The Boxee Box arrives on the market after a long wait, and the streaming landscape it enters has changed dramatically since the box was first announced in late 2009. The Boxee Box by D-Link makes a clear design statement, but it still has room to grow on the content side.
You have to give the Boxee and D-Link points for appearance alone. Despite the name and the square packaging, this media-streamer/set top box isn't the cube you might expect. Rather, it's a shiny black polyhedron, a cube with a corner lopped off, which makes for an amusingly off-kilter shape when you set it on its rubberized green bottom. It's all very Frank Gehry.
However, once connected to your HDTV, the Boxee Box works much like other set top boxes that stream media from your network and the Internet to your TV. You can connect the box directly using the included HDMI cable, or wirelessly using 2.4GHz-band 802.11n Wi-Fi or ethernet.
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What distinguishes this streamer is its impressive range of web video offerings, both free and paid; a slick, videocentric user interface (elements of which you can try out on a PC or Mac by downloading Boxee's free software) and an attractive industrial design that includes besides the box itself, a petite, candy bar-style remote.
Unfortunately, Boxee suffers from problems that we've seen on competitors, most notably the Logitech Revue with Google TV. Boxee allows web-based streaming, but some TV networks are blocking their video content. I couldn't play CBS or NBC shows, although I was able to stream Fox and ABC programs and the unit sometimes felt slow when rendering web pages.
Furthermore, the software didn't always feel fully baked: The device froze and crashed a couple of times while I was testing it, particularly when I used Wi-Fi, which tends to be problematic for streaming media in my crowded downtown San Francisco neighborhood.
Also, several key services aren't yet available even though the product is shipping. Boxee says it will have Netflix, Hulu and Vudu by the end of the year or early in 2011.
Vendors invariably insist that various issues or missing content will be fixed via firmware updates, but I'm starting to get tired of seeing products being sold before they are fully functional.