One of the many interesting products officially unveiled at CES 2010, though hardly unexpected, was that of the Boxee Box. The Boxee Box is a media center device designed by D-Link, and runs Boxee’s media center software. Boxee’s media center software is impressive enough on its own, and uses Internet connections to do a number of very impressive things. Boxee’s Box offers consumers an all-in-one device that is impressive, but a few additional steps could make it even better. Before covering those improvements, it is worth looking at just what Boxee is, and how it works.
It’s All About the Software
Boxee uses a very slick UI to allow users to navigate libraries of photos, television shows, and movies, but these are not what makes Boxee so impressive. What makes Boxee so impressive is the ability to access online content via a broadband connection, and the fact that dozens of major industry studios and media conglomerates are participating: ABC, BBC, Blip.TV, CBS, Comedy Central, CNET, CNN, iPlayer, Joost, Last.fm, MTV Music, NPR, and many more are already streaming content over Boxee. For major studios, they are seeing that the future of broadcasting is the Internet, and are doing what they can to reach out.
Netflix support, a Bit Torrent client, and an integrated app-store are all part of the final Boxee concept. The app-store should allow studios to deploy their own mini-stores, which has staggering implications. If studios can reach consumers directly via broadband, what will the future of broadcasting be? Live events can even be streamed using Boxee, so there would seem to be no safe refuge for broadcast TV is this concept gains momentum.
A Tale of Libraries and Metadata Tags
Consumers who already have a media library, specifically of television shows and movies, but have not found the time to add metadata tags to all of their files may be impressed by Boxee’s ability to scrape IMDB and other sources to add information about television shows. Once again, broadband access is critical in this process, and there is simply no way that a comparable solution to metadata tagging massive libraries would be possible without broadband. Information regarding television shows and movies is quickly and effortlessly populated, along with images to be used in menus. The entire process is completely transparent, but very effective.
Unfortunately, the metadata tags used by Boxee are not written to the files themselves, but perhaps a future version will include such a feature. There is the argument that Boxee would not want to give users the opportunity to change devices and services once their metadata tags have been written, and that is certainly an understandable position to take.
Boxee Goes Social
Not only can Boxee stream media and collect metadata tags, it can also be used with Twiter, FriendFeed, and Tumblr. Social network integration within Boxee is quite good and is executed in a way that is far more than simply turning a television into a monitor. Instead, the way Boxee aloows activity feeds, as well as sharing of media in a way that is quite impressive. Imagine seeing a video online, then being able to send announcements to friends via the same interface that was used to watch the video, even if they are two completely different services. The possibilities are endless, but the integration is already tight and well-executed.
About the Box Itself
The Boxee Box looks like a black cube that is about to fall over due to one corner being cut away at an angle, but that is part of the design. Using an Nvidia Tegra T250 SoC (System-on-a-Chip) for its processing and media tasks, the device is capable of full 1080p with additional computational horsepower to spare. Ports on the device include the obligatory HDMI port, an array of audio ports that includes optical digital audio out, RCA, twin USB ports, an SD slot, and a gigabit RJ-45 for wired broadband/network access. A wireless 802.11n chip is included with the Boxee box, which just shows the Box’s emphasis on broadband and network connectivity.
The Next Step
While Boxee and the Boxee Box are certainly impressive as-is, the Boxee Box does beg for a few additional features that will hopefully be seen in future versions. The first of which is official IPTV support, perhaps via Microsoft’s Mediaroom technology. AT&T and Microsoft have already announced plans for Xbox 360 U-verse support later this year, and it would seem that the near-term future is going to be dominated by IPTV. Unless the Boxee app market takes off and consumers start cancelling their cable services by the thousands, which seems highly unlikely, a device that could make the transition easier would occupy a unique place in the market. Including IPTV-based DVR STB (Set Top Box) functionality using a common standard such as Mediaroom, Boxee could further cement the place of its device in many living rooms.
The Step After Next
The next step is already halfway done, but it would be gaming. The Boxee Box and Boxee are both amazing in their own right, but the App Store has a lot of potential. An all-in-one STB that features IPTV, streaming, social networking, metadata tagging, media store access, and full-on gaming support is bound to be a winner in any book. Boxee already has many of these features, and has done them very well, but gaming requires more serious hardware as well as standard support for USB controllers.
Boxee deserves a ton of credit for showing just how broadband is changing the way people watch and use their television, but they may have also opened up a Pandora’s Box of expectations. Boxee is amazing as-is, but with a little more work, it could be nothing short of industry-changing, and not just one industry either; consoles, broadcasting social networking, and many other industries could all be irrevocably altered in very fundamental ways if Boxee catches on.