You’re reading all articles tagged 'boxee'

ATV Flash and Boxee 1.1

22 May 2011

Two media-centre related things I’ve done recently: Jailbreak my Apple TV to install ATV Flash Black, and update my Boxee Box to v1.1. Heres a quick report of how it went:

First the ATV: When the beta of ATV Flash Black was announced last December, I looked into and disregarded, the jailbreak process. Too much hassle if you had updated your ATV from the factory supplied version. Now, the process is straightforward with Firecore’s Season Pass app and a micro-usb cable. Likewise, installing ATV Black was easy when following the instructions, and I was able to add extras onto my Apple TV.

The result, I have to say, was promising, but not wildly exciting. I had hoped that Coachsurfer (the Browser) would allow me to use BBC iPlayer, but sadly, videos wouldn’t play. Vimeo did work well however! The Plex client and Media Player work OK, but they are in Alpha, with playback issues ranged from taking an age to buffer, quitting mid-play and stuttering on high res files. What I really liked though was the plugin which was a joy for playing my ‘recommend artists’.

Overall, worth a look, but I’m undecided whether it’ll be worth keeping up with the updates.

On the flip side though, installing the 1.1 update on the Boxee Box has invigorated it. The UI has seen some refinement, and it’s all the better for it. Gone is the murky background, replaced with a rich, dark starry sky reminiscent of the v0.9 backdrop. Simple thing, but it makes such a difference. The typeface is improved (if a little tightly spaced) and the section icons are simple, but no longer over-simplified. This is just the tip of a raft of the many improvements and fixes that make the Boxee Box feel like its fulfilling it’s original promise. Along with the impending announcement of UK content providers, things are looking up! Hurrah!

(Music is still shunted off into a ‘files’ menu sadly…)

Boxee Box and local content

15 Dec 2010

Boxee have released a Box update for the v1 firmware, fixing one of the big issues I and many others had – an option prioritise local files over online content.

If it’s your first time starting the Box, you’ll now get this question on the way in:

If it’s not, you can make the switch in Settings.

Now when you go to Movies or Shows it displays your files by default. It now calls them ‘Local Movies’ which is an improvement over ‘Movies Files’, but I’d still prefer simply ‘Movies’.

This update also adds nice features such as an alphabetical scrollbar, more sorting options and the option to set hourly scans of your media sources is back. So I can tick those of the ‘missing from the Boxee Beta’ list:

It sounds as if the last two are coming in the next update (out before the end of the year), which just leaves the question of the interface, and whether there will be any improvements there?

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.

Boxee Box Review

21 Nov 2010

The Short Review

The Boxee Box is a well made, beautiful piece of hardware that plays even large mkv files without complaining. However, it has a mass of regressions from the beta version: missing functionality, downgraded UI aesthetics & usability and online content is given more importance than your own files. All issues I have with Boxee Box are potentially solvable via firmware updates though!

The Long Review

After waiting 11 months for it be released, it was a shock when I discovered that the final Boxee Box UI had undergone so many radical changes. I cancelled my order, preferring to try the desktop software first to be sure that it still suited me as much as the beta. However, I saw some more reviews, spoke to the Boxee CEO Avner Ronen and saw his responses to the issues and felt confident again. So, the order was back on!

There are many excellent reviews out there, and I will try not to cover the same ground as those, so make sure you also read:

Next, let me state the conditions and criteria of this review. My Boxee Box setup is:

Bear in mind that this review is UK based. There are many online content providers that aren’t available here, such as Netflix, Vudu, Hulu and Pandora. So if you’re reading this and thinking “Why not buy a Roku?” remember that even if we could get the box in the UK, we still couldn’t get the services! We do have LoveFilm, Blinkbox and Spotify, but these aren’t yet supported in Boxee.

I’m also approaching the Boxee Box from this standpoint: I have a PS3 that can play CDs/DVDs/Blurays and all the files on my NAS via DLNA, access BBC iPLayer as well as films from LoveFilm and Mubi. I’m quite happy with it. You can pick up a PS3 slim for only £30 more than the Boxee Box in the UK, so it’s got to provide a much better media hub experience to be worth it. It’s off to a tough start already when I’m not bothered about the social ‘sharing’ side of Boxee, or for it’s multitude of online video apps.

I’ve also been using the Boxee Beta (v0.9) a lot on my Mac and an Acer Netbook, so a lot of this review is comparison between this and the version you get on the box after the first update (v1.0).


