Content aggregation has been instrumental in the development of the web. In the early days of the web, destinations held all the power. If you wanted news or reviews you went to news and review sites, consuming the content they had to offer at each individual website. Email newsletters were the first to really change the manner in which content was consumed online. Instead of visiting a website to read the latest it had to offer, you got an email in your inbox with either complete content or enough of a teaser for you to decide whether or not you were interested in it.

These days we have many more ways to get access to written content on the web than a simple newsletter. There’s RSS, Twitter and Instapaper among others. It generally works well. RSS didn’t stop users from visiting websites, neither did Twitter and Instapaper hasn’t spelled the end of the front page either. If anything all of these technologies have helped make consuming content online easier. While the front page of any website today isn’t quite as big of an example of prime real estate as it was 10 years ago, it’s still quite valuable.

I mention this history for one important reason: we haven’t seen the same progress with aggregating and distributing television content on the web. These days you can find a lot of cable TV content on the web, usually posted the day after the shows air live on cable TV. All of the major networks support it. Visit Fox.com, NBC.com or CBS.com and you’ll be greeted with ways to watch all of the shows they air via the web. The content is all out there, and it wouldn’t be too difficult to aggregate it all into one cable-TV-like interface. In theory, with what’s posted online already, you could pull the plug on cable and just rely on video over the web without missing much. It’s just not quite as easy as a cable subscription with a DVR. This is where Boxee comes in.

Front and center at the official Boxee website is the intent:

“A lot of your favorite shows and movies are already available on the Internet.
Boxee is a device that finds them and puts them on your TV. It’s easy to use and even better, there’s no monthly fee.“

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Boxee’s software was branched off of the Xbox Media Center project and now includes a lot of Boxee’s own code on top of the XBMC base. It’s freeware and available for Linux, OS X and Windows. No strings attached.

Just as people used ION to build XBMC boxes, Boxee encourages users to do the same and build their own Boxee boxes. And if you don’t want to bother building your own, Boxee teamed up with D-Link to build the Boxee Box by D-Link:

Boxee and D-Link's joint work on the Boxee Box became public knowledge around a year back. The streamer itself made a public appearance at the 2010 CES based on NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 SoC. In fact, it was the first platform to publicly demonstrate Tegra 2. However, Tegra 2 wasn’t able to support the high bitrates Boxee was targeting. Further testing made it necessary for Boxee and D-Link to shift to an Intel based platform: the Atom based CE 4100. Intel's SoCs have never been popular in the consumer space. The recent push for the 'Smart TV' by Intel however, has the scope to change that. Multiple Google TV platforms have already been introduced, but they are all priced out of range of the mass market. In this context, the Boxee Box, priced at $199, appears to be the ideal product to bring Intel's SoC technology to the consumers.

Boxee has a huge following all around the world for their extension of the XBMC platform. The Boxee Box is their first endeavor to bring Boxee (and XBMC) out of the HTPC niche and into the living rooms of the average consumer, and eventually lead them to a source of revenue. D-Link's media streamer product lineup has recently been facing stiff competition from the likes of Western Digital, and it was necessary for them to come up with an innovative product to remain relevant in this space. Ideally, D-Link would like their partnership with Boxee to help them reclaim some of their lost ground in the media streamer market.

With so many players having a stake in the success of the Boxee Box, it was no wonder that expectations were high. Intel's name on the box suggested that it could be the ideal HTPC replacement, with a small form factor. Boxee's involvement ensured that the user interface would be one of the best in the media streamer market. And D-Link guaranteed retail presence.

The ingredients all look good. We spent the past week testing the final product. So, how did the Boxee Box fare when we put it to the test? Read on to find out.

Inside the Boxee Heptahedron
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  • krotchy - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    They must use the same electronics supplier we do at my work.

    "Oh we decided to buy 500,000 older revision PCBs because the forecast said to, even though you already pushed all of the paperwork for the latest PCB revision and we were told not to order the old one. We will just rework them until the existing stock is gone unless you want to pay us $2,000,000 to scrap them"
    Reply
  • justaviking - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    For "average Joe" consumer products, I have ask myself, "Can I picture my wife using this?"

    I have to say, "No." She would probably make me return it within a week. Why?
    - Inconsistent behavior. Sometimes you do this, sometimes you do that, other times you do something else. Full-screen display is an example of that.
    - Lock-ups.
    - Bugs.
    - Sort of aggregated, but not really.
    - A naming convention for files on your network? I don't see that happening any time soon in my house. I might do it, just out of habit, but my wife or kids? No way.

