Is a Boxee TV for you?

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Boxee TV

I was having a discussion with a coworker recently regarding the merits of the new Boxee TV. He bought a Boxee Box when they were released a couple years ago and has liked it, so he thought the Boxee TV would be an upgrade to the Boxee Box and help expand the consumer adoption of Boxee products. I disagreed with him.

Some History

About five years ago, Boxee started out as a derivative of the XBMC project and was well-received in tech circles. Their software, which was free, provided a nice lean-back experience for watching video files on your computer. Since the Boxee software was compatible with many XBMC apps, there was a decent selection of online media that could also be watched. People who wanted to hook up a computer to their TV now had a nice way to watch videos in the family room.

Boxee Box

Boxee wanted to capitalize on this software, so they created the Boxee Box. The Box was a set-top box that had the Boxee software built in to it. You no longer needed to connect a PC or Mac to the family room TV to use the Boxee software. The box was released at the end of 2010 and sold for $199. A lot of consumers didn’t know what the Box was, what it did, or how to use it, so it remained a device that appealed primarily to tech-minded people.

The Rub

Overall, the history sounds like a company expanding on their product line. It could be any company growing. But Boxee did more than that. They upset their most loyal core fan base.

When Boxee released the Boxee Box, they stopped making the computer software available. People who had used the software for years were furious, many of them moving away from Boxee to other software, never to return.

Just before they released their new product, the Boxee TV, they did the same thing. Last month, Boxee announced that they were going to stop selling the Boxee Box and stop actively supporting it. Once again, Boxee discarded their loyal core customers and fans, many currently looking for viable alternative products or solutions.

Boxee TV

In short, the Boxee TV is a set-top box that is a DVR with some online apps. The main difference between the Boxee TV and a TiVo unit is that the Boxee TV uses cloud storage to save your TV shows, whereas a TiVo uses an internal hard drive. Boxee claims this gives you “unlimited” storage capacity on the Boxee TV.

The Boxee TV comes with a remote and a digital antenna. Why the antenna? Because you use the Boxee TV to record over-the-air (OTA) broadcast channels. In other words, the antenna is the modern equivalent of rabbit ears. The Boxee TV has a digital cable tuner built in, so it can also record unencrypted digital cable channels.

The Boxee TV will be sold at Walmart for $99. Once the unit is purchased, it will require a $14.99 per month subscription to the cloud DVR service. A broadband internet connection is needed to access the cloud DVR service, as well as accessing the handful of online media apps built in to the Boxee TV, many of which also require a paid subscription.

Speaking of apps, there is no indication on Boxee’s web site that they will allow development of third-party apps for the Boxee TV. This means that the thousands of apps available for the Boxee Box will no longer be viewable.

Initially, the cloud DVR service will be available for people that live in the following TV viewing areas: New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Los Angeles. If you live in Tulsa or Denver or Miami, you won’t be able to use the cloud DVR service. Boxee has not indicated when service will be available in the rest of the country.

The Bottom Line

Boxee has thumbed their nose at their core constituency twice already. This created bad blood among their most loyal and dedicated fans and customers, many of which are moving away from Boxee, never to return. There is no confidence that Boxee won’t do the same thing again in the future with new customers.

Many TV viewers no longer receive OTA broadcasts, cable systems are moving away from offering unencrypted digital channels, and satellite and telco services do not offer unencrypted digital channels. This means anyone with a pay-TV service will need to remember to turn their cable or satellite box to the channel they want to record before the program begins.

Add to this the subscription price of $14.99 per month for the cloud DVR storage. This is similar to DVR service prices from cable and satellite providers, and those let you record anywhere from two to six simultaneous channels and watch them on any TV in the house. And if you don’t live in one of the 8 regions, you can’t even subscribe and use the device.

The Boxee TV has more going against it than going for it. People may purchase it at Walmart during the holidays, thinking it works like a Roku box, but they will be sadly mistaken when they get it home and open it up. It might be a hot seller, but it will probably also be a very frequently returned item after the holidays.

I advise staying away from the Boxee TV. If you want to watch your own video files, there are plenty of other options, such as XBMC and Plex. If you want to watch online video, check out Roku or Apple TV, both of which have more online viewing selections than the Boxee TV.

Sadly, I think Boxee is not long for this world. But they earned their demise.

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