I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the Box packaging. Expecting the bog-standard ‘egg-box’ style innards, I got nice smooth black cardboard neatly nestling the hardware. See more of the packaging on my Unboxing photo Flickr Set. Off to a good start!


The Boxee Box is a thing of beauty. It’s small, solid and dares to be different. Not everyone will be a fan of the sinking cube look, but I definitely am. It’s such a refreshing piece of industrial design.

(Box contents with miniature teapot for scale)

There is an external power brick, but not too big a one as it goes. A surprise inclusion was a HDMI cable – which I’ve not heard of manufacturers doing before. Hopefully it would prevent people being taken in by the ‘gold connector for best signal’ scam that some electrical shops operate (it’s a digital cable, it either works or it doesn’t!).

The Boxee remote has had a lot of attention: it’s RF (no line of sight needed), and includes a full qwerty keyboard on the back. Even my 7 year old son was impressed by that! It’s a good idea, but the keys do need quite a firm press to register, presumably to prevent accidental keypress when using the other side. They’re also labelled with grey text and not backlit, which makes it hard to see at night. For the amount you need to use it, it’s definitely better to have it, than to not. As the iPhone remote app works with the box too, I’m more likely to use that for text input. Apparently a companion app for the iPad is being produced too, presumably more than just a larger version of the iPhone app? It will be interesting to see what they come up with there.

Turning it on via the power button on the top, there is a slight fan noise, but it’s less than my PS3 Slim. I wouldn’t say whisper quiet, but not loud enough to be a concern. The Boxee logo glows when it’s on, but dims when you’re playing a video – such a nice touch.

What I couldn’t work out though, was how to wake the Box from sleep. The remote didn’t seem to have any effect, and the pressing the power button just turned it off.


Here we go then! The Boxee Box ships with version 0.9, the one you can currently use on your computer, but when you start it up, you’re upgraded to 1.0, which in so many areas is radically different.

Aesthetically I still don’t like the new UI. It does look better in real life than on the screenshots, but not enough to stop me missing the previous version. The Boxee-Identity green highlight/selected state has been replaced by a colder cyan colour. The bold font has been replaced by the ‘kinda-funny-looking’ one used in the alpha and looks unrefined in comparison. The background image is now a muddy blur that lacks the warmth and emotion of the sunset image in the beta. Slightly transparent overlays are now fully opaque. Perhaps the simpler downgraded graphics are due to hardware limitations?

The simplified homepage is an improvement on the busy-ness of the beta, but now half the screen is taken up by ‘featured’ content I can’t change and the other by over-simplified icons that lack the quality of their 0.9 predecessors. In 0.9 I used to have roughly two thirds of the screen dedicated to my content (friends feed and queue) they’ve been replaced by half a screen of pushed content without any say in the matter.

It doesn’t just look different though, a lot of the functionality is either changed or missing:

The addition of search is helpful though, and in general, the interface feels nippy – it’s only really let down by slow loading of thumbnails.

One of the advantages of Boxee over my PS3 is that it will scan my media sources and fetch metadata & cover art from, making browsing your library more appealing than simple filenames. In general this relies on you naming your files in a particular way, which can be a bit of a faff at times, but worth it when it gets it right first time.

The problem is that it doesn’t always work, despite being named clearly. For instance, Boxee has a bug which means if you have episodes of classic series Doctor Who, as well as new, Boxee will only show the new. The missing episodes don’t show up in ‘Unidentified files’ either. You can of course still play any of your files by going through Files > Source and finding the file, but this is no improvement on using the PS3. This is a bit of edge case, but would’ve been solved by allowing users to grab data from tvdb (as Plex does) instead of imdb.

Also, part of the metadata that Boxee grabs is a star-rating. While this makes sense for online content I get a bit uppity to see someone else’s opinion on my local files. Who cares what they think? Minor thing though.

When it comes to playing video I really can’t complain however! It could play everything I threw at it flawlessly. The biggest file I could test with was a 22gb .mkv version of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which it did without any complaints! It also successfully played DVD .img files, and I was able to navigate the DVD menus just fine. After using an Apple TV and PS3 this is just wonderful.

I’ve seen reports of users having problems with some playback and samba shares, but I’ve yet to find that.

Whose Box is it anyway?

The biggest problem of all however is the way local media is pushed to the back. The Boxee Box feels driven by online content providers – their content is more important than yours, and you can’t change that. Even though my content is high quality and ad-free.

