesn’t run the exact same software that can be downloaded, its close enough to give you a good visualization of what I’ll describe in the review.
Before we get started I’d be remiss not to mention some of the other Boxee Box reviews from Gizmodo, Engadget and Wired etc. Some reviewers have savaged the Boxee Box, others giving a cautious wait-and-see recommendation, while one in particular seemed to be reviewing the content itself, not the player. If your looking for another bandwagon-esque beat-down of the Boxee Box I’m afraid what follows will disappoint. I actually like the ‘Box’ and to be quite honest it’s hard to take reviews like Wired’s “Boxee Box Is an Endless Stream of Disappointment” seriously. Wired’s reviewer seems to be examining the current state of YouTube video quality rather than the Box itself (Wired’s format is gun-‘n-run sometimes, no real knock just taking a different route here) while ignoring the Box’s other strong points.
Engadget and Gizmodo also found fault with the Boxee Box but they at least seemed to actually review and give it a fair shot before doing so. I think this really boils down to a matter of perspective, if you’re expecting Boxee Box to “revolutionize” internet TV, then you’re in for disappointment and to be honest online content is only half the story. If however, you’re looking for a single Box that can handle just about any file-format imaginable with a easy to navigate interface and some cool apps thrown in to boot (and more coming) then read on.
So, as I mentioned above if you’re not familiar with Boxee I highly recommend grabbing the software version and giving it a whirl. Even if you’re not really looking for a DIY HTPC solution, you’ll get a feel for the Boxee interface. While Boxee is not entirely different than Windows Media Center on the surface at least, I find it a little more straightforward to use. That said, MCE does things Boxee doesn’t and won’t do by design. i.e. direct disc playback, off-air recordings (for now at least) etc.
Initial Observations: Boxee Box is a lot smaller than it appears in photos, at least it did to me, its about the size of softball and of course as evident the picture somewhat unusually shaped. Setting up the Boxee Box was a breeze, I was up and running in less than 10 minutes from the time I turned it on and without even looking at the user manual. Later I did look at that manual and it made me wish I’d looked at it before hand. It’s not one of those stodgy, legalese manuals. It’s written in plan, no nonsense English. The packaging is top notch, the unit is well protected inside its nest er box and I was pleasantly surprised to see a HDMI cable included.
For those of you who may be mumbling “Boxee what?” to themselves, Boxee Box is in essence a media player that allows you to play local and networked content and features apps like: Youtube, Vudu HD movies, Pandora, Flickr and Adult Swim. With others like Netflix, Hulu Plus, LastFM, BBC iPlayer on the way. One of my favorite apps is Boxee’s iteration of Pandora, with a Pandora One account enabled at 192k, this is one heck of music source through my Denon receiver. I really like the way the Pandora app is laid out, about the only thing I’d change is adding the ability to thumb songs up and down without having to turn the display on, perhaps with an iPad app (who knows, one may be in the works).
At first boot I used the screen size alignment feature to get everything squared up, logged into my Boxee account, set a few “my receiver is capable of this” audio preferences and was on my way. One thing I noticed right away on a HD video file was the image quality. I’ve always struggled with crushed blacks on my HTPC’s (for various reasons) but the back-level performance was spot-on with the Boxee. The sound, well its the same digital you’d get with any other device but it worked great as well. One thing to point out is that the Boxee Box supports some of (or will soon) new HD audio formats like Dolby Digital Plus, TrueHD and DTS-HD.
How quiet is it you ask? Boxee Box is quiet but not dead silent. It’s probably quieter than the majority of the HTPC’s out there and definitely a little quieter than early model PS3’s but not as quiet as perhaps a standalone Blu-ray player or cable box etc. I’ve read accounts of other Box owners reporting they can barely hear theirs standing right next to it, but I’d say that’s wishful thinking more than anything else. Across the room however, I can only faintly hear mine during silent passages.