Is Boxee Box an All-in-One HTPC for Beginners?

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Jul 18th, 2011

Boxee Box, in theory, is very similar to Google TV, except that it is less costly, can support many more file types, and can stream videos from the internet through its browser window. In the end though, it’s only able to pull off one of those feats without disappointing, although it is still a force to be reckoned with in the media center world.

Innovator and aggregator

Boxee media centerThis software was an innovator from the beginning. It was one of the first software that was able to effectively provide people with a home theater experience from internet videos. The problem is that many broadcast networks weren’t operating on the same wavelength. That is, they felt somehow threatened by this little box and decided to block their shows from the Boxee one by one.

This media center is essentially an aggregator that pulls all the available video content that is relevant to what you need and puts it into one place. The content is all out there. If you want to watch news, CNN and Fox News have all of their television broadcasts posted on their websites, as do hundreds of others.

Online video content in one place

The application puts all this widespread content into one centered, easy to use interface that allows you to watch what you want without visiting eight different sites to do it. It supports all file formats, so all you need to do is choose the video that you want to watch with the remote that comes with the package and you are immediately in the middle of the show.

For the first few seconds there tend to be some problems with syncing, meaning that the audio doesn’t quite match up to the video, but it soon sorts itself out and it is nothing but smooth sailing from there on out.

Most of the video and audio codecs are supported

One of the major pluses of this software is that it is able to handle literally every video and audio file codec out there. Not only will it play online videos, but it features playback for downloaded content and even a port to plug in your camera for instant home video playback. It is able to support various apps, and there is hope that more will be made available in the near future.

Development still in progress

As far as downsides go, there are quite a few, one of the biggest ones being the fact that Fancast doesn’t seem to work all the time. This normally wouldn’t be a huge issue, but a lot of the content that Boxee finds on the internet comes from Fancast, since they do in fact have a huge selection of TV shows and movies, similar to what Hulu has.

Another huge let down is that the hardware tends to crash quite a bit. This is extremely frustrating when you are trying to watch a video, or, heaven forbid, are in the middle of one, and the screen just goes black. If the developer can manage to get these few but important issues worked out, it would be a much better media service than it is now.

Boxee Box by D-Link

One great advantage of the software is that it also comes as a standalone version called the Boxee Box by D-Link. This will significantly lower the learning curve for the beginners as you do not need to get or setup a separate home theater PC, but you can get them all in one box.

So, the big question is whether the Boxee Box is an All-in-One HTPC for Beginners? My answer is no.

Beginners are not necessarily looking to get all the content from the Internet as they are still learning what is out there in the Internet world. A beginner likes to watch home videos, movies and photos and listen to the music. You can do all this with the Boxee, but that is not it’s main focus (i.e. it is not made very intuitive and easy compared e.g. to Apple TV and its iTunes integration).

Certainly, it has all the potential as there definitely is a market segment between the media streamers and HTPCs. However, it will still take some time as the software is developing and improving all to time so it is becoming more ready to the mainstream market. The latest firmware update improved the software already a lot, but a few bugs still exist.

If this the right media center for you, be sure to check out my guide to get the most out of the Boxee.