For example, in ‘Movies’, Boxee will only show your files after all the online content. You can filter these out but it requires quite a few clicks each time. You can also access them via ‘Files > Movies’ but I don’t want to see my movies in the clunkily named ‘Movies Files’, I want to see them in just ‘Movies’. Even ‘My Movies’ would’ve been preferable.

This is a moot point though, as Avner has already stated that Boxee understand this problem and are addressing the issues of local content :

“Planned solution: We are going to let users tell Boxee whether they are going to use it mostly for local or Internet playback. In case you select “Local” clicking on Movies or Shows will take you to the movie or show files rather than to the most popular online titles.”

I can’t wait for that update as it’s the biggest issue for me.


Boxee provides easy access to a lot of online content via ‘Apps’, which install when you first click them, but some required a second click to launch after installation. To be honest, the main one I care about is BBC iPlayer. Sadly, when selecting a show, Boxee goes into a kind of browser view, rather than going directly to full screen like it’s 0.9 counterpart. I tried manoeuvring the cursor onto the ‘full screen’ button but couldn’t manage it. As it stands I wouldn’t use the Boxee Box for iPlayer, I’d use the PS3 instead.

4oD videos play well, although like other YouTube videos, they play with the video control bar visible at the bottom. Again, something that you didn’t have to put up with in 0.9. This seems to be a general problem with online video – where 0.9 was clever and gave you the video full screen, it now often shows it in this browser view.

There’s an awful lot of stuff on Boxee I don’t give two hoots about, which was fine in 0.9, but this version puts that stuff front and centre. I’d love a way to uninstall apps, or at least reduce their visibility.

Family Friendly?

I also wanted this to be something the family could use when we sit down to watch movie together, but the local content issue makes it less favourable. Beyond ‘hiding adult content’ (i.e not allowing porn) there’s nothing more you can do to prevent them from being able to watch content too old for them. One way around this would be to create a different user account for family – a hassle and would only solve issues with local files. Again, control over apps would help here.

Boxee has also some funny ideas about which of my movies are in the ‘family’ genre. They’re not quite ready to see Son of Rambow just yet.




Advantages over the Boxee Beta? There’s only really one: better playback support (some mkv’s I had issues with play fine on the Box). In every other respect the beta did everything right, and it’s very tempting to find a way to keep 0.9 on the box. Whether it was technically possible to do everything the desktop version did on the Box, I don’t know.

Advantages for me over a PS3? A prettier media library, smoother playback and support for more codecs, most critically disc images and mkv’s. On the other hand, the PS3 also offers disc playback, as well as only showing the content/apps that I choose to. Not to mention that the PS3 supports BBC iPlayer better, and has access to LoveFilm too.

Now, the Cons list may be bigger than Pros, but all the issues with the Boxee Box are potentially solvable with software updates, and with the exception of the aesthetics, we know are in the process of being fixed. I would hope that Boxee consider bringing back the emotion and refinement from the beta interface too, or add customisation/theme preferences, but there’s no word on that yet.

For my needs, Boxee isn’t completely replacing the PS3 yet, but I do really, really want it to. I have high hopes that the next few updates will solve the majority of these niggling issues and allow that to happen. Onwards and upwards!

Boxee 1.0 Interface

12 Nov 2010

The Boxee Box launch party happened in NYC last night, and with it, was the first look at the Boxee 1.0 software.

When Boxee first appeared in alpha, this is what it looked like:

It was OK, but I wasn’t a big fan of its aesthetics. However, early this year they unveiled the Boxee Beta interface, with IA work by Whitney Hess. I was won over.

It had warmth, atmosphere and character. The main navigation icons were really well done, and gone was the quirky typeface that didn’t have big screen impact. So this was pretty much what I was expecting to see in the final Box, especially as it’s the one used in all the demos and marketing material. Turns out what we’re actually getting is this:

It’s maybe too early to tell, especially from rather compressed screenshots, but after the Beta UI, it feels like such a big back-step. The font used in the alpha has returned, the warmth and personality has gone, and the icons have been reduced to over-simplified versions of their former crisp selves. Compare the icons for Movies, TV Shows and Files in particular:

Menus have been over-simplfied too, with Music and Photos (sections I use quite a bit) being relegated to a subview of files.

