After one of my roommates left a few weeks ago, the rest of us found ourselves with no television or AppleTV. While it didn’t really break my heart (I never really did like AppleTV… yeah I know, what a surprise), I missed having over the air TV so I could get my weekend MeTV fix. Well, we had an unused 27″ CRT downstairs, but of course it was too old to have digital tuner on it, so I decided I needed a modern solution to this. My needs were an OTA tuner, apps, and streaming media. I couldn’t find something that did all three, but Boxee TV did OTA and apps, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The 2 star reviews on Amazon scared me, but I took a chance anyway, and I’m glad I did.
When I received the item, I realized right away I had previously ordered the wrong adapter for the TV (I needed HDMI to RCA, not RCA to HDMI), so in the meantime I used an HDMI to DVI adaptor and plugged it into my PC monitor. This worked, but obviously I didn’t get any sound that way. I also found that the cheap HDMI cable I bought from eBay didn’t work, but luckily the one I ordered from Boxee worked great. Once the correct adapter came, I was ready to start for real.
Hooking up Boxee to the TV was easy, but of course it involved the aforementioned adapter since the TV was analog. No big deal, the mini adapter I bought ran off USB power, so I was able to power it from one of Boxee’s USB ports in the back. Problem solved. For OTA setup (I didn’t attempt ClearQAM), I used the antenna that came with the Boxee, which I was skeptical about due to its look and size. As it turns out, it worked better than the old flat antenna we were using before. After signup (which was a pain because their website kept breaking in Opera), I was up and running in 10 minutes.
First thing I loved was how it organizes OTA content as if each channel were an app. This is awesome. It even has visual icons for all the shows, which it presumably grabs from an open database somewhere. It also lets you look through upcoming shows like a tv guide, and if you live in an area where they offer it (Atlanta is on the list, most everywhere else isn’t), you can use their cloud DVR service to record an unlimited amount of shows for $10 a month. I’m not really into the DVR thing, so I didn’t try out the service). I also tried the YouTube, TED, and WSJ Live apps, and they all worked great even on this flaky cable Internet here. I did not try Netflix since I don’t have an account.
The most immediate thing I noticed, and knew to look out for, were the bugs. Oh yes, it has bugs. Lots of them. In fact many people liken it to an early beta version. Personally, I haven’t noticed too many bugs, but I have had to reset it a handful of occasions, which doesn’t inspire confidence in using it for extended periods of time. But for me, a casual TV watcher, it works just fine.
A few days ago, Boxee finally pushed their new firmware update, and it’s a good thing they did, otherwise this would have given it a lower rating. This update has made a massive difference in Boxee’s stability and featureset. Gone are many of the bugs, and added is DNLA support for streaming files from your network or mobile device. I have yet to try out the DNLA, but this was the feature I was looking for originally, and now it has been added. So really, this makes it nearly the perfect solution for my needs.
The Good: Unique featureset, good solution to revitalizing an analog TV, does more with OTA than anybody else, even your own TV, peripherals work great, DNLA support, interesting cloud DVR service, easy setup.
The Bad: Probably still some bugs and freezes left (though I haven’t noticed any since the upgrade), DVR not available in most areas and costs money, lack of app quantity (pales in comparison to, say, Roku), runs extremely hot, no volume control on remote, no direct network file access.
Overall, I give it 3.5/5 stars. If it weren’t for the update, it’d have 3/5. If this device sounds like it’ll fit your unique needs like it did for me, definitely give it some thought. If you don’t care about OTA or DVR, you may want a Roku instead.