Boxee's origins were humble: once a free-to-download media center app for computers and Apple TVs, the software evolved into a full-blown media streaming box for home theaters, and a powerful one at that (if ultimately flawed). But it was still sequestered from the main TV experience. With Boxee TV, we get one step closer to seamlessly merging the media streaming, channel surfing, and TV hoarding experiences.
It's not as if this $100 box is the very first device to attempt this—Google TV allows you to pass through a signal from a cable box, while DVRs like Tivo have some apps. But Boxee TV accomplishes most of this with a single piece of hardware. Roughly the size of two Roku's stacked side by side, the back of the unit is a coaxial cable input which takes a direct HD signal from an antenna or basic cable package, and passes it to the TV via HDMI.
On top of the TV feed is Boxee's UI, complete with a full channel guide and a somewhat streamlined experience. Boxee says that it found users were overwhelmed by having too many apps to choose from, and throwing TV in the mix, that feeling would multiply. So they nixed that aspect of Boxee and will only offer a handful of apps from the start, including Netflix, Pandora, Vimeo, Vudu, and YouTube. Local streaming—whether it be wireless or via USB—will still be fully supported, however.
But then there's the coup de grâce: DVR. Instead of going with local storage that the company packaged in with the product or you had to ante up for, Boxee is looking to the cloud for some help. When you select a show to record via the device or Boxee's web interface, it doesn't pass it off to a hard drive. Rather, it begins encoding and uploading that show to the cloud. Once a sufficient chunk is available, you can begin watching from anywhere. It's almost as if its combined most of the benefits of a DVR with a few of the features from a SlingBox. Plus, since the unit is equipped with a dual tuner, you can watch one show while recording another. But this functionality comes at a price—$15/month to be exact. And while that's a bit pricey, it does net you unlimted DVR storage.
Obviously Boxee TV can't provide all the benefits of a proper cable box—only so many channels can be delivered without a cable company-supplied set-top box. But Boxee thinks this could be especially handy for those who only have (or want) basic cable or antenna TV. Lookout for this one to hit stores on Nov 1st.