by Brian Booher
Hey everyone out there in Internetland. How are things going for you on the Information Superhighway? Wow! Who says that anymore?
I am going to give a review of that weird looking, but awesome, device known as the Boxee Box. The Boxee Box has been around for over 2 years and have had a decent selling rate. I have had mine for almost a month and now I think it’s time to give my impression on this thing. As I did with the “The new iPad” review, I am giving the good, the bad, and the ugly points, or “G.B.U.” as it say in the title. I am under no contract by the manufacturer or vendors that are on the device, so I am free to bash this all I want. So let’s get down to it.
If you’re looking to hook up a home theatre PC (HTPC) to your HDTV in your living room but don’t want to deal with having to use a keyboard and mouse to navigate media files, then a Boxee Box is the way to go.
I will say right now that if you’re one of those people who has invested heavily into the Apple iTunes universe, you probably will be better off with getting the Apple TV since that connects to iTunes so you can watch your copy-protected movies and stuff. But there is no harm in having a Boxee Box too. You would have the best of both worlds.
The big thing that makes Boxee Box really awesome is that it can basically play videos, music, and photos in every format known. I have been throwing every kind of video file at it that does not have copy protection on it and it will play.
You have 2 choices in being able to stream video, music, and pictures from your connected PC or Mac to the Boxee Box.
The first is the “Boxee Media Manager”. It’s a simple drag and drop of the files or folders of files you want to have shared to your Boxee Box. You must have your computer running this app in order to share the media. It is the simplest of the two methods.
The second is sharing drives and folders directly from a Mac or PC. With the PC, I had to do a Google search on how to properly set it up, as there some settings that you have to activate and deactivate. This process can be tedious to many people who are not tech savvy, but if you can manage to get the process done, you wouldn’t need the “Boxee Media Manager”.
I will keep it simple. The Boxee Box is the little engine that could. This little device will basically play any kind of video, audio, and picture format out there.
But I will say that it cannot play EVERYTHING. I have tried to get it to play HD-DVD and Blu-ray formatted files and they would not work, mainly due to them having copy protection on them.
The Boxee Box does have a hard time playing large video files, say like 10GB and bigger involving HD video. I think it’s due to the buffering of the video that it cannot keep up. I’ve tried to make things easier for the movie to run, but eventually it stops and the Boxee resets. Unless you can compress the HD video into a smaller file size, it will sputter.
Many people that have written reviews on the Boxee Box previously say that the device does not play ISO images. I can say that it can play ISO images, just not all of them. I have been able to convert a DVD to an ISO image and it will play like a DVD on the device. You get access to the menus and special features as well as the movie itself. I say that it’s about a 50/50 chance that the ISO will be played.
Apps and Online Content
The Boxee Box has an amazing variety of online channels to access from. You can get Netflix, Pandora, Spotify, MLB.tv, NBA TV, Comedy Central, Vudu, etc. This little box has just about everything on it. The only real downside is that you cannot access Hulu Plus on it, as Hulu doesn’t like being on that device and goes to great lengths to make sure you don’t access it through the Boxee Box.
The Boxee Remote
The Boxee remote is a functional and fairly simplistic device. The coolest feature is that it is not and IR remote, meaning you do not have to point it to the Boxee Box to go through the menus. It’s all radio based. There are 4 main buttons on the top. One is a dedicated Netflix button while the others are the directional pad, the Enter button, and the exit/menu button. On the back is what makes it better than other remotes. On the back is a full querty keyboard that allows you to type in addresses for websites or login information. It is a compact design, but after a little bit of using it, you will get the hang of it.
There really is not much that is bad about the Boxee Box. It is more expensive than the Apple TV or Roku boxes, but with the amount of content that you can do on it will make it worth the $180.
There are some things about the Boxee Box that are ugly, but does not really detract from the experience very much. Though each person’s experience is different.
The Boxee Remote
The ugly things about the Boxee Remote is that the top side is symetirical both on the X and Y axis. If you happen to drop the remote in a dark room and picked it up to change a channel or to pause, there is the 50% chance that you might have it upside down and accidentally hit the Netflix button when you wanted to hit the menu button. The simple solution is to just look where the red Netflix button is, since hitting that kicks you out of what you were watching and it takes like a minute, at least for me, to have Netflix load to a point where I can back out. I do wish that the remote could also be illuminated, but I don’t want to be too picky.
As I said before, Hulu Plus is not on the Boxee Box. Hulu itself has made the effort to preventing people from accessing the content from the Boxee Box. I think it all has to do with Hulu’s high demand for control as well as money issues. That could all change in the future though. We can only hope.
I have noticed that trying to play large HD video files like MKV’s or MP4 that range of more than 10GB can cause the Boxee Box to crash. I can compress those files to small sizes, but the picture quality can suffer. Either it is because there is something wrong with the video files itself or a buffering issue with the Boxee Box that it eventually just cannot keep up.
The physical design
If you have never seen a Boxee Box, it looks like this below:
It is a weird shape, like someone just cut 3 corners off a cube and make it lean to one side. Some people might find this annoying since you cannot stack other devices on top, but the design also makes it stand out from the rest.
The Boxee Box is one amazing little entertainment box. Although it does not have the ability to access everything that the web has to offer, I think that with the amount of content currently on there, you’ll be well entertained. You can also stream your own music and movies from your Mac or PC. It will play just about every kind of popular music and movie file format out there.
For $180, I think I got my money’s worth in this device. I believe that their content will get better in the future as more people “cut the cord” from cable or satellite services.
Have fun and geek out!
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