It feels colder and duller. I’m a little peeved that I’m not getting the Boxee that I thought I was when I pre-ordered. I’ll have to wait and see when the actual box arrives next week, but I’m more anxious than excited right now. Hopefully, there are some customisation options in the settings, but it does go against one of the reasons I fell for it in the first place. We’ll see…

Anyway, to finish on a lighter note, top marks to Boxee for using the iconic image of Michael Fish on their latest post!

Update I’ve since discovered how the Boxee 1.0 focuses more on online content than local files. The more I see of the new interface the crosser I get that Boxee threw such a curveball for the final release. I’ve decided to cancel my Boxee Box order. Until I can try Boxee 1.0 on my Mac, and be sure of what I’m getting, it’s not a purchase.

Boxee Box UK Pre-orders

05 Nov 2010

We’re getting very close to the release of the Boxee Box, so Boxee have a published a list of retailers who are stocking it at launch. UK folks be aware, that the release date is now November 15th (not 10th). What’s more, I’ve been told that D-Link are only shipping 250 units to the UK for that date, with more coming later on.

I’m not sure whether that’s a normal amount for a device like this, but it sounds very small. So if you want to get one, get your order in early!

The Boxee Box wins

23 Oct 2010

I’ve been banging on about them for ages, but I’d finally whittled down my choices of “what Media Center to adopt next” to just 2 choices: the New Apple TV or the Boxee Box.

Why not a HTPC? I’ve tried that route before, and while I could run Boxee/Plex/whatever from a PC such as an Acer Revo, I want to use something that was designed to be controlled by a remote, and run just the media center app. No OS getting in the way, or needing a mouse and keyboard to keep it running.

Both ATV2 and Boxee Box appealed to me. ATV is small, relatively inexpensive and slots in easily to my current Mac ecosystem. I’ve been hoping to see ATV apps, either official or jailbroken, which would really make it useful in a Netflix-starved country like the UK. I can’t make a purchase based on what might happen though (might never happen?).

After a lot of thinking, the decision was clear. It had to be the Boxee Box for me. Here’s why:

So, I’m looking forward to getting mine as soon after the 10th November as the postal service allows, and will post a review here once I’ve had a good play!

Apple TV 2, double take

22 Sep 2010

After the announcement of the new Apple TV my disappointment was perhaps inevitable. I try not to let the rumours build up my expectations of a unannounced product, but in the case of the AppleTV I couldn’t help it.

2 weeks later, and I’m coming around to the idea. I’ve calmed down about the whole rental thing, and realised that I’ve missed the ramifications of Airplay. Thinking of Apple TV 2 as more of an airport express that does video and photos, and it suddenly starts to feel right. The ability to stream from Macs and iOS devices is very appealing, and could well be the winning aspect. I can see how much better this is than syncing in the long-run, I just wish it could pick up content from a NAS drive rather than having to have a Mac running all the time.

It’ll be really interesting to see the tear-downs when the box starts shipping. How much local storage is there? Enough to run apps, or hack it? Even Steve Jobs hasn’t ruled that out

He tells Bloomberg Businessweek that when the time is right, Apple could open an App Store for the TV that could do for television sets what all those apps have done for the iPhone.

Who knows how far off that is though?

In the meantime, I’m eyeing up and deliberating over both an Apple TV2 and a Boxee Box (finally available to pre-order in the UK from Amazon !), but only one can be purchased of course.

Add to Queue in Boxee

15 Jan 2010

One of my favourite features in the new Boxee Beta is a bookmarklet to add internet videos to a queue to watch in Boxee later. Once you’re logged into, the bookmarklet is found bottom right. Clicking it on a page with supported video type sends it to Boxee with a confirmation message:

Once the bookmarklet is clicked a confirmation message appears

(The video in the screenshot was live visuals for Overture by Brian McBride, he of Stars of the Lid fame)

Boxee homepage with queue

This is even more useful to me than all the various video apps that come with Boxee, is an example of what sets Boxee apart from just using XBMC. However, if you’re using ClicktoFlash, with Youtube set to use H.264 video where possible, it will interfere with the magic, and Boxee can’t find the video. You just need to make sure it’s unchecked if you want to use the bookmarklet:

ClickToFlash Settings

Boxee Box

13 Dec 2009

Front View

I’m more than just a few days late with this one, but I couldn’t let this pass without a mention! On Monday, Boxee unveiled their Boxee Box, a collaboration with D-Link to provide their own hardware solution. My initial reaction was that it looked like an award, and something that wouldn’t fit snugly into existing setups:

Back view

However, once I saw just how small it is…

Size of a Coke Can

…I changed my mind somewhat. In fact, the shape has very quickly grown on me, and in short, I really want one, despite already running Boxee via an Apple TV. (the restrictive supported formats, and size of, the PS3 are starting to get to me).

