Rolling out to consumers as of today, Boxee announced the shipment of the Live TV tuner on the company’s official blog. The dongle plugs into the back of the Boxee Box hardware and provides over-the-air high definition television stations through the system’s user interface. Connecting into one of the two USB ports on the back of the unit, the $50 dongle also connects to an included passive antenna. However, the owner can also choose to connect the dongle to a stronger indoor antenna like the Mohu Leaf or feed basic cable via a coaxial connection into the Boxee Box. Boxee Box owners that have already cut out an expensive cable or satellite plan in regards to television content may be able to take advantage of a basic cable option when already paying for Internet service.
Once the owner boots up the Boxee box, they will notice a new icon on the screen called “Live TV” within the main menu bar. Launching the application will immediately bring up the most recent station and the user can launch a guide on the left side of the screen to browse channel listings. While listings are very limited compared to a service like TiVo, users will be able to see the name of the program as well as the time slot. Users will also be able to view friends that are currently watching the same program as well. Channels within the guide can be renamed to actual network names or completely removed if the channel doesn’t provide any useful programming.
Boxee is currently looking into DVR possibilities with future updates of the service. Any DVR functionality would likely have to utilize a third-party external hard drive or Boxee-branded peripheral to work correctly. However, Boxee officials have started rolling out the Boxee Box version 1.5 update to all users. This update includes features like Rotten Tomatoes integration into movie information, an improved search function, changes to navigation within the user interface, improved filtering on library screens, browser pop-up management, Live TV compatibility and a series of bug fixes. For more information on the entire series of changes, users can check out the release notes for the update.
Boxee’s social weapon: Frictionless sharing
In terms of accelerating the progress of cord cutting within mainstream consumers, the most interesting inclusion within this update involves Facebook social account pairing and how that ties into Open Graph efforts. Once the user enables sharing through the Live TV Timeline App, Boxee Box actions are fed automatically to the Facebook Ticker as well as the Facebook Timeline. Similar to the integration used by apps like Spotify, the Facebook Ticker shows the latest show that the Boxee Box owner is watching. For instance, watching the live feed of the upcoming Super Bowl will make a status update appear within the Ticker regarding the football game.
The Timeline entry that’s automatically created on the user’s Facebook page is a collection of recent Boxee actions. When a Facebook friend clicks the link in the Ticker or on the Timeline, they are sent to a page Boxee has created for the episode, movie or event. Assuming the friend is also a Boxee user, they can mark the episode to watch at a later time or add the program to their favorites list. In addition, users can opt out of the sharing feature at any time and still keep the Facebook account connected to see what their Facebook friends are watching.
Arguably, one of Boxee’s key strategic advantages over cable and satellite companies is the adoption speed of social sharing features. Assuming frictionless sharing through Facebook is an effective marketing tool, Boxee can potentially expose a vast number of mainstream users to the Boxee platform without spending money on advertising. While the Live TV tuner somewhat levels the playing field between Boxee and companies like Time Warner or DirecTV, sharing Live TV content on Facebook without any required, continual user action is going to be difficult to match.