Boxee released a new product called the Boxee TV. Contrary to what some believe, this is not Boxee Box v2, this is a completely new product, targeted at a very different market — a much broader market. This is a device not for techies, but for people that are fed-up with cable tv and looking for an easy alternative to everything they love about the DVR from their cable company.
The unboxing was exciting — almost like an Apple Product targeted towards a little kid. The device is sized like a cable-converter box, like those that added digital over-the-air (OTA) signals to your old analog TV. Hookup is dead-simple, as long as your TV has an HDMI input (which means it already supports OTA HD signals, so why did you buy an external OTA HD device?). The setup instructions tell you to plug the power in first, network second, cable third, HDMI fourth etc. I thought the order was a little funny, because the device powers on automatically and plays a fancy intro, similar to the Boxee-Box startup. Wouldn’t you want users to see that as their first-impression?
Like every high-tech device that connects to the Internet, once it powers on, it wants to upgrade. The upgrade went fast and in no time I was trying to initialize my new Boxee TV device and sign in to an Internet account (required). You’re directed to boxee.tv to log in and register your device. Once thing that tripped me up — your old boxee account means nothing now. You need to create a new boxee.tv. After I blasted 5 or so username/email/password attempts across the ‘net, I noticed the small text stating that “Boxee Box users must create a new Boxee TV account.” Uh, OK. Here’s all my information, again. What is funny is that they support federation with Facebook for logging in, but they didn’t support federation with the Boxee Box accounts.
Over the Air Channels
Once you’re powered on and activated, it wants to scan for OTA channels. I hooked up the tiny antenna that is included in the box and began scanning. One surprise, the tiny antenna extends telescopically, like the rabbit-ears of old. Charming. The scanning took no time at all, which surprised me because my digital TV takes forever to scan for channels. After scanning, the UI reported something to the effect of, “Couldn’t find any channels.” Bummer. I thought, well the little antenna is cute, but useless, so I’ll hook it up to the antenna that is on my roof. Once I’d connected my roof antenna, I re-scanned, and again no-channels found. Total bummer. At this point I’m thinking I got a device with a bad tuner. Oh well, I thought, let me check out the UI and see what I can do.
After exiting the setup and channel scanning, LIVE college football immediately showed up. TADA. I was elated. It did find OTA channels, and the picture quality was in beautiful HD. I used the funky square remote and browsed what else was available. To my surprise, it picked up all the OTA channels I watch regularly. One interesting note is that the Boxee TV automatically skips the .2, .3, digital subchannels — leaving only the .1 primary channels. The reasoning is that they view the subchannels as infomercial channels, not worthy of watching. I feel mostly the same way, with the exception of our local PBS subchannel, NET 12.2, which I watch occasionally.
The Boxee TV changes channels fast. I have two TVs that we watch OTA digital TV on regularly, and neither of them change channels as fast as this device. I could flip through the channels as fast as I did when I was a kid.
Two items I found odd are that there is no easy-to-find On/Off button. I suspect they want you to leave it on all the time and just turn your display (TV) off. Volume is the same. There’s no volume up/down buttons — you’ll have to control that separately. The Up/Down buttons on the remote changes channels immediately. Right/Left brings up a channel-submenu from the bottom of the screen with cover-photos of the programs currently on each channel (beautiful!). I have successfully locked it up twice. Holding down the pause button has brought me back to the home menu and stopped the live TV, and another time it simply froze the UI with a bunch of progress/loading bubbles. The reset button is on the back of the device — find it, because you’ll probably need it.
One drawback, the Unlimited DVR is only available in select markets right now. This fact actually hints at how they’re handling the DVR. I’m guessing Boxee has placed an OTA receiver and a ton of storage in each of these markets that will record what the collective user(s) have requested, and is being broadcasted. I’m basing this on two things, you can only record OTA channels, and the UI implies that only some channels will be available for recording. This tells me that even if you receive the channel, you likely aren’t the one doing the recording and uploading your recording to some cloud storage.
When users request a recording from the cloud DVR, they’re actually streaming from the single high-quality recording that Boxee keeps on-hand, just like Netflix, but for your local OTA programming.
Does it support a local-dvr?
Maybe. The UI hints that there will be something available in the future. When you’re watching live TV and hit pause, the UI responds “pausing is not available… yet.” They obviously need to add some sort of LIVE-TV buffering for live sporting events etc. I suspect this will be through locally attached storage.
Currently there’s no support for DLNA or pulling media from network shares. This is where the Boxee Box owners will be very disappointed. If you’re like me and have invested quite a bit in your media server for centralized media storage, this device is not for you (right now). There are some hints that they’ll be adding support for DLNA, but no word on when that will happen.
Sum It Up
Buy this if love your DVR, and use it to record channels you could otherwise get over-the-air, and live in the few markets where they support the no-limit DVR.
Don’t but this if you want Boxee Box 2, as you’ll be really disappointed.