It’ll be interesting to see if it get’s a UK release and what the cost will be. I seem to recall the US price being $200, which should translate into roughly £120. That would be a price point that would beat the recently released WD TV Live into a cocked hat. A substantially better interface experience, and built in Wifi and SD card slot to boot.

I’m also rather interested in another new small solution that I recently discovered. Namely, the Acer Aspire Revo – a little nettop wonder that looks ideal as a Boxee Box:


If you go for the Linux version of these, they can be had for around £170, a complete bargain. It doesn’t have the industrial design finesse of a Jonathan Ive designed product, but I actually rather like it for that.

It’s funny, 3 years ago, I wouldn’t have considered a non-Apple solution for watching media on TV, but that’s changed a lot these days.

Boxee and Plex

10 Feb 2009

My journey to find the ideal Media Centre has brought me via Plex and Boxee. Both are media center applications based on the popular open source XBox Media Center (XBMC), with Boxee focussing on the social network slant, and Plex solely on OS X integration.

Plex has a very slick interface, and everytime I mention Boxee, there is the inevitable “Why not Plex?’ cry from other Mac users. At the moment, the answer is that Plex doesn’t yet offer me much over just using Front Row. The slick interface has more character than Front Row though, particularly in it’s use of online databases to provide metadata and large format photographs:

It doesn’t always get the show/movie right however. The Secret Show recordings were believed to be ‘Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show’, and this couldn’t be manually removed.

The main appeal of Plex is that it’s built for OS X only, so you’re getting the best integration – no pandering to cross platform needs. In particular iTunes library scanning works really well, and plays iTunes store DRM’s material, an area where Boxee failed (see below).

What I miss from Plex are services like BBC iPlayer and EyeTV integration, which I believe are planned. That’s where Boxee comes in.

Boxee, on the face of it, doesn’t have quite as much UI sexiness as Plex, but I think it’s more thoughtfully laid out. For example, when you log in, the home screen shows you not only what you and your friends have been watching/listening to, but what you’ve recently added. Here is your new content – go straight to it.

The social network side is intriguing, but the integration of internet services (too numerous to mention) is it’s forté. In particular, the one that interests me the most, is that the latest release supports BBC iPlayer, and does it rather well, using the Beeb’s Big Screen Interface :

There are only two downsides I’ve experienced so far: Firstly, it doesn’t show all of my Music (around 800 non-DRM albums are just missing), despite leaving it overnight to process the collection. After digging around on forums, this seemed to be caused by scraping for information, and that a different source was intended for future releases. That doesn’t explain why random songs are missing from albums though. Until then, I have to browse the folder structure to find what I want to play.

The biggie is stability. In the middle of watching a movie with the family it crashed. I installed the EyeTV plugin from XBMC and it crashed. I asked it to look for a SMB share and it crashed. When it crashes on the Mac Mini the only solution is turn it off and restart it. It feels churlish mentioning this when Boxee is in Alpha, and if you follow Team Boxee on their blog and twitter, you’ll know it’s progressing at a good pace. It just means it’s not that usable for me at the moment.

While playing with Boxee, I found a few useful tricks and add-ons, such as:

Ultimately, Boxee is geared up for the US market – Hulu, ABC, Netflix and such, some of which can be accessed in the UK via VPN trickery. You would then have to disable that in order to watch BBC iPlayer, which I’m more likely to watch. Not a big deal on your laptop, but when you’re trying to control a Mac Mini with a little remote, it’s going to require clever scripts and patience.

Despite stability and iTunes library niggles, I prefer Boxee over Plex. In fact, Boxee instills feelings of love and devotion in me for it’s online services, recommendations and layout. However, I’ve come to realise that the problem for me isn’t ‘Boxee or Plex’, it’s that controlling a Mac Mini remotely can be a pain in the arse. I haven’t tried Boxee on AppleTV though, which may well be the answer, but the hacky nature of it put me off.

Neither Boxee or Plex have ended up being my ideal solution, which is in fact a Playstation 3 with PlayTV. That’s for another post!

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