People want to do much more with their iPhone then Steve Job allows. So they jailbreak it. The same goes for the Apple TV. While it is a great and relatively cheap media center, it has restrictions, just like the iPhone. Wouldn’t it be nice to play xvid videos, stream shows from Hulu, listen to LastFm, Twitter the name of the movie you are currently watching or see what music your friends are listening to on your big screen TV connected to an Apple TV? Well, you can do that with Boxee!
Boxee is an open source media center, with social networking features, currently in an invite-only alpha stage. It is a fork of XBMC, a media center initially designed for the Xbox, but then ported to run on all major platforms. Boxee runs on Linux, Mac, and soon Windows. You can put it on your AppleTV with a grandma-simple “hack“, with no adverse effects.
What does it do?
As other media center software, Boxee allows you to browse and play media files (movies, music, photos) from local hard-disks or DVD drive and can stream music and videos from the internet or other computers in the network (SMB/SAMBA shares). It supports 1080p HD and it reads virtually any type of media, except DRM-ed files.
Boxee scans your default media folders and downloads the related metadata and artwork for your music and video files. Unfortunately, it doesn’t import your iTunes or iPhoto libraries – a big loss for Mac users.
When playing a song you can choose to see the lyrics (especially useful for a karaoke night) or display information about the band or artist.
Boxee seamlessly integrates with online video, music and photo websites and can actually download public torrent movies. You can also configure media feeds for your favourite podcasts on the Boxee website or choose one from the built-in Podcasts directory.
- Video : CBS, CNN, Comedy Central, Hulu, Movie Trailers, MySpaceTV, Next New Networks, ON networks, Revision3, YouTube.
- Music: Jamendo, Last.fm, NPR, SHOUTcast, BBC.
- Photos: Flickr, Picasa.
Boxee wants to turn the TV in to “a social media center”. To achieve that, it gives the users the ability to rate and recommend content to their friends. The dashboard displays friends’ recommendations and the media they’ve recently watched or listened to, facilitating the discovery of new quality content.
On Boxee’s website you can set up your Twitter, FriendFeed or Tumbler account to be updated with the current playing media or media you recommended.
Boxee is not the first nor the last to bring to the table all the features mentioned earlier. The utility of a media center software is given by how fast and how easy you can get to the media files you want.
Boxee has a very clean and slick interface, and after little time to get used to, the menu is a breeze to navigate, especially if you have an Apple remote. It has no manual so you must figure out how to use the keyboard or the remote, but it’s pretty intuitive.
One key feature of the interface is the sliding panels approach for showing the menu. It uses the screen real estate very efficiently and in terms of usability it may be one of the best solutions for media center software I’ve seen.
What’s the catch?
None! Boxee is and will remain free. The business model is not yet established, but it should be based on content referrals or advertising. Being in Alpha it is buggy and crashes from time to time.
Is this the end of cable/satellite TV? Well, not really. But more and more people watch videos online, in detriment of traditional TV. And now, with media boxes that can stream content from sites like Hulu, for many of us there aren’t many reasons left in favour of cable TV.