Boxee announces Boxee TV

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Boxee disappointed us a while back, when they discontinued their software in favor of their hardware solution. From the beginning, their hardware has suffered from problems, and software updates have been too infrequent.

Boxee has been at the forefront of negotiating for the future of unencrypted basic cable. As we previously have written, we aren’t thrilled with the solution the FCC came up with. But now, it is more clear why.

Boxee has announced the $99 Boxee TV. It is a DVR that stores recordings in the cloud(for $15 a month) and uses your antenna/basic unencrypted cable to do so.  It contains many of the Boxee apps, but not as many as the legacy Boxee box. By the way, they are killing the Boxee Box, except for maintenance updates.

This is just yet another example of Boxee pivoting again, and is bound to fail again. Not because some of their ideas aren’t good. But the Boxee Box attracted Cord Cutters…and it has a mandatory(not optional), $15 a month charge. In order to store in the cloud, you need to transcode and downgrade your HD signal.

And it relies on Cloudee, their cloud video service, to remain in business for the device to work. Boxee doesn’t have the best track record so far on continuing to provide service to its users. Tested did the math and estimated at 2 hours of recorded TV per day, that would be over 50GB uploaded a month at the estimated data rate.

So, to conclude. Don’t buy it. Don’t suggest anyone buy it. Because Boxee and its people will just dissapoint.

Downstreaming: Case Studies in Cord Cutting

A modern Music Server made with Apple iTunes/M...
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This week, well-known blogger and co-founder of both Gizmodo and Engadget, Peter Rojas, announced he’d finally pulled the plug and cancelled his cable TV service. Rojas will be using a Mac Mini with a Silicondust HDHomerun, plus EyeTV, Boxee, Hulu, Netflix, and Kylo.

The SiliconDust HDHomerun, which we also use, and have mentioned repeatedly, is a networked single or dual tuner device. A new version is set to be released that will include cablecard support for those who want cable without a cable box. Using it with OTA/Broadcast transmissions requires an antenna and decent reception, but it is a great way to get programming for free.

It is hard to say whether or not Rojas will stick to it. Dan Frommer, of Business Insider, gave up his cable-less existence last year, after two years of trying to be a ‘Hulu’ household. But, what can you get from cable that you can’t online?

There are a few shows, of course, that are not available for free online. And HD content online is in its infancy. Most online content is in standard definition. If you are lucky you can get 720p on a handful of items.

Even one Time Warner Cable PR executive, Jeff Simmermon, survived without cable, including eighteen months while on the job. His argument about why he didn’t stick to it is a valid one: It takes work.

Aggregation is the big future of online content, because to find online content now, you often have to go to several different places and find it. This is the argument of Matt Burns, of Crunchgear. Nothing gives you the same experience as cable or satellite. If your requirement for a system is that it give you everything cable does when cable gives it to you, then this sort of idea is not for you.

But, even if you can’t give up cable entirely, perhaps there are parts of it you can give up. It won’t be exactly the same, but it can be, once the system is set up, easy to use on a daily basis and full of content to fill your day. Just remember, that if online content becomes as commonplace as cable TV, the prices for it will surely rise as well.

So, we’re counting on you, Peter Rojas. You are a trendsetter in the industry. If you can stick to your guns and stay off the cable, it will make others feel comfortable.

More to come….

Has Boxee Sold Out?

Image representing Boxee as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

We’re big fans of Boxee here. We don’t use it on a daily basis(partly because of the issues with using it under Fedora Linux). We’ve been at every Boxee New York City event, we’ve annoyed their CEO.

Boxee is a media center application with a 10-foot interface designed for full sized televisions. As it began, there was an emphasis on socialization. Boxee has a lot of advantages. It has wonderful codec support for playback. But as Boxee moved toward a commercial model, playing local content was moved to the side, along withsocialization. People seem to speak less of those aspects nowadays.

Boxee turned to focus on streaming content, becoming popular for individuals looking for a new Hulu interface. Boxee played a game of cat and mouse with Hulu. Until the D-Link Boxee Box came along, and they announced that they would be putting Hulu Plus on. This logically means that the game is up. Even though Hulu offers content for free, Boxee, like many boxes, will likely support only the paid version.

