Initial Thoughts on Boxee TV

I was so excited to read Boxee’s press release when it announced the new Boxee device. As soon as it was available for pre-order I jumped on it and was thrilled when it arrived today. After a few hours of use, I figured jotting down some of my thoughts would be a good idea. Bottom line: it has potential, but is very much a Beta.

First off, it might be a good idea to explain my use case. Several months ago I got rid of my cable subscription and bought a digital antenna. $50 at Radio Shack. Works like a charm for live TV. For supplemental content I have a Hulu Plus subscription. To watch Hulu on my TV, I have an Apple TV. The Apple TV basically went unused until they added Hulu Plus.

I tested Aereo for a while, but I couldn’t justify paying that much money to watch TV that I can get free and only on my iOS devices (they’ve since added browser support I think.)

That was a lot of explanation, but it’s important to realize that this Boxee isn’t my first foray into media devices and non-traditional media consumption. I’m also a Apple fanboy so keep that in mind.

Physical Appearance and Quality:

Strike one: It uses a wall wart for power. You know- that clunky chunky square thing you plug into the wall instead of a normal plug. Why? That just screams cheap. Apple TV kills Boxee on this one.

Strike two: The device feels cheap. I’ve never liked D-Link products because they feel junky. I had hoped this changed in the years since I last used their products, and it has, but not by much. The plastic just doesn’t feel like you bought something expensive. It’s not actually very expensive, but neither is the Apple TV and that feels like something of quality.

There’s not really a strike three. The remote feels cheap compared to my Samsung and Apple remotes, but I do like having multiple buttons versus the Apple TV. I respect the simplicity of Apple, but the UI is tedious when you only have two buttons. Thank you for not opting for this, Boxee.

Setup:

Plug in power, HDMI, antenna and you’re good to go. But I wasn’t. Boxee couldn’t connect to my wireless router. I have a 20-digit password with mixed case characters and numbers, so it was a huge pain trying to connect 5 times (it does not remember the password you tried and let you edit in case an uppercase I is really a lowercase L.) When I gave up and plugged in the ethernet cable, it still wouldn’t connect. Finally I rebooted,the ethernet worked, and a firmware update was downloaded and installed. That entire process took me half an hour. Apple TV: setup took 5 minutes. The next step involved logging into Boxee’s site and entering a unique device ID to get started. That process was smooth.

Antenna Reception:

Boxee comes with a small rubber ducky antenna. I’ve already been using that $50 powered antenna that I mentioned earlier, so I plugged that into the box. Boxee did a channel scan and came back with 4 available channels. My TV detected many more using that same antenna in the same location. I was getting impatient so I switched to Boxee’s antenna. It worked great and picked up twice the number of channels. Weird.

UI:

The interface is nice. It almost feels like I have cable again. There aren’t many apps yet and I’d love to see Hulu make an appearance, but it does what it needs to do.

The website is where you can configure DVR settings. It’s decent, but they’re working on this interface. Even as I set up shows to record, I swear the layout changed. Maybe they’re running A/B tests. I really hope they add the ability to browse by shows instead of searching for episodes individually. Go with a Hulu-style navigation style! But I see the potential for this.

iPhone App:

I downloaded an app that appears to be an official Boxee Remote app, but when I opened it, the app couldn’t detect my Boxee unit. It has terrible ratings in the iTunes Store, but I wouldn’t know because I couldn’t use it.

Conclusions:

I went into this experiment with possibly unrealistic expectations. I wanted a device that was like my Apple TV, but let me DVR and watch live TV with some enhanced functionality. Basically I wanted an Apple TV with a native Aereo app and tuner. Right now for me, if Apple released a new model that included a digital tuner, it would school Boxee immediately. But I’m not giving up on Boxee. Like I said, there’s potential for some pretty cool stuff. Once some shows are recorded and I can test that functionality, I might fall in love. I watch shows on CBS and always forget when they’re on. Now I can record them.

This may have been much cooler if I still had cable or if I didn’t already own an Apple TV. This sounded like a negative review, but it’s not. If I really didn’t like it, I wouldn’t waste time writing a review. I’d return the product and just tweet negative stuff. Instead, I’ll continue to test Boxee out and have faith that improvements will rollout rapidly.┬áRight now, we’ve just finished our first date and I will definitely accept a second.

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