It has the potential to become the best Media Center.
Along with the Box, Boxee includes a what could possibly be a revolutionary designed remote control. As the amount of content available for us to consume increases, so does our need to search through this content and using the numeric buttons on a traditional remote doesn’t really cut it anymore. The front of the boxee remote is extremely simple with a five d-pad in the center, a pause/play button above it and a menu/back button below it- very much like the Apple TV remove. However, flip the remote over and the back side is a full keyboard that can be used to search through media libraries or enter URLs in the browser. Its an ingenious idea that. I can’t believe, hasn’t been thought of before.
The remote uses RF instead of the usually used iR for wirelessly controlling your device which has many advantages and one disadvantage. The disadvantage is that many people prefer using a Universal remote control and almost all of these universal remote controls exclusively use iR to control your devices. Boxee tackles that by allowing you to use a USB iR receiver using one of the ports on the back. Yes, it is an extra layer that increases costs and complexities but, at least, you have the option. The advantages of RF that boxee has used is that it has a much better range and doesn’t need a line-of-sight, as in, you don’t have to point the remote to the Boxee Box when using it which will frequently be the case when you are using the keyboard. I think Boxee made the right decision to go for RF, however, adding a built-in IR port might not have been a bad idea.
Setting up the Boxee Box was a breeze. I connected the power, HDMI and network cables and a few minutes later I was into the main interface. The UI on the Boxee box looked a bit simpler than I remember it being on my Mac a few months back, but equally functional. After the initial setup, I chose the movies folder which brought up all my shares on the network and I was very easily able to select the directories I wanted to add in.
Once I selected the directories, boxee began scanning them and matching them against online databases to download information about these movies such as their posters, synposis, actors etc. A few minutes into the scan and I noticed that the screen had frozen. That was the first crash I experienced. During the next couple of hours, I found the Boxee Box crashing a few more times. I went online and performed a hard-reset clearing all data form the device and starting from scratch. Sadly, not much luck with that either as the Boxee Box continued to frequently crash. Needless to say, I was quite infuriated and started writing the review.
Luckily, for Boxee, CES 2011 came up and I had to leave for Las Vegas before my review was completed. So a couple of days back, I decided to replug the boxee box to give it another shot but before I could proceed, I was notified that an update is available which I downloaded and then I intentionally did a hard reset to clear any settings before trying the update. Don’t know what boxee has done, but they have managed to make the device a lot less accident-prone. Its still not perfect and I do face a crash sometimes when the screen-saver comes up or the display goes to sleep but its nowhere as frustrating as it was when I initially got the unit.
The main screen of boxee is divided in two areas. On the top, you have Friends, Watch Later, (TV) Shows, Movies, Apps and Files. Shows and Movies correspond to content on your network while Apps are Internet applications such as a podcast or YouTube videos. Files give you a directory style structure of your network as well as any removable storage devices attached to the boxee while friends shows you your.
The interface is quite smooth to navigate and using the wired connection, I had no issues streaming my 1080p mkv files without any stuttering. There is no fast forward option when watching videos and instead, you skip a few seconds instead of fast-forwarding which is a bit of a pain. Online video streaming depends on your Internet connection and sadly, my 1MB WiMax connection froze frequently when trying to watch anything HD with content buffering for longer than the length of the video.
Overall, the Boxee Box is a fantastic product that needs a little more time to mature. The latest update has fixed many of the crashing issues but its still not perfect. I’m sure the Boxee team will get there but until they do, the Boxee Box is more of a experienced-user product than one for someone like my mom.