The holiday buying season is fast upon us, and at long last the Boxee Box by D-link is officially on sale, with Amazon.com currently offering the unit for $199. Although Boxee originally started as an application for media center PCs, the Boxee Box is a small, wedge-shaped device that users connect to their televisions or home theater setups: it enables users to tap into their existing home broadband connections to stream Internet video, browse the Web, and tap into a selection of premium services like NHL GameCenter, Vudu, Pandora, and Ooyala (which is bringing the United Football League to Boxee). And the list of those premium services is about to expand: Boxee announced today that both Netflix and Hulu Plus will be coming to the Boxee Box.
The Boxee Box features a small footprint (about 4.5 inches on a side), and sports 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, gigibit Ethernet, HDMI 1.3 output, S/PDIF and analog audio output, two USB 2.0 ports, and support for SD/SDHC and MMC memory cards. The device supports an enormous variety of audio, video, and image formats, and can handle 1080p resolution at 30fps, 1080i at 60fps. A unique two-sided remote control makes the Boxee Box both a viewing and Web surfing tool: one side of the remote sports standard controls, while the other offers a full QWERTY keypad. And the Boxee Box’s WebKit-based browser does support Adobe Flash.
The Boxee Box has been in development for some time, and was originally supposed to ship in the first half of 2010. (Check out what Digital Trends thought of it way back in January 2010.) The delay in getting the Boxee Box out the door means that the device now must compete in a crowded marketplace, with the Google TV-based Logitech Revue, Roku set-top boxes, and (of course) the just-revamped Apple TV all aiming to be consumers’ streaming set-top boxes of choice.
The addition of Netflix and Hulu Plus support will undoubtedly help the Boxee Box…but neither is coming right away. Boxee says Netflix might be available to Boxee Box users by the end of 2010, but talks have just begun with Hulu and there’s no timeframe for a Hulu Plus rollout. (Netflix is available on all the Boxee Box’s competitors, but, then again, neither Apple TV nor Google TV nor Roku have Hulu Plus yet either.)
What might make or break the Boxee Box is its Web browsing capabilities: if putting a full HTML Web browser in a living room truly is something consumers want, the Boxee Box’s only competition at the moment is Google TV. However, if television viewers think it’s annoying to try to watch TV while someone else controls the remote, imagine watching the Web while someone else controls the keyboard. However, as a Web-based streaming device, the Boxee Box will probably face the same content hurdles currently plaguing Google TV, with major networks blocking access. (Add one more to that list: Fox is now also blocking Google TV.) Trying to get consumers to buy a streaming media device with uncertain content offerings might be a tough sell.