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Boxee: 8 Months Later

In February of 2011 I purchased a Boxee unit. The Boxee Box is a small device that adds a network/internet connection to your television. After having owned the Boxee Box for about a week, I wrote this review. After having owned it for 8 months, I’m writing another one.

For those who missed the first review, “Boxee” is actually a piece of hardware (the “Boxee Box”) running some software (also called “Boxee”). For this review I’ll refer to the hardware as the “Boxee Box”, the software/operating system as the “Boxee OS”, and the unit as a whole as simply “Boxee”.

The reason it’s important to point out that the Boxee Box and the Boxee OS are two different things is because the Boxee OS is free to download. If you wanted you could procure a computer, install Boxee OS on it, and you would essentially have your own Boxee. Personally, I didn’t want yet another dedicated PC in the house, especially not in our bedroom. The Boxee Box is a 4″ cube; it’s so small that if it weren’t for the glowing green logo, you would likely never notice it.

Let’s start with the physical hardware. For the most part, the actual Boxee Box is great. It’s small and it’s quiet and the remote reception is awesome. I have, on occasion, pointed the remote the wrong way and it works just fine.

The backside of Boxee’s remote contains a QWERTY keyboard. I initially thought this was a neat feature, but I rarely use it. The writing on top of the buttons is so small and so dim that, even in direct lighting, I have a hard time making out which button is which. I found it is usually faster to simply use the d-pad on the top of the remote to enter in passwords than it is to try and peck them in using the keyboard.

The biggest issue I’ve had with my Boxee is the fact that it seems to drop its network connection on a daily basis. I have multiple wireless devices scattered around my home and none of them have problems obtaining and maintaining an IP from my wireless router, so the problem is isolated to Boxee. I’ve found that by going in to the network settings and selecting “Save Settings”, Boxee will refresh the network connection and all is well. That works for me, but it’s a bit beyond my kids’ skill level. The worst part about the problem is, Boxee has pushed out two mandatory updates over the past two months, and each one has made the problem increasingly worse. A quick Google search for “Boxee dropping wifi connection” yields lots of results and no solutions. I tried switching Boxee from DHCP to a static IP address to no avail. I haven’t tried using a wired connection, but many of the people reporting the same problem say that didn’t help either.

One thing I should clarify: all Boxee updates are mandatory. If you turn on your Boxee and there’s an update waiting for you, your only option is to download the update and install it. Period. This isn’t like Microsoft updates where you can click a button to stave the update for 4 hours at a time — it’s more like Sony’s PlayStation 3 updates, where you are held captive and cannot use your device until you upgrade. Boxee’s updates don’t take anywhere near as long as the PS3 ones do, but it’s still 5-10 minutes of annoying waiting that only happens the moment you sit down to watch a movie. My Boxee runs 24/7 — can’t this thing update itself during one of the 20 hours a day I’m not using it? Being able to automatically schedule and apply updates should be simple to implement and would really improve the user experience.

Since the last update, Boxee will no longer see my UPnP media server. I run UPnP software on a PC in my living room and on multiple iOS devices, and they all still work, so again, the problem is limited to Boxee. Until it’s fixed, I’ve had to enable file sharing on my media server to be able to stream movies over the network.

Next, let’s talk about Boxee’s apps. Under the Apps folder, Boxee has almost 300 icons. These aren’t things I installed — they came with Boxee. The icons are displayed 5 across, so that would be … about 60 rows of icons. There’s no way to sort the icons, so if there’s an app you like on row 23, well, good luck remembering where it was tomorrow.

Most of the apps I use are located in the top 2 rows. Netflix is there, front and center, along with Pandora radio and Spotify. Each time Boxee updates the icons move around, new ones are added, and old ones are dropped. I kind of feel powerless when devices I buy change things without asking me, but such is the age of Internet updates I suppose.

Lots and lots of the apps send you to web pages not particularly optimized for Boxee. Some of them don’t work at all. I found at least two that were in Russian and say they’re not compatible with my country code. I’m in the United States, Boxee. A lot of the apps (like Pandora) don’t work unless you visit a website and register accounts first. Eh, no thanks.

