Labelled as the first ever ‘Social Media Center’, Boxee is an open source programme that aims to open up the world of music, video, TV and the internet in an easy to use way. We’ve managed to get our hands on a private invitation to the Windows version of Boxee — so we thought we’d have a good look around and see what the rest of you have got in store!
When you first open up Boxee and login you are confronted with a sleek and stylish layout — the learning curve for navigating this system is almost nonexistent as it is intuitive, quick and easy with both the mouse and a remote — which is a relief as there is quite a lot to navigate:
When you log on, your main screen is one that sums up the ethos of Boxee brilliantly; the four bars going across the screen offer Recommendations, Friends Activity, Recently Added and Recently Used media options.
The latter two allow you to easily go back to the things you love — not only music, video and TV shows locally, but also ones from across the internet; this is really good for catching up on the latest in the series, or to go back and carry on where you left off.
However it is the first two ‘bars’ that really display the main difference between Boxee and other media centers and that is the social aspect. By being able to recommend media to your friends and being able to see what kind of stuff they are watching it does add a social aspect to something that is otherwise devoid of it and it is a welcome addition to the media center world. But this is only the home page — there is much more inside!
Split into three main sections (Movies [local], TV Shows [Local] and internet) it really does offer most of your video needs, and although pretty much all media Centers allow you to watch you’re movies and TV shows it is the internet connectivity that makes it stand out from the crowd.
Being able to choose from TED, YouTube, BBC iPlayer, Joost, CNN, Comedy Central and many more from one place really makes it the hub of entertainment that is the holy grail of media centers — having everything in one place where it is easy to get hold of really makes life that bit easier.
Unfortunately this is also where the problems start — as many of the video services are designed only for the US market they are completely useless here; the most notable example is Hulu which looks so tempting but cannot be accessed here in the UK.
Also a crucial fault with the iPlayer on Boxee (which otherwise is a joy to use) makes it painfully difficult to use — instead of stopping the video to stream (which I find you need to do a lot with iPlayer) Boxee displays a message saying that the video is unavailable which is very frustrating.
Another crucial part of media centers is being able to play music well, and being able to browse through massive collections easily and quickly — and Boxee does this very well. Even if you don’t have the album art stored on your computer Boxee will find it for you, and then display it allowing you to quickly flick around and find what you are looking for. Another nice feature was that it even found pictures of the artists and displayed them as well allowing you to search by how the artists look!
And then there’s the internet compatibility which allows you to listen to podcasts from numerous sources (including the BBC which works very well) and listen to online radio stations (like last.fm) which, like the Video, works very well.
Although this may not seem like such an important feature if you are sitting at your computer (although it is still useful) this is something probably designed to be used more by people who have a media computer specifically for showing media.
As you would expect it allows you to view your local photos by themselves or as a slideshow, but again the internet option adds a new dimension by allowing you to use Picasa and Flickr (among others) which not only make Boxee much more functional, but also add another layer of social networking, allowing you to easily share photos with friends.
So, as a media center this is impressive: it looks nice, it is easy and pleasant to use and does the things that you want it too. But Boxee has so much more to offer than just media, let me show you:
Let’s say for example that I click on the InMe album ‘Daydream Anonymous’ (very good by the way!). I will then be given the very unoriginal option to play it, or to look for it on Last FM, look for Music Videos or Read More. By clicking through to the ‘Read More’ part you can look at reviews, see the individual tracks, read up on the band, recommend it friends and rate it; and it is these options that add the social aspect that many media centers are missing (NB: you can also do this for films where you can watch trailers as well).
Overall I think it is fair to say that this is an impressive looking piece of software and although there may be a few creases that need ironing out, given that it isn’t even on a public beta release that is not surprising. Also given that it is open source we will hopefully see some ‘home made’ ‘apps’ and ‘plugins’ which will enhance this further.
And not only will this work well on your computer, but I can see this cropping up in many homes on TV sets — especially as Boxee have promised some kind of set top box in the future, and I really think that is something that will completely change the way we think about TV! It will be very interesting to see how it compares to what Microsoft do with their Windows 7 Media Center.
Unfortunately given the wealth of applications that this media center could have, I have only been able to scratch the surface, but if you have a Mac you can try it out now, or wait until the Windows version is publicly released sometime in June! – I would strongly encourage you to try this out!
- iPlayer is fairly poor; also it could do with some of the other channels as well!
- No current support for TV cards
- Shows you lots of American stuff that you can’t access!
- Everything else! 🙂