Boxee Box is without question one of the most awaited media streamers for this year. The reason? The way things look right now, it might well be the only box that actually can successfully replace a home theater PC in both CODEC support and extensibility. Promising a full range of audio/video codecs, media library with automatic artwork downloading and also web clients for popular services as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, VUDU and even Netflix, combined with an open development platform supporting Adobe Flash 10.1, a Webkit based browser and QWERTY remote control, many feel that boxee Box is currently the media streamer to beat, not Google TV or Apple TV. For a long time, there has been an uncertainty about the capability to stream Netflix but yesterday the people from D-Link confirmed Netflix support to come sometime by the end of the year, so I won’t touch this issue until the next firmware release.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge gadget lover and I actually own and use every piece of equipment that I reviewed on this website, however I don’t like the idea of turning my PS3 to watch Netflix, XBOX 360 for a nice Twitter of Facebook client, my HTPC for some exotic codec that nobody else supports, etc. I think everybody keeps waiting for the mystical “do it all” box (aside from a beefy HTPC that needs its own power plant) and the open nature of Boxee Box might help it become that box.
2. Boxee Box Unpacking
I pre-ordered Boxee Box more than two months ago, immediately after it become it the first day it was available for pre-order and Amazon shipped it yesterday via Amazon Prime. The shipping origin was somewhere in California and since this is where I live as well, today the box is in my hands.
What’s In the Box
I hope there is a new trend to finally include HDMI cables in the package. In Boxee Box situation, you don’t have other alternative anyway.
- The Boxee Box by D-Link
- 1x HDMI Cable
- 1x AC Power Adapter
- Remote Control with Full QWERTY keypad
As you probably know, the box is remarkable through its boxy shape, a radical departure from the standard rectangular home theater component. I actually like it, the build quality and the materials seem much better than Google TV, but I realize the shape will probably create love-hate relationships. In my case, my home theater rack is full anyway so the Boxee Box will rest on top next to my Philips Internet Radio and Kinect controller.
4. Tech Specs
- Audio Formats: MP3, WAV/PCM/LPCM, WMA, AIF/AIFF, AC3/AAC, OGG, FLAC, DTS, Dolby Digital/Dolby True HD
- Video Formats: Adobe Flash 10.1, FLV/On2 VP6 (FLV/FV4/M4V), H.264 AVC (TS/AVI/MKV/MOV/M2TS/MP4), VC-1 (TS/AVI/MKV/WMV), MPEG-1 (DAT/MPG/MPEG), MPEG-2 (MPG/MPEG/VOB/TS/TP/ISO/IFO), MPEG-4 (MP4/AVI/MOV), DivX 3/4/5/6 (AVI/MKV), Xvid (AVI/MKV), WMV9 (WMV/ASF/DVR-MS)
- Image Formats: JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, TIFF
- Playlist Formats: M3U, PLS, WPL
- Subtitle Formats: SRT, SUB, SSA, SMI, ASS
- Supported Resolutions: H.264: 1080p at 30 fps, 1080i at 60 fps; WMV9/VC-1: 1080p at 30 fps, 1080i at 60 fps; MPEG4: 1080p at 30 fps, 1080i at 60 fps; MPEG2: 1080p at 30 fps, 1080i at 60 fps
- Two-Sided RF Remote: with 4-way navigation and full QWERTY keypad
- Dimensions (LxWxH): 4.5″ x 4.5″ x 4.6″
- Language Support: English, French, German, Italian, Spanish
- Network Protocol Support: IPV4, ARP, TCP, UDP, ICMP, DHCP Client, DNS Client, DDNS Client, HTTP Server, Samba Client, RTP/RTMP, VPN: PPTP, DLNA 1.5 (DMP)
- Wireless: 802.11n/g/b
- Ports: HDMI 1.3, 10/100 Fast Ethernet, 2x USB 2.0, Optical Audio (S/PDIF), Analog Audio (RCA L/R)
- Memory Card Support: SD, SDHC up to 32GB, MMC
|Video Codecs||Audio Codecs||Subtitles||Image||Web Clients||Notes|
…and so on, about 135 of them)
5. Details and Screenshots
5.1 Firmware Update
The first thing you need to do is of course check for any firmware updates available, after all you don’t want to miss any functionality, right? And in Boxee Box case you would miss a lot since today the new firmware 1.0 is out (most of the boxes shipped with 0.9). The new firmware brings a completely new user interface together with a long list of fixes.
