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Boxee Box Review

1. Introduction

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

3. Design

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

4.1 Codecs

Video Codecs Audio Codecs Subtitles Image Web Clients Notes
  • 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)
  • MP3
  • WAV/PCM/LPCM
  • WMA
  • AIF/AIFF
  • AC3/AAC
  • OGG
  • FLAC
  • DTS
  • Dolby Digital/Dolby True HD
  • SRT
  • SUB
  • SSA
  • SMI
  • ASS
  • JPEG
  • PNG
  • GIF
  • BMP
  • TIFF
PandoraFlickr

YouTube (Leanback)

Twitter

…and so on, about 135 of them)

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


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.

5.3 Video

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.

File Description Result
4.6mbps-720p-30fps-Theora.ogg Passed
6mbps-480i-MPEG-ASF.dvr-ms Passed
8.3mbps-1080p-30fps-L4.1-3ref.m2ts Passed
8mbps-1080p-24fps-WMV9-6chWMA.wmv Passed
10.2mbps-1080p-24fps-L4.1-5ref-DTS.mkv Passed
10mbps-1080i-60fps-L5.1-8ref-HDTV.mkv Passed but no sound. However, I got no sound on my PC also…
11.6mbps-1080p-AVCHD-Sony-Camcorder.m2ts Passed
15mbps-1080p-L4.0-4ref-dualAC3.trp Passed
19mbps-1080p-24fps-L5.1-16ref-improper.mkv Passed
28mbps-L4.1-DTS-MA.m2ts Passed
30mbps-L4.1-TrueHD.m2ts Passed
4377kbps-1080p-24fps-L5.0-9ref-AAC.mp4 Passed
L4.1-8ref-6ch-FLAC-SSAsubs.mkv Passed
Multilanguage-UTF8-SRT.mkv Passed
SD-25fps-RV40.rmvb Passed
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)

5.5 Audio

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.

5.6 Photo

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.

6. Browser

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!

7.2 YouTube

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.

7.3 Pandora

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.

6.7  DLNA

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.

8. Remote

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.

9. Conclusion

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.

Hints:

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!!! 🙂

Issues Found:

  • 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…)

9.2 Cons:

  • 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

10. Internals

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.

11: Gallery

Related posts:

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  • Corn

    Nice review. Will this thing play CDG files for doing karaoke?

  • Noire

    Very nice.

    A few questions:

    1. Can you move apps from the big list to a screen with apps selected by you? I mean, its not very good if you have to scroll through hundreds of apps every time to find the one you want.

    2. Can you disable the image scraping?

    3. What happens if you change files on a share? Does it discover this automatically, or do you have to rescan it every time?

  • Hi Noire,

    some answers: 1: Yes, 2: Don’t know yet, 3: you can set to rescan a folder once or daily. You can also browse by folder if you want to see / play the files immediately, but they won’t be indexed and available in the main list.

  • Corn, do you have such files? The original Boxee software can play them (per Wikipedia article) so there might be a good change that Boxee box can play them as well…

  • Joe

    I’m very curious about 2 things with the boxee box:

    1) you said ~1 min boot time – ouch! But, can you suspend/resume once booted? I’d like to be able to suspend the box so it’s not always running at full power and then resume with the remote.

    2) You showed a Harmony remote in the review.. did you try to use it? The Box’s RF remote looks good – but I’ve got to be able to hook up an IR receiver and use the Harmony to control everything for me to purchase this.

  • Hi Joe,

    1. That’s true, slow boot. To be honest, I just leave it on. I couldn’t figure out a way to put it to suspend mode without turning it off from the box button.
    2. I use the Harmony remote for size comparison reasons, since it is very popular. To answer your question, per manufacturer, Boxee box does support IR dongle (Windows MCE media Center compatible) which are cheap. easy to find nowadays and perfectly compatible with Harmony remotes.

