D-Link Boxee Box £199.99
25th Nov 2010 | 13:07
On paper, the media streamer to beat. In practice...
D-Link Boxee Box: Overview
We'll tell you the truth – we were really looking forward to seeing the D-Link Boxee Box. A previous demo we'd seen was definitely favourable, while in terms of style and power we were looking forward to something that could better the recently-revamped Apple TV.
Indeed, we were looking forward to something that could kick the Apple TV completely into touch – after all, D-Link's Boxee Box is hardly short on power, being boosted by the on-board Intel Atom CE4100, having gone away from the Nvidia Tegra 2-based box previewed almost a year ago.
The Atom hardware is strikingly similar to the CE4150 that has been launched in Google TV devices to date, though that's where the similarity ends it seems. There's also 1GB of flash storage inside, as well as 1GB of RAM.
The other side of this box is the Boxee software – available on the PC for some time – has also been noted as a speedy and flexible interface, if not one that's exactly bug-free.
Sadly, at the end of our previous demo, the first warning sign appeared – the Boxee Box was to cost £199. This isn't exactly a surprise. After all, aside from the lack of storage, you basically have a netbook inside this lopped-off cube. However, the Apple TV is now at £99 and, while that's definitely worth the money over and above cheaper competitors, could the Boxee Box really soar so high that it justifies such a high price point?
Firstly, it's worth noting that pretty much all of the Boxee Box's problems are software related. And it's bugs, rather than a fundamental problem with the interface. Indeed, like the Apple TV, navigating around the interface is slick and fast.
The hardware, for D-Link's part, is super and the design of the box itself is definitely different, with a sliced-off corner and glossy finish. We're fans, even if the style divided the office. It's definitely not that great if you have a narrow-shelved cabinet under your TV.
The remote, for example, is superbly finished and the keyboard on the reverse, while certainly not a cure for all controller ills, is a competent way to enter short bursts of text such as search terms or passwords. Some have commented on how the remote lacks a trackpad, but we didn't find it a problem.
Connectivity is excellent – Ethernet (Wi-Fi is also included), HDMI, optical and composite audio plus two USB sockets and the power.
There's also an SD card slot on the side, which you can load media from. Performance over Wi-Fi also didn't pose problems – in the main part we streamed from a Netgear ReadyNAS over a Linksys WAG160N.
The box contains plenty of (standard quality) cables including HDMI, though there are few instructions to help you other than a quick start guide.
D-Link Boxee Box: Content and performance
The Boxee Box will stream from any hardware, whether it's a network-attached PC or Mac, or a NAS drive. 1080p playback posed no problem in the main – though on one clip we got really weird stuttering and on another we got poor vision/sound sync so we're not sure what that was about. XviD playback worked fine, as did other random files we loaded up.
Using various apps – which you can browse through – you can view content from a whole multitude of sources, from FHM to the BBC iPlayer and YouTube. In terms of things to watch, Boxee is one of the strongest media player offerings we've seen.
LoveFilm is promised in the UK, though it hasn't arrived yet. There are, however, some free films available though quality is questionable and anybody with under-18s in the house should go straight to the parental lock features because there's some stuff that young eyes should not be party to. Netflix is provided as the on-demand partner in the US.
More content is needed, but there's enough to be getting on with – especially because of the access to iPlayer and 4OD.
Things are linked up through a Boxee account to which you can attach your Twitter and Facebook accounts as well as link up other apps such as Flickr and other providers that need you to authorise them on the web. You can create an account on the device but you may prefer to do this on the web.
The Boxee Box's great boons are the superb variety of codecs supported as well as the ability to play back Flash video without any issue – or so you'd think. In fact, we found some Flash content quite buggy. BBC iPlayer, for example, opens up the big-screen interface.
When you click on a programme, the standard desktop web page comes up before it goes fullscreen. Only we found that we couldn't get our unit to work properly with this – it just displayed the iPlayer web page and then wouldn't load the video.
This was especially disappointing since we'd seen it working perfectly in an earlier demo.
It's one of the many real problems with the firmware, which Boxee has updated several times recently. Further updates are promised, but it feels like the box has been rushed out for the Christmas period and, at the moment, we'll just have to cope with the bugs.
Web browsing on the device is also nothing short of a horrid experience. The WebKit-based browser with Flash support seems like a good idea in theory, but some multimedia intensive sites simply don't display, while moving the cursor around the screen is so slow it feels like your life is ebbing away. So poor.
The Flash support isn't quite there, though – some multimedia just doesn't display. Content from YouTube, on the other hand, does work well and loads up very quickly in the dedicated app.
D-Link Boxee Box: Verdict
We wanted so much to love this box and possibly could have justified the price point if it worked brilliantly and trumped the Apple TV for openness. As it is, you can buy better streamers than this for less than half the price – WD TV, for example. And while they might not promise such an overall experience, at least the stuff they can do actually works reasonably well.
The Boxee does, however, hold a lot of appeal for those of us who like to configure things just how we want them. You can set up streaming from network storage (though it might take you a little while to configure it).
The hardware is great, as is the remote. The keyboard isn't an amazing experience, but it works when you need it to. The interface itself is also great to use in the main, though there are some unnecessary bits – if I put something in the search box and enter it, why do you then need to click again to search the web?
But it's fast, responsive, and easy to navigate. The codec support is Grade A, as is the YouTube app, and the ability to play Flash content is welcome. The content in place is okay and not bad for a start, but we'd like to see a lot more – we're assured there will be more too.
The software just isn't up to scratch as yet. It's a shame for D-Link that Boxee has updated the Boxee Box with new firmware since the demo which appears to be more glitchy than before. The software simply has so many foibles that it's hard to take stock and something that works one day simply might not the next. It's just very strange.
However, the above is also a blessing, because it shows us what the Boxee Box really can be. When the bugs are ironed out and even more content is available, this will be the media streamer to beat – not least because the hardware is terrific. But it comes at a price. And that price is, very sadly, far too much – especially when you consider just how annoyed the software will make you.
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