A pretty box that makes your TV smarter; if you live in one of the few areas where the cloud DVR is available, it's an unquestioned recommendation.
by Vince Font
Boxee TV is being billed as a revolutionary device that will fuel consumer victory over those pesky, skyrocketing cable TV bills. Claiming to save users as much as a thousand bucks a year, one of its biggest appeals is also its advertised "no-limits" DVR. But is Boxee TV really all that, or is it just another gizmo lost in the home theater shuffle? To answer that question, we take a closer look at each one of Boxee TV's features and see how well they work. But first, let's answer the most basic question of all:
what the heck is Boxee TV, anyway?
Boxee TV is a piece of hardware that you plug into your TV via an HDMI cable. Using pre-installed software and an internet connection, the Boxee TV device basically routes live TV, whatever you've got on your networked hard drive, and a handful of online entertainment platforms like Netflix, Vudu, YouTube and Vimeo straight into your TV set.
The idea, presumably, is to give consumers a single device that will keep them from having to get onto their computers to catch all the entertainment that's typically found online, instead making it all available right in the comfort of your living room. That's the theory, anyway. In actual practice, Boxee TV stuggles to live up to its full potential.
Build and Design
One thing Boxee TV's got going for it is its looks. As far set-top devices go, it's a sleek looking thing, measuring just over an inch and a half tall, about seven inches wide, and close to four inches deep. Its front edge is unadorned except for the Boxee logo and a small green LED light that indicates when it's on.
The back side of the device is where you'll find its full expandability, which includes a coaxial input port, an HDMI-out port, an Ethernet port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a power adapter plug.
Boxee TV also comes with a power adapter and a small infrared remote control. The remote, which is just compact enough at five inches long and two inches wide, includes a play/pause button, a directional pad with a middle select button, a back button, a home button, an info button, and two dedicated buttons for the automatic launching of Netflix or Vudu. A power adapter is also included, plus an OTA TV antenna, which is just a few inches tall and resembles the arm of a joystick.
Boxee's goal is to enable users to free themselves from their cable TV provider. The thing is, not everyone wants to be freed from their cable TV providers. Their monthly bills? Yes. But the services they get for the money? No. Which is where Boxee TV really falls flat on its face. Because in order to be able to make that work, you have to connect the antenna that's included and scan for local signal.
The Boxee TV comes with an actual antenna that you use to pick up channels like Univision, PBS, and your local network affiliates. If you're not down with the idea of clearing out a space near your window to set the antenna and you already have cable TV, there's the option of plugging your cable connection into the back of the Boxee TV device. The only problem is, you have to run the line straight in from the wall. If you've got a cable box somewhere in the mix that delivers premium pay channels like Showtime or HBO, no can do. Boxee TV only works with unscrambled (ClearQAM) channels. So, you'll have to invest in a splitter and additional coax cable if you want to enjoy new episodes of Game of Thrones on HBO and use Boxee.
While a minor inconvenience, it runs contrary to the Boxee promise of being an all-in-one device that eliminates the need for multiple set-top boxes.
The new 'No Limits DVR' is simultaneously one of the bigges disappointments - and biggest innovations - about Boxee TV. We say disappointment, because the fact is that unless you live in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, L.A., New York, Philadelphia or D.C. (at the time of this review), you're out of luck with respect to its highly advertised cloud storage DVR.
The DVR service, which is priced at $14.99 per month but is being offered to early-bird buyers for $9.99 monthly, lets users record HD over-the-air (OTA) networks, such as NBC, ABC, Fox, PBS, The CW, Univision, and Telemundo. Boxee's official line at the time of review is, "We'll be rolling out No Limits DVR to pay TV users in these markets as soon as we can."
To make matters even more puzzling, Boxee TV isn't yet able to record TV signals that come through cable. In other words, even if you do live in one of those eight metro areas where no-limits DVR is available, you're limited to only being able to record what comes to you via Boxee TV's antenna. From Boxee's support website (emphasis ours):
"DVR functionality will not yet work with clearQAM signals (cable). You will be able to connect the coaxial cable from your wall to your Boxee TV to scan for the free broadcast channels, but you will not be able to record them, nor can you stream them to a second screen device."
Still, if you're in one of the target markets, and can get OTA HD TV signals, the No Limits DVR is frankly awesome. It lets you record limitless amounts of HD (no doubt Boxee has some language about 'reasonable use' in their Terms of Service) to the cloud, which you can then watch on various devices and Boxee TVs. Plus, if you pick up more than one Boxee TV (for another room, say), you can use that Boxee's dual tuners to record a third or fourth show at the same time, without paying any extra fees.
Once the system rolls out to more areas, and once Boxee lets you record from cable, it's going to be a force to be reckoned with. At the moment, we'll chalk it up under, 'Hey, that's pretty neat.'
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