I finally got my hands on the boxee d-link and pre-ordered the “live tv” USB stick that was showcased at CES this year.
I have followed boxee as a startup since it’s inception. It has garnered over $26 million over three rounds from notable VCs like Spark Capital and Union Street Ventures (I’m a fan of both). The major obstacle for Boxee clearly seems to be content. Content is king and it continues to ail the likes of Google TV, Netflix and Boxee. As cable providers continue to pay the big bucks for content, Internet hybrids like Boxee are still a work in progress in terms of licensing.
Boxee arrived and unpacked nicely with just a few simple but elegant components. The device was much smaller than I anticipated and looked more like an alien artificat or old relic than a streaming media device. Although it has a trendy and interesting chassis design it’s just not very practical for stacking in a living room media center.
I painlessly connected all the cables in the back including ethernet even though I opted to go with the wireless connection to put Boxee to the test. The on-screen setup was also simple with a series of guided prompts and account setup screens.
Once I arrived at the home screen I fired up the Grooveshark app in an attempt to blast it through my whole house speaker system and hit my first snag. No audio output came through the RCA connection on the Boxee. I even verified the audio settings in the boxee menu. It eventually worked, but for no apparent reason. I switched audio over to HDMI in the settings menu and that worked fine.
I then launched the Youtube app and was extremely impressed with how it scaled web video to an HD television. I returned the home screen and my stomach dropped when I could not locate a Netflix or Hulu app. I realized I needed to update the Boxee firmware in the settings menu. Once completed this yielded the Netflix app and a nice new UI design (Picture shown to the left was old UI before the update). The new UI design was nice and I could navigate apps, TV shows and movies, however no Hulu or Amazon Video app was present which was a total let down. After the new UI install I tapped the infamous Netflix button on the remote control and was slapped with a “Red Screen of Death” freeze that was only solved with another Boxee reboot.
I already own the Roku XDS and was particluary excited about a true “cut-the-cord” solution from my Comcast cable provider. The proprietary boxee browser seemed to be the big differentiation vs. the Roku but it misses the mark completely in my opinion. It is difficult to navigate and you will squint to try and read browers (more on The Good, The Bad and The Ugly below)
The Boxee Good
- Decent remote control design with qwerty keyboard on the back. Minimalist design.
- An amazing Youtube experience. You can navigate content and once you select a video it scales to an HD experience on your TV.
- Over the air “Live TV” looks useful and interesting. I will provide a new post and update when it arrives.
- Great way to bring Internet content (not premium) to your big screen.
- Great for bringing music apps like Spotify, Pandora and Groove shark to the big screen.
- Great if you have a lot of local content on your home network, PC or MAC. This is probably the biggest leg up Boxee has on Roku and other devices. It scans and plays media on your TV from your local network.
The Boxee Bad
- The browser experience sucks plan and simple. It is a clunky experience for the user with a remote control that is extremely frustrating to use. The remote does not have a trackpad like on Google TV making you have a little less hair on the top of your head when you attempt to navigate.
- Seems to have exclusive content deals with Vudu. Some TV episodes I selected which I know are free on Netflix and Hulu but Boxee promoted me to pay the $1.99 through Vudu anyway.
- Bing is the default search engine…..bad Boxee.
The Boxee Ugly
- Not enough content deals and apps in place to make the Boxee provide the Wow factor.
- User Interface is glitchy, riddled with randomn freezes and reboots are common
- Horrific Boxee Browser experience. A lot of bugs need to be worked. If Boxee focuses more on a scaling based technology with other web based content, it will be an amazing device. Google TV has nailed this feature.
Boxee Review Summary
If your looking for a full intergrated experience for Internet content to your TV this is a certainly a contender, but without the solid content deals it place it’s just not worth it…yet. You will be better off hooking your laptop up to your TV via an HDMI and have a comfortable user friendly experience with your mouse or track pad. In addtion, You can save the $180 bucks on Boxee and get all the content you wish from Hulu Plus, Amazon Video and Netflix right through your laptop. I quickly realized how much I truly love my Roku XDS after reviewing the Boxee. Roku has all the major content apps in place for $80 bucks and gives me the intergrated Internet to TV experience I need.
Neither device will let you fully cut the cord yet, but the Roku XDS is your most user friendly, stable and content heavy option so far. At least until Boxee can apply its’ recent $16 million series C funding to fix some of the issues.