While the navigation is very funtional, it is not very user friendly at all, and is the only part that makes you feel like you’re using a computer rather than a video appliance. One of the biggest usability issues of a video device is the aforementioned Spousal Acceptance Factor (SAF). Although my wife is more technically-savvy than most, she had a hard time understanding how to use the appliance at first.
The remote control is also functional, but there are a lot of things that could use some improvement. There are hard physical buttons, so you can “feel” your way across the remote, but the options you will use most often (Go To, back, skip, and fast forward) are on completely different parts of the remote, which can be hard to find. The remote does not offer any illuminated options, which make it even more difficult to use in a dimly-lit room.
While playing a movie, there is no time indicator to show how far in you are. The only option is a somewhat hidden box accessed by the “Playback Search” box, which allows you to enter the Title number, Chapter number, or Time. Any type of video other than a DVD or Bluray image will skip using the Time indicator. You must press the “Playback Search” button, then press down two times, then right to highlight the time. and then press up and down to change the time increments and then press Enter. This is way too demanding when I just want to skip the intro credits. If I’ve already seen part of a movie, I don’t want to have to guess how many minutes I’ve already watched, or press the Skip button 20 times. I really wish there was a bar, thumbnails, or other navigation method that was a lot easier to use. A system primarially intended to watch AVI files such as this should have a much more user-friendly way to watch the movies.
There are also no video scaling options, other than zooming in. Once you have set the aspect of your display, you are at the mercy of the video file’s aspect ratio. The only way I could fill a 4:3 TV show to full screen was to use the internal scaling options of my TV, and your mileage will vary depending on your TV.
One feature we did like was that the Box Office automatically plays the next video file in the folder when finished, rather than going back to the navigation menu. This can be both a blessing and a curse, however. We like to have a queue of shows running when we fall to sleep, but they could still be playing when we wake up. You’ll have to rely on the “sleep timer” function on your TV if you want it to shut off.
Switching audio tracks is relatively easy. Just press the “audio” button on the remote and you’ll be presented with the language tracks. Keep pressing the button to toggle through the available audio options. There aren’t a lot of AVIs that have multiple audio tracks, but many MKV files usually have lots of them. It’s also great to encode a Rifftrax audio track with a movie, so you can enjoy both versions of the movie without the bulk of two seperate files.
We tested the Box Office on a very wide variety of media formats. AVI files (especially older ones) can have a lot of different audio and video codecs, and for the most part the Box Office played them all. There were a few issues that we couldn’t resolve. The MPEG-2 files from a Sony Camcorder would play, but the audio would drop on subsequent files. If we manually stopped and restarted, then the audio was fine. Short MPEG-4 files created with the Pinnacle Video Capture Device (reviewed here) would actually cause the device to crash, which required a hard power cycle. Overall, the device played just about every file we could throw at it, and its compatibility is way more robust than any other UPNP streaming device, including the Playstation 3.