Tegra 2 was a platform developed primarily to serve the smartphone / tablet market. We were quite surprised earlier this year when it was chosen to power the Boxee Box. With Boxee's HTPC background, consumers were bound to have tall expectations and we were not too sure that Tegra 2 would be able to fulfil the necessary requisites.

The unit which was demonstrated at the 2010 CES did have a Tegra 2 SoC inside. Things were looking good, and the unit was slated to go into mass production towards the end of Q2. However, as Boxee started doing some stress tests, they realized that Tegra 2 wasn't living upto expectations. In particular, they found that the Tegra 2 was incapable of playing back high profile 1080p H.264 videos at even 10 Mbps. Boxee was well aware that if they shipped the unit with any sort of limitation, it would reflect very badly upon them. They went back to the drawing board and started approaching other companies with similar chipsets. Boxee's requirements were three-fold. The platform needed acceleration for Flash, considering that most of the online video content is delivered through it. The second requirement was that the platform had to support a browser platform (WebKit), and finally, the platform had to support decode of even the most demanding video encodes. The shift from Tegra 2 to CE4100 delayed the mass production to the middle of Q4, but that was inevitable once Tegra 2 had to be replaced.

Boxee was primarily developed for HTPCs based on the x86 platform. However, the form factor of the Boxee Box ruled out any sort of a real motherboard / x86 processor inside with similar multimedia capabilities. An x86 SoC was the need of the hour, and fortunately, Intel had just released a solution. This was the Atom based CE4100, their second-generation x86 based SoC targeted at the DTV / IPTV / STB / Blu-Ray player market. Prior to the CE3100, Intel used to have SoCs based on the XScale platform. The CE3100 had a Pentium-M core, while the CE4100 has an Atom based core, but we will cover this more in detail in the next section. In the SoC space, it is not possible for Intel to have the same sort of margins that it gets in the microprocessor space. This is one of the main reasons why no mainstream products based on the Intel CE3100 were seen in the market. Promising devices such as the Yuixx were announced, but they never saw the light of the day. In the meanwhile, Intel released the next generation product (Sodaville) at the IDF in September 2010. Things are looking up for Intel now, and at $199, the Boxee Box seems to be the perfect mainstream launchpad for the CE4100.

Being a SoC, the CE4100 has all the necessary IPs built in, including a specialized GPU, a video decode accelerator and an audio DSP. The more powerful nature of the CE4100 also brought with it some design challenges for D-Link and Boxee in the form of increased power consumption and more heat to dissipate. We weren't allowed to open up the unit during the meeting yesterday, but suffice to say that we saw a pretty big heat sink through the heat dissipation vents. There is also a very small fan inside the unit, but it was very close to being completely silent. We really would have a hard time seeing people complain about this unless the fan spins up really hard under load.

Introduction The Intel CE 4100
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  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Thanks, fixed. Reply
  • evilspoons - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    People actually still care about Real Media content?? I haven't installed Realplayer in something like seven years and I've only come across a couple things I haven't been able to watch as a result.

    Also: I find it extremely unlikely to matter to 99.5% of consumers that this thing is missing NFS support. You're going to want to watch files shared on a Windows box or a Mac, and SMB would cover both of those- the Macs would just require you to turn on the proper sharing feature. (Isn't HFS+ a file system like NTFS?)

    Wikipedia even redirects CIFS to SMB so I'm not sure what the issue is there...

    As for the Linux nuts who are miffed they don't have NFS, well, just install Samba. It's not hard.

    And FTP? Either you've got a local link and can use SMB or you probably don't have a fast enough streaming connection to worry about playing video from FTP anyway. I mean, for the future, sure, but it seems weird to list as a con right now.

    Now: disc menus and DRM'd disc content not being available, those are real drawbacks. This thing would be absolutely killer in the market if you could plug in a USB Blu-Ray drive and watch movies the same way you do on a "regular' player.
    Reply
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    evilspoons, CIFS is fixed now.

    RealMedia is very prevalent in China (and by extension, with the Chinese community in the US). Otherwise, all the media streamer chip companies wouldn't be adding support to it (Sigma Designs added support for Real Media in the new 8646 which they have been avoiding for 3 generations of chips).

    NFS is important for Blu-Ray ISO streaming since SMB often has bottlenecks and lesser throughput.
    Reply
  • evilspoons - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Huh, I had no idea about the RealMedia thing or the NFS business - I have hard-wired GigE that has never given me bandwidth troubles with SMB, but apparently it has seriously helped people with 802.11n cards and stuttering movies.

    Please note that I re-read my comment and it seemed a bit mean-spirited, I didn't mean anything of the sort - just giving my opinion.

    I may very well buy one or two of these Boxes if they're nearly as good as we all hope.
    Reply
  • chrnochime - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    People actually care to muck around with a media streamer that has this shortcoming or that? Huh?

    If I'm stuck with getting a media streamer, it would actually be VERY convenient since all those Chinese subbed J dramas are encoded to rmvb. Just because you don't care doesn't mean it's useless for others. Oh wait I thought that was obvious already LOL
    Reply
  • deadsix - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Why did the Boxee engineers disable GigE? While streaming movies to my PS3 with PS3 media server I've seen over 100Mbps. Reply
  • sprockkets - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    If that were the case your movie size would be around 50 gigabytes for a 90 minute movie. Sure about that? Reply
  • haze4peace - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    That simply isn't true. My roommate streams high quality movies from my computer and I watch how much bandwidth is sent to him. It rarely goes over 6 MBps on the highest of quality movies i own. Usually hovers between 2 and 3 MBps. 100Mbps can theoretically runs at 12.5MBps, which is more than enough to watch a single movie. Reply
  • deadsix - Tuesday, September 14, 2010 - link

    I'm basing it off what the PS3 says when you bring up the info overlay... but that might be video bitrate.... I might have been confused. Reply
  • mataichi - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    All the media streamers I've seen render subtitles in some generic looking way (ie same font, color, border etc). I assume Boxee will be the same? For instance, if I watch a file on my computer and the subtitle color is red and some cursive font, will it display this way on Boxee or will it convert to the generic style. I watch a lot of subtitled videos and its a big deal that the subtitles display as the subtitler intended. Reply

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