The Boxee Box media streamer has been a long time in the pipeline. It’s hard to believe that we first broke the news of potential own brand Boxee hardware almost two years ago, and that it’s taken so long to come to market, especially since it looked so close to completion way back at CES in January. Has it been worth the wait? We got a chance to check out a near final UK version of the Boxee Box today, so read on for our impressions in our Boxee Box review: First look.
It’s important to stress that the Boxee Box we were demoed today isn’t quite final – the web browser isn’t finished, for instance – so we’re not giving it a score just yet but from what we saw, it’s very promising. If you need a recap, the Boxee Box is a media streamer, not dissimilar to Apple TV, made by the media centre software start up Boxee, and storage and PC connectivity giant D-Link. Boxee’s aim is simply to make as much media as possible readily and easily accessible, something it’s done well on Mac, PC and hacked older Apple TVs. But obviously, creating your own hardware is quite a challenge – but with D-Link’s help, it seems to be shaping up nicely.
On the hardware front, ports haven’t changed on the Boxee Box since we saw it 10 months ago. You’re looking at HDMI, an SD card slot, optical audio and ethernet, plus two USB ports for memory sticks and hard drives. The materials are now slightly more matte and it still looks like a sunken cube, but we think it’s quite striking. It is worth noting however, that’s it’s a good three or four times bigger than the new Apple TV.
The big change is internal: it’s now using an Intel Atom chip rather than Nvidia’s Tegra 2. You shouldn’t notice any difference though: all you need to know is that it plays 1080p video, without a hitch, and that includes content you’d typically find as Flash on the internet.
We saw HD trailers playing off network without a hitch (Format support is comprehensive, and yes, includes MKV), but we were more intrigued to see what online offerings there are right now. The Boxee UI is very similar to what you’ve seen in other iterations of Boxee (and incredibly snappy), but the Apps and App Library are already well stocked. The BBC iPlayer app worked fluidly, and we were watching Don Draper in crispy HD in seconds, and were treated to 4oD content working just as smoothly (D-Link says ITV Player support is coming soon, Corrie fans). YouTube is of course present, and will default to HD resolution where possible on launch, but the sheer variety (We even saw the Major League Baseball app installed) promises much more variety than the Apple TV – at least until it gets jailbroken.
The only app that’s missing is any form of movie rental. A D-Link representative told us that a Lovefilm “collaboration” is on the way, and that nothing is ruled out yet, but as it stands this is probably going to be our biggest issue with the Boxee Box come launch.
We also got a peek at the Boxee Box remote with a QWERTY keyboard on the back, which doesn’t appear to have changed much – so it’s still fantastic. You can still use the Boxee iPhone remote control app if you like however – it worked flawlessly when being bossed about by an iPhone 4.
From what we’ve seen so far the Boxee Box looks absolutely outstanding, and if it can come through with an HD movie rental service, you’re looking at a device with few visible drawbacks – from our short time with it today, at any rate. Stay tuned for the final verdict in our full Boxee Box review in a couple of weeks. It’ll ship from mid-November in the UK.