To say the D-Link Boxee Box is the most anticipated piece of hardware since Apple's last product launch is an understatement. Boxee has a large and loyal following online. Before now, Boxee was a software firm that offered a media-centre experience for people running Mac OS, Linux and . The software, which is based on -- an open-source hack, initially designed to bring media playback to the first-generation Xbox -- is socially orientated and graphically well thought out. So, that explains the excitement.
Can the hardware live up to the hype, though? Made by D-Link, it has little to do with the Boxee people, save that it's running their software. The device runs an Intel Atom processor and is, at the most basic level, like a very small, low-powered PC.
Selling for £200 at its introduction, the machine compares well to players from the likes of Popcorn Hour, but it's more expensive than Western Digital's likeable media players.
The Boxee Box is nothing if not awesome to look at. It's a cube, but one that appears to melt into your table. It's a neat design, and successfully conveys the rebellious nature of the Boxee crowd. The compact box even manages to fit an SD card reader, HDMI, Ethernet connection and a pair of USB sockets. You also get stereo audio out, plus an optical digital feed, to send audio to a separate receiver.
On the front is a Boxee logo that illuminates when the box is on, and changes colour to indicate the status of the box. Green is for 'online' and orange is for 'offline'. There's apparently a red light, too, for hard restarts. As far as aesthetics go, we're really impressed.
Out of the box, and we hit the first road block
We want to lay this out as honestly as possible here, because this is your money on the line and we take that very seriously. From the moment we tried to set up the Boxee Box on both our office wireless network and our home wired and Wi-Fi set-ups, we ran into problems.
The most noticeable are this machine's issues with wireless networks. In our home test environment, we have a pair of 802.11n routers that handle different aspects of our test network. One is for AV gear, and the other is for NAS hardware and our PCs. Both work flawlessly when connected to hardware, and we've never had any problems with wireless devices, either.
Despite that, the Boxee Box refused to see our first router. The annoyance factor of this is multiplied by the fact that the router is made by D-Link. Despite seeing the second router, it refused to connect to that wireless network.
The next job was to try our wired network, but there was no joy here, either. What's more, trying to manually enter settings left us frustrated -- the box initially accepted our input, but then seemed to completely forget the settings as soon as we pressed save. This also happened with the wireless interface, which, despite announcing it had been configured successfully, turned itself off as soon as we left the network set-up menu.
It's interesting to note the number of complaints about the wireless system on the Boxee forums, with people saying the system is either very slow or drops the connection on a regular basis.
Eventually, we managed to coax the box onto our non-D-Link router, but discovered something about the password entry that made us blind with rage.
Shocking wireless-password interface
In the normal settings, there's no way to see the wireless password as you type it. The password doesn't even appear briefly, one letter at a time, as you type. Instead, it's completely blacked out, so there's no way to tell if you're typing it right.
To compound the problem, we later discovered that the keypad on the Boxee remote works in a very counter-intuitive way. Our wireless password is formed of three capital letters, followed by a sequence of numbers and another three letters at the end. To type this, we assumed we could press the 'Caps' button, type the letters, then press the 'Alt' button to access the numbers -- which sit on the top row of the Qwerty keyboard. We later discovered this is not the case -- if you do it this way, you don't get numbers in the field, but symbols that obviously don't match your password.
We only found this out by going through a different set-up route that allowed us to view the password. This is a complete failure of user-interface design, but the only reason we were able to work out what was going wrong with our network connection.
One of the great things about Boxee is that it supports the BBC iPlayer via a plug-in app. One of the not-so-great things is that the app that handles this is a mess. At first, all looks well. You're dropped into the BBC's big-screen interface, which is ideal in that it's designed for TVs. After that, though, you get dropped into the standard iPlayer website, which means you must navigate around using the cursor. This is exceptionally clumsy and unresponsive, which is a massive shame.