5.2 User interface
There is something to like and something to dislike to Boxee’s new user interface. The categories are arranged horizontally and the subcategories are also arranged horizontally, like several menu lines one under the other. Somehow I would have preferred a menu-style layout with sub-categories arranged vertically. The surfing speed is reasonable but for some reason, the artwork download speed is atrocious. I am not sure what provider Boxee is using to download the artwork / metadata but it is very slow.
The Boxee Box doesn’t disappoint in the codec compatibility tests playing without exception every file format I tried , from Blu-ray rips to DVD rips (with menu navigation), mp4 AVCHD files straight from my Sanyo VPC-FH1A camcorder, MKV with subtitles and multiple soundtracks, DIVX/XVID all versions and even the infamous .mov format some digital cameras are using for video recording. High bit-rates, low bit-rates, surround sound, everything works. I tried to stream from a network share, an attached USB drive and both PlayOn and PS3 Media Server via DLNA. Also, with the help of AVDForum community, I tried their official video codec test package with the results in the table below. Interesting to know is that subtitles are on by default.
DVD covers – My main system uses Windows Media Center / Media Browser solution so I have all the metadata for the DVD rips stored in the DVD folders. Boxee Box however likes to download its own metadata and it doesn’t look that it saves it locally, an issue that I hope will be fixed in the future. Otherwise, for large collections it will be very slow to use.
DVD Menu Navigation – BOXEE BOX supports DVD menu navigation. I was able to jump to chapters, enable/disable the subtitles, change audio tracks, etc. Both folders and ISO files. When playing BD ISOs, you can select in a playlist the files you want to play, otherwise Boxee will start playing the longest file.
|10mbps-1080i-60fps-L5.1-8ref-HDTV.mkv||Passed but no sound. However, I got no sound on my PC also…|
|Slicies MPEG2 NTSC 1080i 29.97.ts||Passed|
The way Boxee Box accesses the media located on your network reminds me of TVersity. You need first to add various network shares / folders to a media source list and then Boxee Box will queue it and start parsing it and also download the artwork and metadata. Depending of the size of your collection, the whole process can take hours. For each folder / media share added you need to specify what media it contains (video, pictures, songs or any combination) and the scanning mode (never, daily, once)
Nothing much to say here, mp3 support, FLAC, AC3, AAC, via network shares, USB and, DLNA, DTS decoding supported as well, optical and HDMI out. It plays everything I have, if you want to test specifics, send me a file and I’ll test it. DTS_MA tested and works as well.
Same as with audio, nothing too fancy but a solid format support (JPEG, GIF, TIF/TIFF, BMP, PNG). Boxee Box can also display photos from various online services like Flickr and from the network shares as well.
Finally a solid browser! Based on Webkit, Boxee Box browser does not disappoint and renders fast and neat my very own website ;). Unfortunately I couldn’t find a way to add favorite URLs.
7. Web Clients
This, together with the codec support is where Boxee Box really shine. The platform is open (remember, Boxee is based on the legendary XBMC). As a result, writing applications is easy and open and the box shipped at launch with over 130 web clients covering the most popular web services around. Even if Netflix is not supported yet, it was announced and it will come by the ned of the year. Meantime, the application set far surpasses everything else on the market currently including Google TV and the pitiful Apple TV. The box also supports Adobe Flash 10.1 so expect a number of games and additional applications soon.
7.1 Netflix / Hulu Plus
Not available yet but scheduled before the end of the year. Available on Boxee’s website to connect though. Hulu Plus was also announced and that probably means no free HULU for it, ever!
