Boxee - the outsider bringing media centres to the mainstream?

February 3, 2009 | 10:21

Tags: #alpha #apple-tv #iptv #media-centre

Companies: #boxee

While I mull over the hardware for our inagural home theatre PC (HTPC) buying guide, I'm back thinking about all sorts of (self induced) overly-complicated logic to do with total energy efficiency, GPU versus CPU acceleration, and inevitably, the software driving it.

You see, as much as ATI, Nvidia and even Intel have built in their respective video accelerators for MPEG-2, MPEG-4 (DivX/Xvid AVI) and h.264, (most of) the software still needs to be coded to take advantage of it. Apart from paid-for software like PowerDVD or WinDVD, there is only Media Player Classic - Home Cinema edition that enables this option. The usual home theatre interfaces like Windows MCE and an all manor of other popular ones, do not. So we're still left with the CPU taking most of the grunt and that's not a bad thing until you get into super high bitrate 1080p.

One of these software packages I covered last year was the early alpha version of Boxee. To be honest I still feel like I don't get it but I'm willing to give kudos to these guys because they keep getting award after award, especially at CES.

Boxee still commands itself as the "social media centre," which I still think is wrong, but its advantage lies in the fact that it's been particularly tuned to be a one stop shop for online viewing of major networks. Simply being able to watch all your favourite shows through one portal is a huge advantage, especially as it's been designed for our American friends.
While I had a brief chat to the developers recently about the inclusion of BBC's iPlayer, we're still missing many of the advantages our American friends have, but that's mostly because their TV worth watching isn't a monopoly (read: Sky).

I still don't get the social aspect so much, and I still prefer the XBMC interface rather than the green one Boxee uses, but people seem to love it anyway.

The most popular conversion seems to be of Apple TV - making the white box into something actually useful, but clearly the guys behind it have their heads screwed on straight (and an investment budget to dive into) because they are attacking the mainstream press (i.e. not us) so the software is being picked up where HTPC front ends would never usually see the light of day. Where Microsoft, or more likely Apple, usually only ever feature, Boxee is making its way into the minds of many.

Now the guys are thinking about removing the major barrier to entry out of the equation and trying to get a "Boxee box" made - an all in one media centre box preinstalled (with presumably the Linux version of) Boxee to save on costs. According to the Boxee blog (and Twitter @boxee), the team was approached by several hardware vendors - large and small - and is evaluating its options. In my book, that's a serious result and something Microsoft, Apple, or even Acer and Cyberlink should be wary of.

The thing is, it's not even out of alpha yet! I hope the team keeps the ball rolling and include my one desire of a media centre, feature customisation (you never record TV? disable the option completely from view!), before it gets tied off into beta.

Will it be a good year for the Boxee team in 09? We'll be keeping an eye on how the software develops over the course of this year.
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