First previewed way back in December 2009, this is one media player which has been an incredibly long time in the making. This is somewhat baffling considering the Boxee Box is essentially just a housing (an admittedly radical and stylish housing) for Boxee, a freely downloadable multimedia programme which first hit the public in June 2008.
That aside, what D-Link has done with the Boxee Box is impressive. It has built what looks like a cube with a corner sliced off and inside stuffed a whisper quiet Intel Atom based CE4100 chipset with enough horsepower to potentially do away with a dedicated media PC. It is flexible with Ethernet, WiFi, HDMI, SPDIF and RCA Audio inputs and can accept media either over a network (a boon for NAS owners), via two USB ports on the back or a SD card slot on the top. By contrast Apple TV lacks the USB/SD card functionality and is locked to iTunes-only content while the WD TV Live Hub baffled us all by not integrating WiFi.
Another nice touch is the controller which on one side is a simple D-Pad with play/pause and back buttons and on the other features a full Qwerty keyboard. In use keys are a little spongy, but it remains heaven sent for typing in WiFi passwords, web addresses and searching using the integrated apps such as BBC iPlayer, YouTube and so forth, but more of those later.
First up is the UI and this is a hugely controversial area. Switch on the Boxee Box (a slightly overblown experience lasting about 30 seconds and full of needless animations) and after a somewhat retro screen alignment wizard (used just the once) you'll be presented with the home screen. This couldn't be simpler with links to your different types of media and direct access to network files. The problem is it is too simple, icons are huge and it doesn't make good use of the space (see below).
Consequently you'll find yourself needing to navigate between multiple screens because functionality that really should all be on one screen has had to be spread out. Most frustrating is this experience is greatly dumbed down from the swanky UI originally previewed in Boxee Box betas and there is already a 15 page petition on the company's forums to change it back (more comparisons between the two can be seen here. The new UI isn't bad per say – it is easier to use than the Live Hub and you'll never get lost – but it does feel like Boxee scaled down its ambitions at the last minute.
On the plus side Boxee has confirmed firmware updates will bring back elements of the old UI over time.