As more and more content appears online, it’s only natural that a growing number of devices are appearing that help you access quickly and easily. The latest of them is the Boxee Box from D-Link.
If you’re unfamiliar with Boxee, it’s basically free software that provides access to media content stored both online and locally. The Boxee Box is a standalone device that runs the Boxee software, and is designed to hook direct up to your TV.
The Boxee Box has a fairly unusual design. It looks a bit like a cube that has sunk at an angle into the surface it’s sat on. It’s also fairly bulky, and looks more than a little odd when sat next to slimline devices such as the average DVD player.
The unit is powered by an Intel Atom CE4100 processor, which does a good job of running the interface smoothly. A fan keeps the internals cool, but it’s quiet and you’re unlikely to hear it whirring away unless you’re in a very quiet room. Boot time is a little on the slow side, taking around a minute to load.
Getting the device up and running for the first time is a simple process and you’re very unlikely to need to refer to the included setup guide. Simply hook up the power cable, attach it to a TV via an HDMI cable (which, unlike with many devices, comes included as standard – big plus for D-Link!), and switch it on.
A rather fancy Boxee logo lights up on the device, followed by a setup wizard appearing on screen. From here, all you need do is attach the device to your local network (802.11n wireless is built in) and create a user account. A wired Ethernet connection is also provided, as are both optical and analogue audio outputs, an SD card reader and two USB ports.
All of the Boxee’s features are controlled via an innovative, double-sided remote. This uses RF to communicate with the main unit, so you needn’t worry about maintaining a clear line of sight between the two. One side of the remote is home to a play/pause button, a menu button and a four-way d-pad with an Enter button in the middle. A qwerty keyboard is located on the other side.
Squeezing a keyboard onto a remote as small as this is always going to create problems in terms of usability, and sure enough we found it a little tricky to type on at speed. Firm, definite key presses are the order of the day here, but it’s not a huge problem since you’re not going to be tapping out long essays on it.
TV on demand
Navigating the Boxee Box’s menus is relatively simple. The device’s main interface is split into sections such as Movies, TV Shows and Music. But it’s the content that most people will be interested in, and you’ll plenty of familiar programmes within the TV Shows section, with episodes from favourites such as Peep Show and The Inbetweeners available for immediate viewing.
Many of the shows are provided by third-parties such as BBC iPlayer and 4OD, and this is where the viewing experience starts to get a little messy. Instead of the chosen programme simply playing in full-screen, the third-party content provider’s website appears and you’re then required to click the Play button within it as well as hit the full-screen button. It would be far better if the Boxee Box did all this for you. Hopefully a future update will sort this out.
The Movies section is home to a large number of films, but since you’re not actually paying for any of them it’s hardly surprising that the latest Hollywood blockbusters are notable by their absence. In fact, finding a movie you have heard of could be a tricky task – the vast majority are obscure titles from little-known directors.
Although the Boxee Box uses an HDMI connection and is capable of outputting 1080p high-definition video, you shouldn’t expect HD quality from most of the streamed shows. The majority that we viewed on our 37in Sony LCD TV exhibited plenty of pixellation, although thankfully the audio was always in sync. You will, however, still find the occasional programme that’s flagged as HD, although even in these dropped frames are noticeable.
As well as sourcing content online, the Boxee Box can also grab music, videos and photos stored on computers attached to your local network. Playback performance will depend on the type of files being streamed and the strength of your wireless network, but there’s support for a wide range of file types, including popular video formats as DivX, Xvid and WMV9. The device can also scan your media library and automatically add nice-to-have extras such as album and movie covers.
There’s also a separate Apps section within the interface, offering links to Flickr, Facebook, Vimeo and the usual selection of news-based apps.
Lack of storage
Given the price of the unit, it’s a little disappointing that the Boxee Box has no built-in storage, which means you won’t be able to house any media on the device itself. However, thanks to the USB ports and SD card slot it’s possible to attach devices locally; useful if you want to quickly show-off photos stored on your camera’s memory card, for example.
Contact: 020 8955 9000
D-Link's Boxee Box has plenty going for it. It's easy to set up, provides quick and easy access to a wide range of popular TV shows and comes in a neat little package. With support for a wide range of formats, it also works well as a media streamer for viewing content stored on your local network. It isn't perfect, though - and the links to video-on-demand sites such as BBC iPlayer could do with being streamlined. It's also a little on the expensive side.