Vudu and Netflix, showstoppers, are delayed and will hopefully arrive on the Boxee Box soon enough. That hasn’t stopped Boxee from expanding. At CES this week, Iomega announced a Boxee device that includes a hard drive. Viewsonic announced a TV set including Boxee.

CBS Interactive announced it will make full episodes available for purchase through Boxee. It is certainly a big move for Boxee. But they have gone from challenging the status quo to working with them. Working with CBS is certainly better in the long run. Working with content providers to get them to willingly put their content on TV is a better long term solution than creating apps that may stop working at the whim of said providers.

On the other hand, they may lose some of their devoted fanbase in the process. If every service costs money, then the value of purchasing a a dedicated device for several hundred dollars is lessened. One thing though…it’s still cheaper than cable.

Hulu unveils Desktop for Linux – Another Shot at Boxee?

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Image via CrunchBase

Hulu, the online movie streaming site, released a version of its Desktop software for linux.

Now, we’re Linux people, so we love that a company has released Linux software. But we can’t help but think back to how this affects Boxee. Hulu asked them to remove support, then unveiled their desktop app, and have now extended it to every OS Boxee supports, even going a step further, because they offer both Fedora and Ubuntu options in both 32 and 64 bit, where Boxee offers only Ubuntu 32.

Since we use Fedora 64, we’re pleased by this and will be testing the product and have a review soon. The lack of stability under Fedora and/or 64-bit has limited our use of Boxee, which is the point. We want to use Boxee regularly, but we can’t.

Back from the Boxee NYC Meetup

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As you know, Gadget Wisdom was represented at tonight’s Boxee New York City meetup. We did a little tweeting from there, but tried to focus on the presentation.

Now, this meet was chock full of goodies, networking and general wonder. Direct link to the video.

  • Boxee is unveiling a new API(application programming interface) “The new API enables developers to build apps using XML pages and Python scripts. developers can now do pretty much whatever they want UI-wise and control the data and metadata around the media.” This will be developed more over time, but it simplifies third-party development in Boxee, making it a community where anyone can contribute.
  • The new version includes an enhanced version of the Boxee browser. It is based in the XUL Framework…the basis for the Firefox and related Mozilla products. It will display any full web page, and try to play the video on it, and try to do so in full screen.
  • The launch of additional content, including Pandora radio, which was apparently its number one most requested music site to integrate.
  • The CEO of Boxee promised the application would be free forever, although extensions that allow access to paid content may come.
  • He also said they are not interested in sharing user data for profit.
  • Adult Filters and Privacy controls will be enhanced in the future.

Now, you can read the CNet report of the event if you’d like an alternate view.

We did get a chance to ask a question, got a free Size M t-shirt, and almost sung on stage during the talent competition for a free Mac Mini. Our question is bad news for us. Supporting alternate Linux distributions is not in the Boxee gameplan. They’ll be leaving that up to third-parties. So much for Boxee on Fedora support. We’d hope they’d express willingness to incorporate specific fixes for that into the Boxee source code…so Boxee under alternate distributions can find the libraries it is looking for without a whole bunch of symbolic links.

Even worse, the Linux version is behind the other versions, as the Boxee developers seem to be focusing on the Mac version…not surprising considering Mac users appear to be their largest group. Boxee hopes to move from Alpha software to Beta by the end of the third quarter. Beta means increased stability, and a redesign of the basic elements of Boxee. Once the framework is at a certain level, it will be declared ready to move closer to the mainstream.

In the meantime, if you have a Mac or Ubuntu, try it out. It should work mostly out of the box with these OSes. The Mac seems best supported though.

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The Future of Video

Back of a Blu-ray Disc. I took this.
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Our two pet interests right now seem to be netbooks and video, although there are a lot of other things we find interesting.

Engadget HD asked yesterday whether or not people are still buying DVDs. A poll of people reading a site with HD in the name, indicating the bulk of the readers are likely serious video enthusiasts, more likely to be new technology adopters. However, that said, why are people not buying DVDs in such numbers as they once did?

Some of that is definitely blu-ray. But the price point for blu-ray, especially in this economy, is still not at the level where everything would buy one. A DVD player can be had for dirt cheap. So, yes, people are still buying DVDs. Those economizing are renting them, with Netflix, or even using their computer to watch free or paid content.

