Boxee Box Review
The Boxee Box is marketed as the one box your TV really needs. This is a bold claim as in our experience, all our entertainment needs are never met with a single device. The Boxee Box is manufactured by D-Link and provides a decent range of content, services, access to personal content and some social networking features.
In The Box
Supplied in the box are the device itself, a power supply and the remote control. The power supply is 12V @ 2.0A box with a separate mains lead and a flying lead to the device. It has an annoying bright blue LED on it.
The pictures we had seen prior to this review didn't really convey the size of this device. It is really quite small. Boxee have been very bold with the styling and it won't be to everyone's taste. The style of the device also means that it has to sit on a flat surface and can't easily be put on a shelf or stacked. Boxee have limited their market in this respect. We simply don't have room for it under our TV, so it has had to sit on top of the TV stand.
The remote is worthy of a mention as it takes a novel approach to solving the problem of text entry on a TV. To get round this, it uses a double sided RF remote with simple controls on the front and a small keyboard on the back. Initially we though this would result in accidental key presses but, the solution works really well. The keys require a firm press to operate and we have yet to do it by mistake. You also find that you can easily flip the remote in one hand but, it requires a change in orientation and two hands to type text. The simple controls on the front are also very easy to use and work really well. You can feel the keys on the back but you soon get used to them. Perhaps the only down side of this approach is that it will never be replaced by an IR universal remote but it does mean the remote works without line of sight.
Installation & Configuration
We must point out that most of our testing was done with the parental control settings turned on and this removes content and apps that are rated 18 and above. There are a number of apps relating to porn channels.
On the back of the device are a network socket, two USB ports, HDMI, SPDIF digital optical out and two phono sockets for analogue audio. On the side of the case is an SD-card reader. There is a subtle power button on the top, back corner. The green frog logo on the front side lights up in operation.
Once connected up it is simply a matter of pressing the power button on the top. The device also supports wireless 802.11n networking if you don't have wired Ethernet in proximity. The device uses DHCP to obtain a network address by default.
The UI boots up in 720p mode initially and having chosen a preferred language, you are taken through a screen alignment process. Our device then notified us of a software update, which was completed in only 2 or 3 minutes. You can configure the UI to work in other resolutions and we tested ours at 1080p.
The first thing you notice about the device when on is that makes a noticeable noise from either a fan or a hard disk inside.
The user interface is simple, clear and easy to navigate.
The menu/back button reveals a drop down menu bar at the top of the screen for quick access to things and also to the configuration, logout and shutdown options.
This section directs you to go to the Boxee web site to link social networking and other content sites.
Once set up (and restarted) the friends section shows content that has been shared by your friends.
For all content, you can also share it with friends by selecting the share button.
When sharing you get to control the services and the message. This social layer over all content is powerful.
This is a clever feature. Throughout the UI each content item has a 'watch later' icon that basically adds it to a list of bookmarks on Boxee.
There is also a button that can be dragged to your web browser bookmarks and creates a '+boxee' bookmark.
If you select this on a page, e.g. YouTube, the video will also be added to your watch later list. This is one of the best ways we have seen to push web content onto your TV.
The watch later feature doesn't appear to be instant. We had to switch off the device and turn it back on again to see new content added.
The selection of TV shows available is quite limited but, the user experience and route into the content is good.
If we take Top Gear as an example, the selection of episodes available is quite limited. The listed shows are either from BBC iPlayer or Seesaw but, the latter service has now been shutdown.
There are over 950 movies listed on Boxee in the default view and we hadn't heard of any of them. They all seem to be budget productions. Whilst playing back content we again thought the playback jerked as if it was dropping frames. Nearly all seemed to be in stereo audio too.
A lot of the films required registration to a subscription service to watch them (mainly Mubi and Openfilm).
The Boxee UI lists 233 apps as being available but a lot of them are obscure and US-centric. When you open an app for the first time, it 'installs' and then most of them result in a web app appearing on screen. Some are optimised for navigation by a remote control but not all. Some of the apps are website related too, e.g. cnet.
As an example we tested Vevo, an app we use a lot on iOS devices. Navigation via a remote is not as nice or as fast. Again, the video appeared jerky on playback (especially on panning shots).
There are some useful and popular apps though. The ones that stood out to us were: Spotify (if you have a subscription), RSS Feeds, Vevo, YouTube, Flickr, BBC iPlayer and Vimeo. Quite a small subset of the 233 listed!
The Boxee Box doesn't support DLNA and media streaming. It can connect to a NAS via UPnP but then builds a local media library of files that can be played. It therefore requires you to add networked media sources before it allows access through the UI.
The device supports a number of protocols in order to build its local media library.
One of the good things about this device is the media formats supported. It can play pretty much anything.
The Boxee Box is a clever little device. The user interface is quite clean and easy to use. The remote control is really quite clever too. The RF (and not IR) capability is a bonus as you don't have to think about which way it is pointing and indeed you would struggle to orientate it correctly whilst typing text anyway. It is a pointer to the way forward and shows that the days of IR remotes are (or should be) numbered.
Most content is played back through a web browser and 'apps' are generally web apps. One of our pet hates is driving websites via a remote control and the Boxee service is no exception to this. Both the browser and the remote work better than most others in this respect but, it is still a clunky user experience unless you access a web app (e.g. BBC iPlayer) that has been created specifically with this type of navigation in mind.
The playback of content can sometimes appear to stutter and is far from the smooth experience we have seen on many other TV connected devices. This is not a network issue either as we haven't seen it on any other devices connected to our 100Mbps FTTP network connection.
The thing that lets the Boxee Box down though in our view is the quality of the content though. There is a lot of content available but most of it is via subscription. The quality of the content is very much lacking too and the quantity never makes up for this. Things might be better in the USA but, here in the UK it doesn't look very good.
Devices like the Apple TV provide much better access to the latest films/movies and also make it easy to get content from iOS devices onto your TV. In our home this doesn't cover all devices and content though and we also use a WD TV Live media player to get all our other content onto our TV via DLNA. The Boxee Box was always going to struggle to be the 'one device' you need connected to your TV and in our view it doesn't live up to that claim yet.
Jan 2012 - Boxee announce a firmware update to V1.5.
29th Nov 2011 - With the latest Boxee Box firmware (V1.2), this device has the ability to stream content from an iPad via AirPlay.