Boxee Box Follow-up 1

29 Nov 2010

After using the Boxee Box for a few days, I had the itch to restore it to the factory version of 0.9 and see how that performed.

The process was surprisingly easy, with the exception of issues connecting to my N wifi network. It didn’t like either a 2.5ghz connection, or a 5ghz, and would only connect to G. Once past that, I got to experience what the Boxee Box could’ve been. The interface looked fantastic, my local content was more important again, music and photos were back in the main menu and there were all the apps that were missing. Online videos played full screen, meaning the BBC iPlayer was usable again.

I’ve since learnt that the switch to using WebKit instead of Gecko caused much of this shift with 1.0. It was presumably a switch that Boxee felt they had to make for the best HTML5 support, just as Jolicloud did for it’s v1.0 software. It’s just a shame that it caused a regression in functionality in Boxee’s case.

I had wondered whether the hardware had caused Boxee to cut back on beta UI, removing transparency and the like, but it all ran fine. However, as nice an experience it was to use the beta version on the Box, it’s not a situation that can last. I found a few missing features with playback (such as no chapters menu) and would be using something that would never get updates. I ‘upgraded’ to the last release (check out the list of issues attended to already only 2 weeks after the box came out) and I’m back on the v1.0.

I stand by my earlier comments – the 0.9 UI was bright, warm and gorgeous. The 1.0 is muddy, basic and feels colder. I’ve found out that you can play online video full-screen – hit menu and press the full screen icon rather than moving the cursor around – but it still feels like unnecessary steps.

Boxee seems to be about ‘play anything you want’, and it does do that well. I was watching video from ITV player via the built in browser, as well as playing VC-1 mkv files that even VLC can’t play properly. That part is great, the rest isn’t.

We are now working on the next version of the firmware. More bug fixes prioritized based on your reporting and a first batch of usability/UI fixes (will share screenshots and issues being addressed later next week).

I can’t wait to see those screenshots! They’ve said they’ll add a preference to switch importance to local content, but will that mean Music and Photos return to the main menu? Will I be able to hide the apps and featured content I don’t want that just get in the way? Assuming that they won’t simply revert to the UI style of 0.9, will they improve the 1.0 UI at all?

The key to the Boxee Box working for me is going to be depend on what the forthcoming software updates deliver.

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