The D-Link Boxee is a dedicated service for on-demand TV, but unlike Apple TV, it’s open source, pulling together content from a range of content providers.
Boxee is the name of the software and the company has collaborated with D-Link on the hardware, the result of which is the Boxee Box. Typically streamers are dull rectangular boxes designed to be hidden under your television set. However the Boxee Box is a far more interesting affair, it’s an angular mesh of green and black. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
Around the back are HDMI out, Optical Digital, Ethernet and 2x USB ports. On the side there’s an SD card slot, which functions as storage because there’s nothing built in.
Plug the Boxee Box in and connect it to your television via HDMI. In theory it should instantly find your WiFi network, however it couldn’t detect our WiFi network. Even a firmware update (which sorted out many of our very early gripes) couldn’t fix it. Looking online this seems to have been issues with some other testers.
Boxee Box: TV shows
Once connected you go through to user friendly main menu, split into four options: Shows, Movies, Apps and File. Thanks to a compact remote with basic controls, the Boxee is a cinch to use, and you get a full QWERTY keyboard on the back of remote which is far preferable to using conventional remote controls.
'Shows' has a list of thumbnail images of television content – over 40,000 episodes - with programs from a range of sources, including: 4OD, BBC and Channel 5. It’s when you start watching a program that things become a bit clunky, there are too many steps. Select a program like Peep Show, you then click through again and then have to select an episode, before going through to the source - in this case a browser version of You Tube - where you have to tick consent, before the program finally starts.
Demand Five is even worse, it’s not optimised, so you're navigating a browser window with tiny icons and even when you click full screen the browser doesn't fill the screen. BBC iPlayer is better, although screen quality isn't fantastic and certainly not as intuitive as the dedicated app on Sony Internet TV.
Boxee Box: Movies
Choose from 1226 movies, which considering Sony’s Qriocity service currently runs hundreds is pretty respectable. NFB, Channel 4 and indiemoviesonline.com are among the free ad-supported providers, and while you’re not going to get the latest blockbusters, there are some decent titles like Chopper or Auteur. Quality is OK, if slight soft, but there were no issues waiting for content to buffer like with Apple TV.
The majority of the movies are only available if you have MUBI account. At £9.95 a month Mubi is great for indie fans. One issue we have is that unless you specify the specific channel, you don’t know where the film comes from until you click through. A couple of times we clicked through eager to watch a film, only to discover we needed a Mubi account.
Boxee Box: Apps and streaming
Boxee currently offers 154 apps; the usual Flickr and You Tube are there, along with dedicated channels like Google Tech Talk, while Radio Time lets you listen to commercial and BBC radio stations.
There's a respectable browser, it’s not very quick and navigation is a bit cumbersome, but we loaded T3 up without an issue and Flash videos play back smoothly.
Boxee includes Facebook and Twitter integration, along with Google Buzz, Netflix, Tumblr, Flickr, MLB.TV and MUBI. This needs to be done offline, where you can search for friends. When friend upload a video, it’s updated to your news feed. Likewise, if a video takes your fancy, you can recommend it to fell Boxee users.
File support is excellent, including DivX, Xvid and WMV 9, and didn’t have any issues with playback. An Optical Audio Output means you can connect the Boxee Box to an amp to listen to 5.1 surround sound.
Boxee Box: Conclusion
We really love the idea of the Boxee Box, aggregating content from multiple sources and streaming it to your TV, mostly for free, is a great idea. Aside from a few WiFi issues, it’s simple to set up and use, but although the main menu is intuitive, doing certain things - like watching TV programs and films - takes too long and can (in the case of Demand Five) be frustrating. Although, other areas – like Social Networking integration and Apps work very well.
At £189 the box is expensive, especially when there’s no-onboard storage, and almost double the price of Apple TV. Although you can download the Boxee software for free and run it from your PC (such as a Mac Mini or Dell Inspiron), using an iPhone app to control it.
At the moment, while we applaud the idea of the Boxee Box, usabilitye issues means it doesn’t quite feel like the final article, which is why it gets 3 stars. But the beauty of a web-connected service like Boxee is that it can be continually updated via firmware updates. During our time we the Boxee a firmware updated hugely improved performance, and we’d been keen to try it out again in six months. Either way, this is the future of television and Boxee is leading the way.
D-Link Boxee Box price: £189-£199 online