Boxee got a head start on the Internet TV revolution, with many users becoming familiar with the open-source media-streaming platform because it was an easy way to add functionality to their first-gen Apple TVs (albeit through an unauthorized hack). But despite that head start, the finally released Boxee Box by D-Link is already playing catch-up in a product category crowded by Apple TV, Google TV, Roku, connected Blu-ray players, and game consoles.
Though it has an attractive user interface and supports playback of almost any kind of digital media file, it currently lacks popular streaming-media services like Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Vudu--all of which Boxee says are coming soon. Boxee also does a decent job of trying to collate all of the free video content available online, but the information is often outdated or inaccurate. There's no doubt the Boxee Box has potential, and the company is promising many of the updates before the end of the year, but until then, buyers should hold off until Boxee catches up with the competition.
The Boxee Box's exterior design is like no other home theater gadget we've seen. It's designed to look like a cube, but one of the corners is chopped off, so it gives the impression that it's sinking into your TV cabinet.
Its glowing green Boxee logo and sharp, protruding edges give it a geek-chic charm that's great for those who like to show off their tech, but those same qualities will make it garish to those who want their tech to blend in.
The ports are located around back, including HDMI, and analog and optical digital audio outputs. (There are no analog video outputs for those with older TVs.) Two USB ports are available on the back, too, for connecting a portable hard drive full of content. There's an Ethernet port, but also built-in 802.11N Wi-Fi, so you won't need Ethernet connectivity in your living room.
Though the front side is pretty standard, with a directional pad, play/pause button, and a menu button, the backside has a full QWERTY keyboard, to take the tedium out of entering search phrases onscreen.
Shows and Movies are similar, allowing you to browse cover art for content that Boxee has found online. The list of TV shows seems decent at first glance, including shows like "How I Met Your Mother," "The Daily Show," and "The Colbert Report," but it's ultimately disappointing. Boxee's data was often inaccurate, not showing the most recent available episode or not showing all the episodes that are available on the Web site.
The lack of "free" content wouldn't be quite so frustrating if there were solid premium options available. These would typically be listed under the Apps section, but currently major apps like Netflix, Vudu, and Hulu Plus are not available yet. (Boxee says they're coming soon.) There are some good apps available, like Pandora (free) and MLB.TV (paid subscription required), plus tons of video podcasts, but it's not enough to make up for what's missing.