I have a strong love/hate relationship with the Boxee Box. On one hand it is one of the best video appliances that integrates both online media with a great video streamer. Additionally it integrates well with social media such as Facebook and other online accounts, has Netflix support, and has a great interface.
When compared to a Home Theater Computer running XBMC or even an online-capable Blu-ray player, Boxee falls a little short in a few areas. The Boxee box has a few major problems for media enthusiasts. For one, it can be severely slow, and has been prone to more crashes than a HTPC (I have to reboot the unit once every few days). So I, like many other Boxee users, couldn’t wait to install the new 1.1 firmware that was released a few days ago.
Here is my take on what the new Boxee does right, what needs improvement, and WTF.
When I first installed the new 1.1 firmware, I was immediately impressed with how much faster navigation was. I connect to a NAS with over 8TB of movies and TV shows, and scrolling through them was very fast and thumbnails loaded very quickly. Populating the TV Shows list is still slow at 45 seconds, but is still faster than the 60 seconds that the previous version took.
So Boxee made everything faster… including the frequency with which it crashes. Under the 1.0 firmware I would have to reboot Boxee once every two or three days, as it becomes unresponsive to any input, usually while in power saving mode. My initial experience after upgrading to the 1.1 software was that this hard crash would happen every few hours, even while watching a movie.
After a little research I reluctantly did a factory restore on the box, which appeared to resolve the frequent crashing issue, but wiped out my library of meta-data, which took Boxee several days to build. I really wish Boxee had the ability to back-up your database, like XBMC does.
New Playback Interface
The most obvious new feature is the new video playback interface. The traditional playback line has been replaced with a “scrub” bar that allows you to fast forward and rewind your video easier. If you press and hold down forward, then the video skips progressively faster, and the timeline bar reflects your current position. It’s still not perfect, as if you just click forward once, then you usually just repeat the last 5 seconds you’ve just seen…. you have to click forward two or three times to actually skip ahead a few seconds, like when you want to skip a show intro.
Another obvious difference was the removal of volume control on the remote. I can understand why the Boxee team did this, as most external apps do not use volume control and they want the user experience to be consistent. Instead of removing volume control, I suggest that Boxee force the external apps to use volume control. You can still change the Boxee’s volume via iPhone or other smartphone application, though.
One of my initial wishes for the Boxee remote was to have indepentant buttons for volume, and now it is even more critical. Boxee’s remote vision was to make everything more simple, and now that volume control has been removed, users are now forced to use two remotes.
The new browser features
A ton of new features have been added to the Boxee browser. The browser has better HTML 5 support, and sites like YouTube do appear to load much quicker. There is also a new Favorites (with the ability to bookmark), History, and drop-down list support.
Dolby 5.1 Upmixing
Now, 2-channel PCM audio is upmixed to 5-channel Dolby Digital. Those with audio/video recievers will really appreciate this new feature.
Videos that cannot be identified (such as home videos and Rifftrax) can now have custom artwork and tags associated with them. You can now use NFO files to help tag your movies, use alternate artwork and information, and customize genres for better personal categorization. You can even customize how TV Show episodes are tagged and displayed. You can even filter content by source (USB, Network, SD, etc).
New keyboard commands
If you didn’t already know, you can connect a USB keyboard and/or mouse to your Boxee Box. There are a few new keyboard commands.
It would have been nice if more keyboard features were enabled, such as a key for changing subtitles.
More languages supported
Those users whose English is not so good can now set their Boxee to one of 16 new languages.
A lot of new features have been implemented. On the next page we look at where Boxee complely dropped the ball.