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D-Link Boxee Box review – is Internet TV finally a reality?

The promise of a hardware companion for the popular open source media centre Boxee has interested us since its original announcement. Let’s see how the final product stacks up against expectations…

This article originally appeared in issue 95 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Operating system Boxee
Processor Atom CE4100
Memory 1GB RAM / 1GB ROM
Dimensions 120  x 120 x 120mm
Video output Up to 1080p
Connectivity HDMI, S/PDIF, composite audio,
Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, 2x USB 2.0
Expansion 1x SD card slot
Price: £199.99

Pros: It’s small, original, fully featured and more than capable of playing almost every file type, including popular 1080p containers
Cons: The interface can be slow to respond and Flash support is a little shaky (though improving). It’s not as pretty as custom Jukeboxes

If D-Link’s Boxee Box is nothing else, it’s original. With its unusual chassis design it makes a really bold statement, featuring a sunken, off-centre cube shape that sets it apart from anything in its class. While its unconventional looks could divide a household from an aesthetic standpoint, its performance as an internet TV device, network and local movie player almost certainly wont. The design might frustrate those with low-profile spaces under their TV set (for which it’s a little too tall), but we were certainly taken with it, not least because it’s smaller and infinitely cuter than the imagery here credits it.

Connectivity is excellent, if basic, with Ethernet, HDMI, power, optical and analogue audio ports on the back, and two USB ports for storage. On the side of the unit there’s also an SD card slot, which is convenient for file swapping and playing back movies and picture slideshows. It’s certainly as easy as any DVD player or set-top box to set up, as the tiny ‘Quick Start’ guide is keen to impress on you.

The co-operation between Boxee and D-Link on the device itself was a shrewd move. Boxee as a software solution has had ample gestation time and inside the Boxee Box’s intriguing shell, the hardware is essentially the same as found in cutting-edge netbooks – it represents the perfect combination of software brilliance and hardware know-how. This being the case, the hardware on board is more than capable of playing back 1080p content  and the creation of the Jukebox interface itself – which attempts to prettify your experience by scraping IMDB for box art and movie details for your local or network storage, as well as that from the internet – is remarkably quick to compute in comparison to, say, the Network Media Jukebox as featured on the Popcorn Hour A-210 we recently reviewed.

The interface might not be quite as attractive as custom Jukeboxes offered up from something like YAMJ (Yet Another Media Jukebox), but with quick access to literally thousands of internet-served TV shows, movies and clips, the Boxee Box is a joy to use. A quick trip to the File Sources section in Settings allows you to browse your network within seconds and once sources have been added, Boxee will analyse them by title and scrape the net to find movie details and DVD sleeves. While this process can take a little while, users can continue to use the Boxee Box unaffected.

The end results were remarkably good, too, with only a handful of files requiring any action before DVD sleeves and movie information was displayed in the GUI as intended. As any YAMJ user would testify, having files properly named really helps here, but using just a couple of clicks it was easy to search and find replacement title for the few movies that weren’t automatically recognised.

Continue to: Page 2 – verdict

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