I have been using Boxee for several months now and felt that I had experienced it enough to give it a fair and relatively in-depth review.
For those who don’t know, Boxee is a media server package similar to MythTV or Windows Media Center. Boxee can either be installed on your computer, or an extremely small embedded Boxee Box can be purchased for a couple of hundred dollars. Since I had an old computer lying around already, I chose to install the software on that instead of purchasing the hardware solution.
One of Boxee’s advantages is it’s flexibility. Besides the choice to download software, or buy device with Boxee built in, there is also the choice of platform to install the software on. Yes, that’s right; Boxee is cross-platform and has versions for Linux (and possibly other UNIX and UNIX-like systems) and Windows.
There are a few differences between the purchased solution and the downloadable version; as I have only tried the self-installed variant, this is what I will be discussing in the article except where noted. A friend of mine has tried both setups and any differences that I point out will be from his information and the official documentation.
First of all, the interface is apparently significantly different and, from what I understand, the newest version of the software for the store-bought variant is more difficult to navigate than the do-it-yourself one. This is unfortunate since the interface from the downloadable version is one of its best features. It is exceedingly simple to navigate to your local music, favorite streamed television program, or RSS feed. While using the mouse is possible, navigating with only the keyboard is a much easier experience.
The second difference is that unlike the standard Linux download, the pre-installed version actually supports NetFlix. For those running Windows, NetFlix is supported for you as well. Unfortunately, this leaves many users out in the cold. Boxee is not to blame for this though, NetFlix streams contain Digital Restrictions Management code and does not work on Linux except on tightly controlled embedded systems with proprietary software. If you feel that this is unfair, please sign this petition. Please note, I have nothing to do with this petition other than supporting it’s goal.
There are many apps already built-in to Boxee, and more are being added all of the time. Currently, there are plug-ins for Pandora, Last.fm, NetFlix (on some versions, see above), RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, the Internet Archive, a music player, a web broswer, and many others. This makes it unnecessary to leave Boxee’s interface except in very rare circumstances as you can play almost any media – local or online – directly from within Boxee.
The only problem that I have noticed is that once in awhile, Boxee will hang. This seems to be specific to the user-installed Linux version from what I can find in the forums. Normally, Boxee can be killed by switching to another terminal session via CTRL+ALT+F[1-6], killing the process, logging back out of the terminal, and switching back to the desktop by pressing CTRL+ALT+F7. Once in a while though, this doesn’t even work because the system is hung so hard that you cannot even get to another terminal. As stated, this appears to be a fairly rare problem from my experience and should not deter anyone from trying Boxee.
The only two issues that I have found in Boxee (occasional lockups and lack of support for NetFlix on the Linux version) are pretty minor and would not affect users of the Windows or embedded versions. Overall this is an extremely easy way to browse both local and remote media and I am extremely satisfied with Boxee as the software powering my media server.