Once that was done, we set up a Boxee account, which requires an email address you can verify from. This allows you to send RSS feeds of particular videos direct to your Boxee, as well as add your social-networking accounts so that the videos your friends send through can be viewed. Whether those videos are worth watching depends on the type of friends you've got — the Boxee Box can't do everything.
Once you've verified your account, the final step involves deciding on the primary way you'll use the Boxee Box. The choice is between choosing "mostly stuff from the web", "mostly my own files" or "I'm not sure", and it's possible to change this post-install; it primarily determines the way the main screen will come up at boot time.
The Boxee interface is easily one of the best on the market. The comparison with the Apple TV interface is an inevitable one, but the ability for Boxee to add applications (including web browsing) give it a boost over Apple's interface. Those of an adventurous mind should note that it is possible to hack the Apple TV to run Boxee, if you're keen.
From a local network media playback perspective, things were mostly positive with the Boxee Box. It quickly found our network shares and shared video, and grabbed synopses for the files it recognised. This included iTunes movies whose DRM the Boxee doesn't support, and there's no way to flag those files short of explicitly telling the Boxee not to index directories that contain them. It's also possible to directly navigate shared directories, but that way misses out on the ability to browse by cover art.
Long-term iTunes users are probably aware that it's not always the most accurate when it comes to picking covers and details, and this is a problem that plagues the Boxee as well. One of the family videos on our network that the Boxee Box picked up of kids in the bathtub was identified with the following description, based on Boxee's best guess from the file title:
Not quite, Boxee. Not quite.
The other noticeable chink in the Boxee Box's playback armour is that it pauses for about 10 seconds before playing back any file, irrespective of file size or codec. Compared to some cheaper players that take only a second or two to begin decoding, this is a little irritating.
The other side of the Boxee Box's offering is web video, and this is a much more mixed experience. On the plus side, it's a great way to find video on the web, with a constantly updated menu of movie and TV show choices. It's just that most of them aren't available in Australia. By default, the Boxee software shouldn't show sources blocked from your location, but we found plenty of videos that Boxee felt should be viewable that certainly weren't. In Comedy, for example, South Park was constantly at the top of the Most Popular list, but Comedy Central doesn't allow episode playback from Australian IP addresses. Again, those keen enough to sort out proxy details may be able to overcome this limitation, but they're probably more customers for a self-installed Boxee system rather than the ease of use approach of the Boxee Box.
If you're after a slick media-streaming box with a great user interface, it's easy to recommend the Boxee Box, but this does come with a few caveats. You're paying a premium for software that's free in and of itself, and if all you want is basic local network playback, there's no shortage of cheaper boxes out there. It's a great product, but it is priced at a premium level against its market competition.