The YouTube client is elegant and based on the new YouTube Leanback technology designed for the big screen, offering all the standard features (Best Of, Categories, Most Viewed, etc). You can also sign in with your account and watch your favorites, and search using the remote keyboard.
Pandora couldn’t be absent, so it is supported.before you can use it, you will have to add a code to Pandora’s website to activate the box (similar with Netflix). After the box is activated, you can log in with your account and access your radio stations. A nice touch is the beautiful 3D spectrum analyzer provided.
DLNA client is a very important feature that is starting to appear in more and more modern streamers. However, unfortunately I wasn’t able to use any of them. They showed in the list, I was able to browse the content but I couldn’t stream anything. personally, since Boxee Box has a good support for network shares, I don’t care that much but others may find this an issue.
Update: I can confirm that both DLNA servers that I have, PS3 Media Server and PlayOn are working fine with Boxee Box. At the time of testing I experienced some network issues that prevented DLAN traffic.
Like Google TV, Boxee Box comes with a QWERTY remote control which is well thought and rare among the media streaming devices. The remote is RF and works well enough but it feels too tiny. I also missed a back button, although the Menu button can be used for this purpose. Per Boxee statements, an IR adapter compatible with Windows Media Center is supported, so it should be trivial to add universal remote support.
Boxee Box is a certainly an amazing media streamer, the best we have ever tested. Edit (Since as of February 01, 2011) Netflix support is delayed yet again, we’ll have to retract the title. To be honest, I found myself grinning on several occasions, I couldn’t image I would be so enthusiastic about a gadget. Netflix is a must have feature for a media streamer and once Boxee Box gets it through a future firmware update, it will be unbeaten, at least until Google TV gets its Android Marketplace early next year and Apple TV opens for applications. Attractive if unusual design it will successfully replace my Home Theater PC, something I have never been able to do until today. Boxee Box is available for sale at Amazon for $199, with no taxes and free shipping in most of the US.
You can access thr ESPN3 App by adding the following repository: http://repository.boxee.thinkonezero.com. Remember that every different screen in Boxee Box has options to which toy can navigate via the MENU button or by the directional pad. You can the add new 3rd party repositories…
Read more at: http://forums.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=20282
Update: Boxee announced UI changes to allow users to choose which media they use the most (local versus online content). Read this announcement for more info.
Update 2: The announced UI changes are live. Check this article for more info.
Update 3: (Feb 01, 2011) Boxee delayed yet again the support for Netflix in a really awkward blog post. At this point, we can no longer recommend Boxee as the best media streamer, particularly due to the nasty habit Boxee team displays to make promises that they don’t keep.
Update 4: (Feb 14, 2011) Boxee finally got Netflix!!! 🙂
- If you try to change the settings while a video is playing, like stretching style, subtitles, etc the box might hang. Obviously a software issue that can be fixed in the next updates, but annoying for now. At some point I had to manually restart the box. The sound can also become garbled after such changes ans stuttering issues might appear.
9.1 Pros: Small, cheap, large codec support, Netflix, Pandora, network shares support
- excellent CODEC support
- Bluray ISO and folders support
- DVD menus (ISO and folders)
- Extensible, many applications available
- SAMBA (Windows) network shares support that WORKS (unlike a certain Viewsonic VMP 75…)
- slow initial boot, around one full minute
- slow image download
- DLNA client incompatible with PlayOn or PS3 Media Player
- I wish the remote control to be 25 percent larger
For your enjoyment, here are some images of the circuit board, thanks to the folks from iFixIt and FCC. Boxee Box uses a RealTek RTL8201N 10/100 Ethernet PHYceiver and a Intel Atom CE4110 SOC processor running at 1.2Ghz and containing a PowerVR SGX535 integrated graphic chip (interestingly enough, the same core used in GoogleTV and Apple’s iPad).
The unit also contains a cooling fan but it is rather quiet, certainly not the original XBOX 360 levels.