D-link Boxee Box
When Boxee announced its first hardware product in December 2009, details were pretty scarce. But the company is using the Consumer Electronics Show to provide a more complete picture of the Boxee Box.
To recap what we already know: the funky Box is a media player that can play a wide variety of local media files, as well as a large and growing array of online content. Local files can be accessed via the SD slot or USB ports, and the list of compatible files is comprehensive:
Video: Adobe Flash 10.1, H.264 (MKV, MOV), VC-1, WMV, MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, AVI, Xvid, Divx, PCM/LPCM, VOB
Audio: MP3, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, AAC, DTS, Dolby Digital, Ogg Vorbis
PHOTO: JPEG, TIFF, BMP, PNG
Of course, while local media playback is a nice touch, the big attraction of the Boxee Box is its ability to stream media--especially video--from a wide array of sources on the Web. (It connects to your home network via Ethernet or 802.11n Wi-Fi.) Previously, if you wanted to access the Boxee experience on your TV, you needed to connect your PC to it or hotwire an Apple TV. But by integrating the software into a small set-top box, Boxee (and D-Link, which is manufacturing the unit) are hoping to open Web media to the masses.
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Users of Boxee's latest software iteration will find that the hardware offers a familiar experience. The system allows users to customize their media experience from a wide range of Web offerings by installing apps. Many popular online media offerings are available, including Pandora, MLB TV, NPR, and Netflix. (Check out Rafe Needleman's preview of the Boxee software beta, which gives you a good idea of how things work on the Box as well.) Boxee also offers tight integration with social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Of course, Boxee's original claim to fame was that it was a great way to access Hulu videos--until Hulu began working hard on disabling Boxee compatibility. But in our CES demo of the Boxee Box, we were shown that the unit has a stealth Web browser that can still access "95 percent" of Hulu videos (according the the company's representative). Given Hulu's intransigence, we don't know if that can be maintained in the shipping version, but we were happy to see that the Boxee crew was still working hard on trying to make it happen.
Another nice innovation on the Boxee Box is the remote. It's got a standard d-pad for maneuvering through the Boxee on-screen menu, but flip it over, and you'll find a full QWERTY keyboard--perfect for searching through myriad online media sites. Even better, the remote is RF (radio frequency), not IR, so you don't have to worry about where it's pointed.
The Boxee Box is scheduled to ship in the second quarter of 2010 for "around $200." Assuming it hits that magic $199 price point--and it can continue growing its stable of online media sources--the Boxee Box could be shaping up to be a worthy rival to the Rokus of the world.