My wife enjoys watching TV a lot more than I do. I prefer interactive or creative pursuits like programming, photography, or video games. If, tomorrow, all the TV studios said we could no longer use the Internet to freely watch their programs (with ads, of course), I wouldn’t buy cable. Once I’d broken that shackle, it was gone forever. Even when I had Comcast and my MythTV, the hard drive was filling up with the shows I liked (Myth Busters, Dirty Jobs, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report) faster than I could watch them. But Danielle enjoys TV and I enjoy making my wife happy. So, when I read about the Boxee Box, I thought it might be something she’d enjoy.
Danielle has learned a lot about technology in the 10 years that we’ve known each other, but it doesn’t make her enjoy complexity anymore than she did before. She’s perfectly capable of learning to hook up the laptop to the TV and navigating to the websites that have the programs she wants to watch. But she doesn’t want to. After all, Netflix makes watching older shows so easy, so why can’t there be something like that for current shows?
Well, there is with Boxee. The Boxee Box is pretty expensive for something she might not like, so I figured I’d load it onto my laptop to see how she’d like using it. My laptop was crappily configured when we bought it a few years ago, so it’s positively sluggish by today’s standards. So there is a little bit of a lag to load Boxee and to navigate. I was worried about Boxee since commenters on Lifehacker have recently switched from fawning over it to crapping all over it. But I have to say that I was very impressed with what they’ve come up with. The Boxee team (building on XBMC’s work) has created an excellent 10 foot interface (one that can be used from across the room). It has the look/feel of a DVR. In essence, it *is* a DVR for the Internet.
The only trouble I had in using the interface yesterday is in intuitively figuring out how the content is organized. Why were “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Simpsons” near the top? How far would I have to navigate to find 30 Rock? I ended up just typing it into the search bar. It was very slow to scroll and load up shows on their long list, but I am about 90% sure that’s my slow computer. (If the Boxee Box ran like that I’d return it in a heartbeat) Once I got to the show I saw a nice interface with a selectable list of all the episodes available. I know that 99.9% of all the shows on the web only allow access to the current season, but I was curious how I’d switch seasons if it were available.
When I selected the episode we were to watch I was presented with options on where to get the show from. There were 3 choices for 30 Rock: NBC, Hulu, and some other site. Playback went well. It slowed for a little bit near the middle, but I’m not sure if that was from the overhead of running Boxee AND decoding video or if it was the site I selected. I liked that the Boxee interface told me how many ads to expect “Ad X of Y”. I wonder if that came from the source I selected or was embedded into the interface. Afterward Danielle watched South Park on there.
Overall I was quite impressed with the interface. I’d probably install it on my guest computer which is definitely beefy enough to handle Boxee. It would allow my guests to watch TV and movies when they come over – something my father-in-law loves to do.
Really, the question is – is Boxee going to survive vs Roku and GoogleTV? The problem with all these legit content players is that they are at the mercy of content providers. If any of these three makes a sweetheart deal with, say, Warner Bros, it could spell the death of the other two. Or we could end up in a horrible balkanized situation where you need to have all three to watch something. Google for Warner Bros, Roku for MGM, and Boxee for Disney. That would be horrible. My brother’s been keeping me updated on some animosity GoogleTV’s been getting from content producers. So it seems risky to sink hundreds of dollars into something that may not be around. At least one advantage that Boxee and GoogleTV have is that Roku appears to not have quite as comprehensive a look into the net. They seem to prefer an app-like channel interface.
For now I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude toward it all. Danielle’s interest seemed piqued by how many shows were available on Boxee – stuff she didn’t even know she could watch online because it was scattered all over the net. At the same time, it’s not as though her evenings are brimming with unused time. And she seems to have enough to watch between Netflix’s discs and Instant Streaming to keep her entertained. So we’ll see, but I think Boxee is definitely very well designed.