There’s no way to update the apps manually, either. For example, Boxee has the Crackle app, which contains two categories of TV shows: original Crackle programs, and truncated versions of sitcoms that are cut down to 5 minutes in length. My Sony Bravia television also has a link to Crackle, and on it I get hundreds of full-length programs to choose from. They’re both Crackle! Why does Boxee send me to some watered-down, crippled version of it?

There are lots of apps on Boxee that I’ve played around with for two minutes and never tried again. 99% of them are diversions, and not particularly interesting ones. There are links to dozens if not hundreds of vlogs and web series that, I suppose if absolutely nothing else was on, you might watch for a few minutes. I would also have to say that Boxee’s advertising is a bit disingenuous. Their website says: “The Boxee Box model is simple: Buy the Boxee Box once, and get instant access to all the entertainment the web has to offer, forever. No rules. No contracts. No monthly fees.” Three of the apps that show up on the initial splash screen (Vimeo, Hulu+, and Vudu) all charge money to watch movies.

I know that Boxee supports interfacing with Facebook and Twitter and RSS feeds and some of the other social apps. To be honest I have not used these options much. I’m just not sure I’m ready for my television to tweet to the world what I am watching every second of the day. I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready for that.

So anyway, let’s get to the two reasons I bought Boxee: streaming Netflix, and streaming movies from my local network.

The Netflix app works perfectly. After adding Boxee to my official Netflix account, I was able to search for and watch movies with little to no effort. Boxee offers HDMI output at 1080p, which looks great. I have, on occasion, had Netflix time out when connecting to it, but I’ve experienced that on other devices as well, and have pretty much pinpointed the issue to be with Netflix, rather than Boxee. All the standard categories and recommendations appear in Boxee’s Netflix app, so it’s really convenient to use and simple to navigate. When watching TV series, the app tracks the last one you watched and prompts you for the next one, which is also nice.

Half of the movies I watch on Boxee come from Netflix. The other half are movies that are stored on my home network. Upstairs, far from Boxee, is my media server. Boxee connects to it wirelessly, using its own internal 802.11n wireless adapter. Movies (most of my stuff is in DivX/XviD format) stream effortlessly across the network. No complaints at all there. Sometimes it takes Boxee a few seconds (10?) to display the contents of a directory; then again, with 500 files in a single directory, that’s not bad. I did run into an issue where Boxee would cut off directory listings at around 600 files. I finally circumvented this by splitting my movies into two folders, “A-M” and “N-Z”.

In some aspects, Boxee is too smart for its own good. For example, the minute Boxee acquires an IP address on your network it will do an inventory. When I go in to Boxee’s menu looking for my media server, every single workstation and device (including my network printer) shows up in the list. I am not storing any movies on my network printer! After selecting “files”, you’ll also have to select the way your files are being stored. Are they on an Apple share? That’s one choice. UPnP is another. Network storage is a third. Again, these are things I know the answer to, but my wife and kids do not. If I leave Boxee at the file selection screen, my six-year-old can wander in, find her Garfield cartoons, and select them — no problem. If Boxee reboots, no one else in the house is capable of navigating back to where the movies are.

I also wanted to note, although I have only used it a couple of times, Boxee has both an SD slot and a USB port. Once, when my network was down, I copied some movies over to a USB stick and inserted it into Boxee. The movies were instantly viewable.

Summary: I want to like Boxee more than I like Boxee. I want to like Boxee a 10/10, and right now I’d rate it a solid 7. For streaming Netflix movies or network-stored movies (essentially using Boxee as a network-extending media device), Boxee works great. As for the apps, of Boxee’s approximately 300 included ones, I use less than five of them on a regular basis. If you’re looking to stream movies to your TV, I still like Boxee.

More information: www.dlink.com/boxee

A comparison between Boxee, Apple TV, and Roku: www.dlink.com/boxee/compare.html

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2 comments to Boxee: 8 Months Later

  • Kris

    XBMC running on a dedicate HTPC is where it’s at. I love my rig now that I’ve got it tuned and setup properly.

  • Rob

    I still run GB-PVR on a dedicated PC out in the living room, but I didn’t want another PC running full time in the bedroom.

    Boxee is an off-shoot of XBMC, so they’re not completely dissimilar.