Most media streaming enthusiasts are aware of Boxee, the XBMC fork which has gained a huge following for its 10-foot user interface combined with social networking features. It is available for multiple platforms based on the x86 architecture, but the core business model has always remained a mystery. Some of the components of Boxee are proprietary, and Boxee has always shown keen enthusiasm in licensing the software to third party hardware and operating systems. At the 2010 CES, Boxee took its first step towards extending its business model by developing a hardware set top box in partnership with D-Link.

Current day media streamers based on the Sigma Designs and Realtek chipsets are often treated with disdain by some users because of the lack of a proper user interface. While XBMC and other such applications provide a great interface, they are unfortunately restricted to HTPCs. The mainstream consumer doesn't want the hassle of setting up and maintaining a HTPC in his living room, and it is exactly this demographic that has been targeted by the multitude of media streamers in the market right now.

The ideal solution in the living room would combine the popular UI of HTPC based media centers with the decoding power of the present day media streamers. Unfortunately, these UIs are dependent on some sort of OpenGL acceleration being made available in the base platform. Till now, the powerful media streamer platforms from Sigma Designs and Realtek have had very rudimentary OpenGL support, which makes porting XBMC onto such platforms an exercise in frustration.
 

The Boxee Box announced at the 2010 CES was based on the Tegra 2. In a post made on my personal blog right after the CES announcement, I had expressed my reservations on how it would be foolhardy to expect the same sort of performance from an app-processor based device as what one would expect from a dedicated media streamer or HTPC. Just as suspected, Boxee had to replace Tegra 2 with a much more powerful SoC. After evaluating many solutions, Boxee and D-Link decided to choose the Atom based Intel CE4100 for the Boxee Box.

We met with Avener Ronen (CEO of Boxee) and Brent Collins (Director of Consumer Marketing at D-Link) yesterday to discuss the changes in the Boxee Box. The next few sections present what we gleaned from the discussion and our analysis of the same.

Tegra 2 Out, CE 4100 In
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  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    T2 is infinitely more capable than A4.

    Boxee just didn't want to ship a streamer with such crappy specs :)
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Exactly, lol...Cant wait for Cortex A9 (what the T2 is based on) smartphones to trickle down. Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Except for the fact that you are both wrong, at least on this front:

    MPEG4 is the old "divx" lame codec. You aren't going to find anything HD encoded with this, and if anybody does, they are idiots.

    Apple TV supports H.264 at the main profile (which is just high profile without 8x8 transform) and at LV 3.1, which is defined as 1280x720 at 30FPS at 14mbps max bit rate.

    But let's face it, if 2.5ghz dual core processors from Intel take around 70% of cpu time to decode 1080p WITH the deblocking filter on, what makes you think a 1ghz ARM cpu can, WITHOUT custom decoding hardware?
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Both T2 and A4 are aimed at the tablet / smartphone market. No one should expect these app processors to decode HD video on the host processor.

    While T2 uses nV's custom decode engine, Apple uses the PowerVR VXD line (which is the same as that used in the CE4100), BUT, the clocking rate is probably much lower on the A4 compared to CE4100 because it is supposed to be for mobile usage. In addition, DRAM bandwidth available on both A4 and T2 is probably not good enough for high bitrate Blu-Ray material. (They have 32b DRAM interface, while CE4100 has 64b DRAM interface).

    As for T2 vs A4, my comment was mainly on how powerful each SoC is. (On paper T2 will beat A4 hands down). As for comparing the exact video decoding abilities, it is not possible to comment for 2 reasons:

    1. Tegra 2 hasn't reached any reviewer yet.
    2. Apple will never allow any stream into the A4 device unless it goes through iTunes, in which case, it gets auto-transcoded.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    We can if nvidia simply tells us what profile at what level it can do. At least Apple, of all people, post what exactly it can and cannot play.

    Even later firmwares of the old Cowon A3 claimed it could play HP h.264 video at 1280x720 with TI's OMAP from like 2 years ago.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    nV has no obligation to tell that except to customers who want to use T2 in their products. Apple, on the other hand, has to, because they are selling a product directly to the consumer.

    Anyways, nV's marketing team seems to have screwed up here.

    I haven't tested Cowon A3 personally, so can't comment on that.
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Tegra 2 can play 1080p30 baseline profile level 3.1
    decent for a phone, embarrassing for an htpc.
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    No, mpeg 4 part 10 is h264.
    mpeg 4 part 2 is what you are thinking of, but it is pretty unpopular outside of people transcoding their dvd's, so when people say mpeg 4 video, its implied that they mean h264. (especially if its apple saying it)
    Reply
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    oh wait, they mentioned it after a section specifically detailing h264 playback. You were right, they were referring to mpeg 4 part 2. Reply
  • sep332 - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Isn't CIFS effectively the same as SMB? Reply

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