  • 2 questions:
    1) Can I read iso from DVD?
    2) Boxee box supports 24 bit / 96 Khz audio files? For example this: http://www.archive.org/details/NineInchNailsGhostsI-Ivblu-ray24bit96khz

  • Gareth

    Curious about the Flash support. Does it indicate what version? At least one of the sites I currently subscribe to (foxsoccer.tv) is very sensitive to the version of the flash player. I had little luck with the Boxee browser on Windows (crashes continuously) and Linux (too slow to use), and got zero response from a support request. So I’m not optimistic about accessing content on sites like espn3.com and foxsoccer.tv. I’d like to be able to buy the Boxee and dump cable TV, but not impressed with the Boxee software I’ve downloaded so far.

  • Ted

    Why is it again you don’t want to turn on your PS3 to stream?
    Why would I buy this if my PS3 does a fine job with CrunchyRoll and
    Tai Seng TV?

  • TiredoftheBateandSwitch

    I was one of the many who pre-order the Boxee Box as soon as it became available on Amazon.com. I used to love the Boxee interface. I had it on my iMac, and even hacked my AppleTv to run it too. So when the Boxee Box was announced, I was ecstatic with the thought of a faster processor behind the scenes with that same beautifully intuitive interface that I have come to love with my iMac and AppleTv hack version. When it arrived on my front porch a couple days ago, I quickly grabbed and un-boxed it, and to my surprise it came with an HDMI cable. Its the little things that make me happy these days, as most products lack an HDMI cable in the box. I proceeded to hook everything, powered the device on and followed the easy to understand onscreen instructions. After entering all my data, it booted to that oh so beautiful interface that I have come to love and everything worked just as I had hoped; quick and intuitively! I must have played with it for hours that day and after that long day, I decided to call it a night. I awoke the next morning and came down stairs to watch a little tv and low and behold, I found a announcement in the top left corner stating that an update was available. Being the good techy that I am, I quickly pressed upgrade in the hopes of the last minute bug fixes that always come along with 1.0 devices. As soon as it restarted it I knew that this box was going to be returned to Amazon.com soon. The interface was completely destroyed in this 1.0 update! The intuitiveness of the old interface was gone, to be replaced with can only be called crapware! The old interface was beautifully rendered and intuitive, gaving easy access to all my content; so intuitive that even my non-techy mother could even use it with out my help. Once you dive into the new menu interface, you’ll find that online content is prioritized over your personal content, a BIG no no in my book as I create a lot of content that I wish to have easy access to with out having to dig through several sub-menus to get to. And lets not even start about the horribly rendered graphics of each screen, it looks as if a 5yo rendered it! All in all, I had to do hard reset the device to get to the factory reset menu system to restore it back to it glorious interface of before. Now I just have to figure out how to hack it so it will stop auto updating the damn thing to the 1.0 interface!

  • Red

    I used a Windows Media Center IR sensor (USB) and a harmony remote control and I can confirm that Boxee Box works this way. You just can’t turn the box on if it is completely off, you’ll need to use the power button from the box itself.

    I can confirm that this adapter works well 🙂

  • GB

    Can anyone tell me if you get a smooth video stream to the Boxee Box or does it bu…ff..err?

  • bex

    I heard that the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, The CW) have blocked their content on Boxee Box similarly to Google TV. Is this true? I’m hoping not! I wasn’t worried about a lack of Hulu (free) support because I thought I’d still be able to watch programs through network feeds. If they have been blocked on Boxee Box, though, I guess I’ll need to stick with my HTPC for now. TIA

  • Red

    GB, on my network it doesn’t buffer, but it is Gigabit Ethernet, wired.

  • Red

    btw, for whoever hates the new interface: If you want to block the update process, configure your router to block “app.boxee.tv/chkupd/dlink.dsm380”. This way you’ll only block the update process. And if you really want to go back to 0.9, just do a factory restore and you are set.

