D-Link finally released their Boxee Box set top media player. I’ve been waiting awhile for this one, and as I’ve preached, if the unit accomplished what the Beta software did, it would be a sure sell. Currently the only real competition for “affordable” set top media players is Western Digital. Read on for my full review.
Unboxing the Boxee!
The Boxee comes in a sleek, black cube shaped box. Inside the box and on the top layer of the packaging is the actual unit. The unit itself has a power connector, 2 uSB ports, an optical out, an HDMI out, an ethernet port, standard L/R audio connectors, and an SD memory card reader. The memory card reader is a good idead, but why they didn’t just put in a universal one is beyond me. The unit also has built into it a Wireless N network adaptor. Underneath the unit in the second layer of packaging is the cables, remote and paperwork. The cables included are limited to an HDMI cable and a power cable. It’s actually nice to see someone finally including an HDMI cable with an HD capable piece of hardware. The remote is unique and quite well designed. It has 2 buttons on one side with a directional pad and a center clicker. On the other side is a full qwerty keyboard… that’s awesome! Hooking up the unit was a breeze.
Turning On the Boxee!
Everything’s plugged in and ready to go. On the back left corner of the Boxee there’s a power button… its hard to see at first… I actually didn’t notice it. When the unit comes on, there’s a load screen, then a colorful animated opening, much like a game console. On first boot, the Boxee immediately asks for network identification. It then finds a firmware update. The update runs pretty quickly and all seems good. Before actually linking my drive’s media, I decided to explore the interface.
Interfacing With the Boxee!
The meat and potatoes of the Boxee consists of a relatively slick user interface. The main menu icons run across the top. There’s a “Featured” section that scrolls down under the menu which consists of video links and stuff of popular interest. The Photo button allows you to view your photos, its simple… right, but I couldn’t get it to see my photo folder on my shared drive… first hiccup. The next icon is your music. This actually worked quite well. The next is a video icon, and this is where the core of my review will be concentrated. Then there’s the Television icon, which allows your own selection along with a host of pre loaded television stations from on-line sources. Next up is an apps icon, which opens up to hundreds on on-line aops. Finally there’s a settings icon which has a very limited amount of options, but it does let you change the weather location. Overall, the interface is quite good and refreshing from the media players I’ve been using to date.
Playing with the Boxee!
First, the Music works exactly as advertised. I simple but nice interface that supports box art and such. The photos… couldn’t get it to read that folder, but I’m assuming its as good as everything else on the market.
The Television shows is where I hit my first major problem. When you go to this area of the system, you have a choice of either viewing your drive and content, or viewing content selected from on-line sources. First, the on-line sources… of the channels that worked, most of them were such crap quality they were almost unwatchable. The channels are streamed from web sites, where the on-line resolution is meant to be watched on the small screen on a web page… not expandd to fit your 40-50″ screen. The load times were OK, there is ad support, whichmeans yes, you have to watch ads at the begining of each video. The transfer rate, I guess will all depend on your connection. I have a fast connection and the files were choppy as hell (my Netflix runs smooth as silk on my PS3 and 360 in comparrison). Now getting back to the channels and their availability. More than half the channels will deliver an error message that states “not available in your region”… meaning Canada! This to me is a lazy design error. Most TVs and BD players that support on-line apps don’t show it if it’s not available. Offering it when its not available makes the Boxee feel broken.
Now there’s the files from your hard drive. Change your option to “My Collection” and here’s what happens… nothing! If you have a relatively large collection, the Boxee must catalogue the collection before actually showing you whats on the drive. So for example I have all 10 seasons of Friends. It took over an hour for it to see every episode. The finished result is nothing short of amazing, but getting there is a headache. When you list your series, The Boxee will retrieve all the information about the series including box art, series description, each episode description, original air date, and episode title. For sizable collections, it takes a lot longer. Mine didn’t finish and it ran all night.
When the Boxee doesn’t understand the naming conventions being used, it does allow you to search a database to find what series the file belongs to and allows you to renumber the episode correctly. Thats actually pretty handy.
Something I didn’t like though is when the Boxee identifies missing episodes it will fill in the blanks with the crappy internet versions… which as I stated before are almost unwatchable.
When dealing with movie files, the Boxee hits a lot of the same snags. It fetches all the information from on-line sources, but it’s overly time consuming, and it misses files for no explainable reason. You will not see your entire library within minutes of setup. Depending on the size of your library, it could take hours. The overall compatibility is pretty comparable to most units on the market. It doesn’t handle media better or worse than any of Western Digital’s units.
The Applications were a huge disappointment. First off, Netflix is not enabled for Canadian customers. It works perfectly on the PC version of the software, but not supported on the box. This kinda sucks because both the PS3 and XBOX 360 have leaped that hurdle. Also, much like the television links, a large chunk of the applications are US only. Again this only makes the system feel broken.
Overall, the Boxee Box is a step forward in a lot of ways, showing off what could be a great future in set top media players. Unfortunately in packing this unit with so much media rich features, D-Link failed to provide Canadian users with a fully functioning unit. We just get a sniff of its possibilities. The Boxee handles media fine (it also supports Flash – FLV files), but also suffers from the same thing the Western Digital units suffer from. Because there is no substantial built in memory, the database activity is very slow and inlarger collections it can take a substantial amount of time to see the full effect. I have no doubt that the Boxee Box will get tons of firmware updates and support, but as is (out of the box), I consider it not worthy of its hefty $200 price tag and I returned mine this afternoon. I’ll keep checking up on it, and if it gets better, I’ll probably pick one up… but for now the Boxee Box should stay boxed!
Update – When I returned the unit to Best Buy, I asked if they had gotten any other returns. The person taking the return stated they all had pretty much been returned. This doesn’t mean the Boxee is a bad system. Afterall, after a few firmware updates the Boxee might be the best media player out there, its just not very Canadian friendly at the moment. If you’re curious at all, and have more patience than myself, pick it up at Best Buy and a run. Afterall, you can always return it within 14 days ifits not what you were hoping for. Also check the Boxee site to see if new updates have been released. BOXEE ON THE WEB