TODAY BOXEE SHIPPED ITS BOX to retailers in the UK and, during a 45 minute session at D-Link's public relations agency, The INQUIRER got a demonstration of the Internet TV device's features. This included its user interface, which was the focus of a major firmware upgrade that Boxee also rolled out today.
Read our first impressions below, but we'll be able to bring you a fuller in-depth review in the next week or so, as The INQUIRER will be the first UK website to get a review sample Box.
As well as the firmware update, the production Boxee Box looks slightly different from what was seen at CES last January and lacks the front-mounted USB port.
However HDMI, optical audio out, left and right analog audio, Ethernet, two USB ports and a power connector are still on the rear side. On another side there is the SD card slot that supports up to 32GB. The green Boxee logo that could be a monkey's face lights up when the power is on is also still there.
The remote control is radio frequency, not infra-red, so it doesn't have to be pointed at the box. It has two sides with a Qwerty keyboard plus cursor keys on one side and a basic menu navigation with two buttons, a menu button for going back, and another for playing and pausing content on the other side.
The Boxee Box has an Intel Atom CE4100 processor and its OS is Boxee's open source connected TV software, but as it's a streaming device it does not have any internal storage beyond the SD card. However, at this time The INQUIRER has not been told how much RAM the Boxee Box might have inside it.
The list of audio and video formats the Box supports is very long and it includes VC-1, Xvid, DivX, WMV9, all the MPEGs and H.264. "We haven't found a format it doesn't support," D-Link UK and Ireland marketing manager Andrew Mulholland told The INQUIRER.
Getting to grips with the Boxee Box, the remote control and UI were as easy to use as any subscription telly or Freeview set-top box. The UI, updated today with the firmware, has the screen split into two halves, upper and lower.
The lower half shows the latest apps that can be accessed while the upper half has the key features. These features are named: Friends, for social notworking; TV shows, for finding the shows available for free on the web; Movies, for accessing on-line rental services; Files, for users to access their own multimedia files; and Apps, for online music, video and other streaming services. There's also a Watch Later feature, which allows you to send web videos, including TV shows online, to Boxee from any Internet browser and select content within Boxee to view at another time.
Through the TV feature over 820 shows were available to watch. The TV programme streamed smoothly and there was only a small hiccup at the start where we were watching HD content. From what The INQUIRER saw, the free TV programmes were supported by adverts.
The Movie feature wasn't used, but while viewing HD 1080p trailers the picture quality was good and there was no buffering. Looking at the Apps section, the Boxee Box comes with a preloaded content apps. These include Youtube, MTV Music, myspaceTV, Comedy Central, Flickr, CNET, CBS, CNN, ABC, BBC. Netflix is also accessible but this needs a subscription.
With the Friends feature, providing Boxee with social notworking sites' login details means users will see their friends multimedia recommendations through the UI without having to go to the actual site.
Overall the amount of content looks huge and there are search engines for the different features and even an RSS feed function. The search engines look basic but worked well enough with a predictive text ability.
The INQUIRER was told that the more a user uses the Boxee Box the more they learn about their preferences. For example this means that apps popular with the user will appear at the top of the page, avoiding all the scrolling that could otherwise be necessary.
Because Boxee is open source the apps will grow in number as developers may provide their own through an app approval process. Boxee and D-Link have also just approved a developers guide.
D-Link told The INQUIRER that the streaming TV service needs a minimum broadband bandwidth of about 2Mb/sec to work. In the next week or so The INQUIRER will provide a more in-depth look at the Boxee Box after using it with a normal household's Internet connection. µ