    It's a good attempt.

    I appreciate the challenge Boxee is faced with, and I'd be happy to pull the plug on my cable bill too, but I don't see it happening yet.
    Reply
  • Jackattak - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Couldn't agree more. I would love to forcibly remove Comca$t out of our house, preferably kicking and screaming (mostly screaming), but this fails the wife test (and my wife is fairly tech-savvy).

    There has got to be a better way. This is not a consumer-ready product. This looked more like an alpha release review. Far too many bugs and far too little consistency.
    Reply
  • Chillin1248 - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    From what I understand from Boxee, the reason behind the strange (and internet download full) naming strings is due to the IMDB service that identifies the movies and shows. This is completely separate from Boxee. Reply
  • bernstein - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Quote: "You can’t build a similarly capable HTPC with better power characteristics than the Boxee Box (simply because Intel won’t sell you a CE4100)."

    This is just wrong... go to to www.pandaboard.org (or heck even a beagleboard) and get a beagleboard friendly build of linux/xbmc and you've definately got a more power-efficient htpc... best suited for 1080p playback...
    and just how does a piece of hardware with 10w standby power have best power characteristics? heck not any notebook will consume anywhere near that power in standby...

    now nough harsh words. great article, as always. a delight to read.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Wednesday, November 24, 2010 - link

    Why do you think Boxee went off from Tegra 2 to Intel CE 4100? And the Pandaboard you are talking about is OMAP4 based.. Surprise Surprise.. OMAP4 host CPU = Tegra 2 host CPU, and the power profile of both is approximately the same.. so the capabilities of both are going to be similar.. in other words, don't expect 1080p60 or any other complex encoding playback! Reply
  • vhawkxi - Friday, November 26, 2010 - link

    My sister brought me one from Canada as South Africa is again looked over as a country where people would like to have the device.

    I just love it, so much better than the MVIX device I had to use as media streamer up to now.

    The networking works flawlessly and the 802.11 n wireless is more than sufficient to watch content in 1080p 24Hz.

    Contents is currently an issue but as soon as Hulu is up and running, I will have access to the source I have been using on the software version. So I am happy with that.

    The browser is still a work in progress but I assume it will eventually get there and allow nice browsing on my TV.

    So overall - even at $199 which I was more than happy to pay - it is a nice product with great potential - and it has already received 2 system upgraded in the last week. Much more than one can say of similar devices that gets bug fixes once or twice a year.

    Well done dudes - this may still be a winner !!
    Reply
  • trip1ex - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    About as expected. IT's a device that wants to give the consumer something it can't deliver - free cable tv.

    It's telling that the article felt it had to have the same number of pros as cons. YOu can tell this is the case when one pro says "it can only get better."

    And another says, "they are pro-active at fixing bugs."

    I sense some allegiance to Boxee. Maybe because they are a small company. Or because they have a personal relationship with those at the company.

    In any case ....why wouldn't the folks who would tolerate bugs and problems just use a pc with their TV in the first place?
    Reply
  • wadsworth - Monday, November 29, 2010 - link

    Love it. The new Thanksgiving firmware update fixed a ton of issues I had with 720p and 1080p non-MP4 codecs. The thing played everything I threw at it, from flv to mkv. The show/movie stuff was okay, but nothing compared to the "apps" component IMO. It is up to 142 web interface apps with everything from MediaFly to YouPorn. Heck, I didn't even know Sarah Lane was doing stuff with Leo nowadays. Moving through your own files is fast/smooth, unlike my WD TV Live. Reply
  • saltyzip - Tuesday, November 30, 2010 - link

    Boxee has so much promise, but it doesn't deliver on the most important aspect which is speed and reliability, especially when it comes to HD content.

    I have evaluated the free downloadable version for the PC and posted my views on their forum, only to be flamed by the moderators for expressing my constructive criticism.

    No support for blu-ray or HD streaming is a big issue in my books, but the general reliability of playing any kind of content is really a hit and miss experience.

    I had crashing, videos only showing on half the screen, resolution not changing to reflect the media being played so was jerky.

    Why would anyone want to put this onto a TV in the living room, it would drive my misses nuts.

    It needs at least another year to get it right, but by then it will be too late.
    Reply

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