July 13, 2010

Boxee Beta – A New Face to Home Theater

For those of you who keep up with the home theater world “Boxee” is most likely a concept that you have heard about before.  Boxee is a formal media center application that was built based on the xbmc open-source project.  Boxee is a software front end that displays media from your computer and other network connected devices.  Boxee also has the ability to connect to various internet sources, and stream media directly from the net.

Around 6 months ago Boxee finally moved into the Beta phase and has a download that is available for major Operating Systems (Windows, Linux and Apple).  Create a new account on boxee.tv and reap the many features that Boxee has to offer.

User Interface:  8 out of 10

The user interface on Boxee beta is unbeatable.  It is clear and concise without too much eye candy.  The top of the UI focuses on media and media libraries, where the bottom focuses on social networks and feeds.  The UI is extremely easy to navigate and even easier to get around using any MCE remote.  The reason I gave Boxee’s UI an eight out of ten was due to the inability to customize most of the skin and color scheme.  I definitely love the way it looks as it is, but others might enjoy a different feel.

Media Setup:  6 out of 10

Pointing Boxee to your stored media is a fairly simple task in itself.  The problem lies in Boxee’s ability to match your media to its database.  Boxee uses IMDB and other resources to match your media with the covers, correct titles, and summary.  If your media is named in the proper naming convention, Boxee has little to no problems identifying all your media and categorizing it correctly.  Personally I am a stickler for naming conventions and can’t stand a messy library so Boxee’s media setup was a breeze.

More Info:  The proper naming convention for Boxee is:

TV:  ShowTitle.S##E##.extension – where ## is season number and episode number

Movies:   MovieTitle_(year).extension

Movies and TV:                  10 out of 10

Boxee has a wonderful UI in the way of tv and movies go.  It lists all the episodes from each of your tv shows and marks the ones that you have watched and leaves the ones yet to be watched highlighted.  This is a very handy feature for people like me who get attached to too many shows at the same time and forget what episode they are currently on.  Subtitles are but a click away and every aspect of the payback can be controlled with a remote or mouse.  I couldn’t find a flaw in the way their tv and movie section runs, I love it.

Music:  10 out of 10

Boxee music setup was simple and it works flawlessly.  It groups your music collection by artist and album.  It also has filters that allow you to sort by year, genre, recently added, or alphabetically.  I personally leave Boxee’s music section running on my home theater pc constantly.

Boxee Apps:  8 out of 10

To be perfectly honest I haven’t spent too much time working with the applications that can be added to Boxee.  I have Pandora, World Cup: South Africa, and Netflix.  Each of those apps work perfectly and as you would expect.  There are many apps that can be found in the Boxee repository such as Digg, Clicker, YouTube, CNN and so much more.  I gave the apps an eight out of ten due to the time it takes to load the repository and the wasted time to find the app you are looking for.

Summary and Final Score:  8.4 out of 10

Overall I have to say that Boxee Beta is a big leap forward from the previous alpha version. The user interface is well thought out, and navigating throughout the ecosystem was a breeze. There is still some work that can be done in the App Library.  I would also like to see some more views added to the Media Library and more thought but into the movie details page. For someone who likes to be able to customize and have more control over the experience Boxee just might not quite do it.  However for the person who just wants something simple that is easy to navigate and not have to worry about some of the complexities involved with other media center applications, Boxee might just be the answer.  Since Boxee cleaned up its stability issues combined with the Boxee Box, could make for an excellent product that could finally bring the media center concept into the mainstream, something AppleTV failed to do.

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