Top positive review
476 people found this helpful
Firmware Upgrade Brings Massive User Interface Changes
on November 12, 2010
Boxee has addressed some of the concerns I highlighted in my review with firmware updates. Please see the bottom of the review for updates.
Out of the box, the Boxee Box runs the familiar beta version of the software, which is familiar to me as a prior Boxee user. Everything works fine, from what I tested, though the edges of the screen were cut off a tiny bit (not enough to cause a problem). While exploring all the options, I found that a firmware upgrade to version 1.0 of the Boxee software was available. I installed it, the unit rebooted, and it automatically started a quick-and-simple screen calibration utility. That calibration was useful, because the stock firmware had some overscan problems (that is, the edges of the screen were cut off) on my TV.
Version 1.0 brings with it a new, simplified user interface. I immediately had trouble finding my way around, and was a little disappointed that the experience was different than what I was expecting. My main problem with the new interface is that it now takes several more clicks to access local files (that is, anything on your attached drives or home network). That's my stuff, and that's what I primarily want a video player to be able to play. The old interface allowed you to toggle between your videos, and all available videos, very easily, once you understand where the option is. With the default firmware, after a minute of configuration, I was able to select "Shows" from the home screen and see just my shows. Now, I have to use other, more complex and time-consuming methods to do the same thing, such as "Files > Shows" or "Shows > Files".
The new interface does make it easier to start searches (just start typing), and is very attractive. I just would rather that it allow me to put my videos front-and-center. Networked content is fine, but my own content should have primacy over it. I think that new users will not have a problem with the interface, but experienced users should know that changes are in store for you.
I had no problems streaming SD and 720p HD H.264 and DivX files from my NAS to the Boxee Box via my wireless-N network. Internet videos play well, but some Internet video sources are kludgy. Playing a video on Fancast, for instance, will open a web browser, showing the web page and the video in a small box. You have to use the remote to move the mouse cursor to the tiny "full screen" button and click it to get the video to play full screen. Good luck doing that on the couch, 10-20 feet from the TV! This is a big deal because the new Boxee software puts networked content front-and-center, in the "Most Popular" movies and shows pages. It's wonderful to be able to watch (ad-supported) shows that you haven't paid for, but it's a pain that you have to hunt for the full screen button, which looks different on every website, to do so.
Apps, on the other hand, are fantastic. TED and YouTube work exactly as you would expect, and there are dozens more available. Netflix and Hulu Plus apps have been promised; Boxee is working out the arrangements and hope to have these available by the end of the year (early next year for Hulu Plus). I hope for their sake that they do. Competing devices all support Netflix, and Netflix is, in my opinion, one of the most compelling sources for staming content.
Linking your online Boxee account to Twitter and Facebook seems like overkill at first, but it actually is pretty compelling to be able to watch videos that your friends are sharing. The RSS app is great, too. Through the Boxee website, you can subscribe to a whole bunch of video and audio streams (podcasts). Then, you can launch the RSS app and browse through the stream. It's very nice. I don't bother sharing what I watch on TV with my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, though, but I could if I wanted to. I think that if a large number of people I know used Boxee, this would be a lot more useful.
Another quibble I have with the UI is that "Watch Later" queue shows your most recent additions on top, and you can't sort it. To find the next episode of a series you've been watching from the queue, you have to scroll down. If I'm going to the trouble of queuing videos, doesn't that imply that I want to watch them in order, not in reverse order?
The unique shape of the box is controversial, but it is very small and you should be able to tuck it away somewhere. The remote uses RF, instead of IR, to communicate with the box. Therefore, unlike most (if not all) of your other components, you don't need a line of sight. I actually decided to put the BoxeeBox behind my TV; I can't even see it, but the controller works perfectly fine! The only thing better would be to have Boxee software integrated directly into my TV.
The box is very capable. Until new video formats arrive on scene, I don't see an immediate need for Boxee or D-Link to refresh the hardware. I just hope they continue to improve the software and make the updates available to the Boxee Box.
The hardware is great. The box is small and silent (from across the room at least), the RF remote is fantastic, and the hardware overall is a good value over buying an ATOM/ION nettop and IR remote, and installing Boxee (beta) yourself.
Honestly, Boxee got off on the wrong foot with me for introducing so many changes to its UI at the same time it launched this product. Boxee 1.0 looks great--better than ever, really--but it is so simplified that it now takes extra button presses to get to my own content, and I think that was a bad move. I like the product, though, and will get used to the new interface soon enough.
I still think this is a geeky product that is trying to be usable for non-geeks, and just hasn't gotten all the way there yet. I'm a little disappointed in that, and hope that the software will be updated eventually to make it easier and faster to access both local and online content.
It is difficult for me to rate this product 3 stars, but I think that it just isn't quite up to snuff yet to earn 4 or 5. Some software updates and agreements with content providers could improve the user experience greatly (fix that full screen problem or provide a shortcut, please!). I am eagerly anticipating the Netflix app, and plan to award an additional star once it arrives.
Boxee updated the firmware on Thanksgiving to improve playback issues and stability. This resolved an issue I ran into infrequently (after I wrote my review), in which some local MP4/H.264 files would start playback with sound but no video.
This is an important update to the user interface!
Boxee updated the firmware to allow users to put local content up front in the "Shows" and "Movies" sections (the top-level, giant icons on the home screen), or to allow online content to take precedence. This is accomplished in the least geeky way possible: After updating the firmware, you are simply sked whether you use the box mostly for local or online content. If you pick "local," the main "Shows" and "Movies" sections default to local content, and online content is buried one level deeper in the menus. You can toggle this preference, and refine it independently for Shows, Movies, and Apps, in Settings > General > Menu. Bravo to Boxee for listening to their users and pushing out this change.
The update also added an hourly scan option for your local content folders, and an icon in the "Local Shows" and "Local Movies" screens that allows you to kick off a rescan immediately. Hourly scanning is a huge upgrade from the daily scanning option, and the new location of the rescan command is a lot easier to get to than it used to be (in Settings > File Sources > [Share Name]).
Boxee also added sorting (A-Z, and Newest First) for Shows and Movies, though, sadly, not in the Watch Later queue. There are also new A-Z lists in the Local Shows and Local Movies sections, to help you browse faster.
There still aren't Netflix or Hulu Plus apps, unfortunately. I think the Boxee Box's UI and playback are shaping up incredibly nicely, though. Now they just need to match their competitors' online content choices.
Boxee upgraded the firmware to include Vudu support, a new sort option to ignore (if you want to) "A" and "The" when performing a title sort, and various minor fixes. The browser is now much more readable on the TV, and many more online videos open in full-screen. I also discovered a two-click method to put online videos into full-screen if they don't open that way: [menu] > [middle button] (select the double-arrows icon). Vudu's 1080p online movie rental app offers compelling content and great video quality. The Boxee Box still, desperately, needs Netflix and Hulu Plus to catch up with and overtake the competition. Nonetheless, I'm now convinced that this is the best video streamer for local content, and a quality competitor to Google TV and Roku for online content. Netflix should arrive soon; I will award another star then, because then it would be on par with competitors' feature sets.
After a long wait, and behind schedule (unfortunately), the Netflix app finally arrived on the Boxee Box with this firmware upgrade. The Netflix interface is quick, and the hi-def streaming looks fantastic. Hopefully Hulu Plus will arrive soon.