  • Jim M

    Just received my preordered Boxee Box from Amazon yesterday. I hooked it up and the system came up immediately. I signed on to my account and starting working through the menu. I had a problem right away with video not playing but only sound. I called their tech support after much delay because their phone on their website directs you to another nonrelated energy company. I finally found the right phone number and spoke to tech support who asked me to download the new firmware and call back if it didnt work. Said it would take about 15 minutes. After the firmware update it worked pretty good. One of the irritating things that I have noticed is that on some sites that the video will have a white bar at the bottom of it or at the sides. I change the screen size on my tv to compensate but its a pain. Another issue when you are browsing through either movies or tv shows if you click on a selection and place it as a favorite when you click back to the show or movie list it takes you back to the top of the list. With 2000+ shows its kinda a pain to tab back down to where you left off. The mouse pointer moving is a pain also, I bet you could mess up a remote quickly by using it alot. With that being said it plays quite well, it lags at times but overall it is very good. I am looking forward to working with it more. Its a neat product.

  • Angel

    Right now we us a dedicated PC for our living room HD TV. The PC is wired to storage drives to connect to all our original contend and stored DVDs. We watch Netflix and access the internet using Windows Media 7.

    What we want now is to be able to access our movie database wirelessly to watch them in the hot tub. We would want it to be portable enough to easily carry out and quickly set up for the evening.

    Would the Boxee Box or one of the Media Streamers you reviewed work for this, or am I looking for something completely different? Would one of these media streamers connected wirelessly to our lan (Linksys 2.4) be fast enough, or would I need something specifically dedicated to do this like the brite-View “Air SyncHD” ? Thanks.

  • Sorin

    Angel,

    The answer is yes. Boxee Box has an internal wireless adapter and can play your ripped and stored DVDs, including their menu via network shares. T am using it for exactly this purpose. Beside Boxee box, all the other media streamers I reviewed are capable of the same functionality (playing stored DVDs) but not all of them will include a wireless network adapter by default. Boxee does though.

  • Nrby

    Hi,

    Im using Iomega – ScreenPlay Director (HD Media Player) with built-in 1 TiB HDD, which to be honest, sucks and so annoying. It lags/freezes whenever it wants to, it has the worst interface and its so slow.

    I’ve been looking for another media player which can play all my movies (most of them cannot be played on ScreenPlay Director, i get this message, “Bad Container.”

    All of my movies are BR Rips @ 720p, downloaded from a torrent website. All movies with bad container as the media player claims, are playing like a charm on my laptop, using WMP 12 and Win7 codecs x64, and some users reported they play well on WD TV. But i want more than the WD TV, and Boxee seems great and has alot of features, with a less price than the stupid Iomega player that i have.

    Overall, its been 2 months since i purchased my media player (around 235 USD), so i really wanna think alot before giving another 200 bucks for nothing. So, would you recommend me the Boxee as a much better replacement? i really wish it could be what i really expect because i need a solution ASAP.

    I hope i get a reply either here or by email soon, and if i live outside the USA, and there’s no retailer at my country, is there anyway to have it shipped to my country somehow?

    Thanks in advance, best regards.

  • Nrby

    One thing, The movies i have are compressed, and i’ve been told that compressed movies cannot be played back by most media players, and that WD TV cannot play all compressed audio files or movies with compressed audio. My movies are all from 2-5 GiB’s.

    Question; Does it play DTS sound tracks?

    if you want i can upload one of the movies that doesn’t play on my media player and you can check it out on Boxee.

    Sorry if am being annoying, im so fraustrated ;-(

  • Sorin

    Nrby,

    To answer your question, yes, Boxee Box is much better than ScreenPlay director. Is it perfect? No, and it has its share of bugs, however I now for sure it DOES play DTS soundtracks. You’ll find its codec support quite advanced.
    As to ship it outside US, try to buy it from Amazon, they might ship it to your country.

  • Rohan

    I have a 1TB external Drive. Can boxee support it when plug to usb?

  • RH

    yes, it should work fine.