So as a user experience the Boxee Box fits squarely between the Apple TV and WD TV Live Hub: not quite as slick as the former, more intuitive than the latter. The good news is from this point onwards it starts to excel.
Western Digital's WD TV range used to be the king of codec support, but the Boxee Box raises this to a whole new level (full spec list on page 3). Quite simply we couldn't find a single file type to make it stumble and it handles 1080p content without batting an eyelid. Where possible Boxee will also automatically tag multimedia content (attained legally or otherwise) giving movie descriptions and TV episode summaries. Combine this with the extensive network support (compatible protocols include IPV4, ARP, TCP, UDP, ICMP, DHCP, DNS, DDNS and Samba clients, HTTP server, RTP/RTMP, VPN: PPTP and DLNA 1.5) and it is the best media streamer to date. Even better is this is only one element of the Boxee Box's abilities.
The other is its extensive online functionality. This has drawn contrasting opinions in the US and the UK, as the US service lacks big hitters like Hulu, Fancast, Amazon and more, but in the UK we are well served with a multitude of apps including: BBC iPlayer, Last.fm, Comedy Central, College Humor, The Onion, Fail Blog, Boing Boing, Wired, YouTube and Flickr. Interestingly since Boxee is an open platform so any third party can develop apps meaning you'll also find (locked by default) adult content.
Apple's strictly controlled app store, this most definitely isn't. Of course the irony is Apple prides itself on the extensive app support for iOS yet it has so far blocked app development for Apple TV. Meanwhile the Boxee Box is overflowing with them and numbers (currently over 130 in the UK) are growing all the time. A further nice touch is a 'Friends' feed which groups all multimedia content shared by your friends via Facebook, Twitter and Google Buzz into a single stream. This makes for pleasant browsing at the end of a busy day.
We are also impressed by the way Boxee is continually upgrading its platform. We upgraded to the latest firmware (Build 126.96.36.19919) – something which happens automatically or can be triggered manually via Settings>System>Update and 'Check for New Version of Boxee' – and the improvements are extensive. If Boxee can keep this up it really does have the potential to leave its competition eating dust.
So if you're in the market for a media streamer you should rush out and buy the Boxee Box? Yes, but there are a couple of caveats. Firstly it is overpriced. A $199 RRP (£127) has been directly converted to £199 in the UK. This is crazy for a machine with no internal storage and compares badly with the WD TV Live Hub which integrates a whopping 1TB HDD yet costs just £159. Apple TV is also only £99 (and $99 in the US) though is obviously more limited in just about every way.
In addition Boxee has integrated a web browser which is both slow and buggy and the mouse pointer has to be controlled by the remote D-pad, a disappointment given the Qwerty equipped remote makes browsing a potentially attractive opinion. Let's hope more firmware fixes are on the way.
Despite this, if you can stomach the asking price, the Boxee Box sets a new standard for media players – and just in time for Christmas…
It may be overpriced, but the Boxee Box has unparalleled codec support, a slick UI and looks fantastic sitting under your TV. The fact Boxee has committed to regular firmware updates also means it should keep improving while third party app support is second to none. iTunes fans may prefer the Apple TV and those on a budget may be better off with the WD TV Live Hub, but we'd find the extra cash and spend it on the Boxee Box.