Avner Ronen, the CEO of Boxee, commented on Thursday that content companies and cable and IPTV service providers alike are trying to “use their leverage to better survive or avoid change” that is coming to the media industry. “No one likes change except Obama,” he quipped.

Cable programmers receive $22 billion in subscriber fees each year, which makes those providers, and the cable companies who pay the fees to ensure their customers have access to such content, reluctant to change. Recognizing that the web won’t wait for them indefinitely, many cable companies are planning to offer access to online content as part of their subscription-based plans. Private companies like Netflix could even buy those rights as well, allowing them to get into this market.

Mark Cuban responded to Ronen’s comments about how the future of video programming is ala carte with his own thoughts. Mark Cuban is the chairman of HDNet, an all HD programming network, among other things. (Please forgive me for the disjointed nature of the rest of this post, as I try to consolidate a lot of blog comments into a coherent thread)

Why does he, like so many other internet people think content producers are stupid ? Has he, along with so many others pushing internet video not noticed what is happening to the revenues of the content and distribution industries ? Ad Revenues are falling. Quickly. DVD sales are slowing. The per subscriber fees they are getting paid are going up. Not only are they going up, they are consistent.

Now I dont know about you, but for HDNet and my other content companies, we tend to be very nice to those of our customers who pay us every month. Commentary from cable networks and their content producers are saying the same thing. They can’t afford to upset the people who pay the bills.

We agree, the cable company initiative to bring things online for subscribers has a good chance of success because it makes these service contingent on cable subscriptions, and the content providers are very likely to agree to that unless another way to make more money on streaming media is offered. And the cable company keeps increasing rates, perhaps because of falling revenues. But if they don’t get it under control, more and more subscribers will flee.

Cuban goes on the endorse metered Internet, which is a likely alternative manner that cable companies who act as broadband service providers might use to ensure their revenues.

Ronen responded, with a post on the Boxee Blog, maintaining it is not the bundled offering that is going away, but the concept of a channel and the idea that the cable company is the one deciding what content is included in the bundle. As he puts it(we cleaned it up a bit for readability):

As a cable channel your primary concern is your ability to negotiate your way into the basic cable package with as many cable operators, and to get the highest fee for it.

In an Internet/on-demand world your primary concern is the quality of your content, since you are held accountable by the consumer. if consumers want your content they will be willing to pay for it either with cash or with their time (watching ads).

I understand it is a lucrative business. You invest in 1-3 originally produced (or exclusively licensed) core programs, come up with 5-7 cheap to produce shows, license a bunch of syndicated content, get cable companies to carry it and voila! you’ve got a great business. But this model breaks in an on-demand world, and while it may take a few years, the change is inevitable.

Cuban shot back his own reply, pointing out that the Video-On-Demand model works better if the cable company is delivering it with unlimited bandwidth to your device. We tend to agree that the limiting factor on the future of IPTV is bandwidth, but bandwidth to the house continues to increase as user demand encourages infrastructure increase. We have no good way of summarizing his thoughts on why channels will always exist, so we include an excerpt of it here.

The concept of “users always want choice” really really sounds nice. It makes for a great panel argument. But the reality is that its not true. Ultimate choice requires work. Consumers like to think they have choice, but their consumption habits say they prefer easy. Youtube is the perfect example. Millions upon millions of choices that never get seen. The videos that get posted and expected to be seen are the ones from traditional media and providers that already have an audience, ala jon stewart. The rest have to fight for an audience.

TV Guide and guide listings provided onscreen by the cable company allow people to plan what they want to watch, coupled with DVRs to allow them to decided when to watch it. That means people are already migrating to ala carte. Millions of choices may not be seen on TV as well. We know we can’t devote the time to search through 24 hours of programming on the hundreds of channels our cable company bundles in to get the ones we really want.

Having online content as part of a cable subscription is good, but having it as the only option is bad. Competition and variety encourages not only innovation, but keeps prices from being overly inflated. As Avner put it…

I would love for my Cable/Telco providers to focus on being great network providers rather than try to decide what content i should or should not have access to, what application i should or should not run, invent new standards for Interactive TV, Enhanced TV, whatever TV. all with the goal of trying to maintain control, so they don’t lose a grip of their lucrative business model.

Their network infrastructure is a great asset. Their billing relationship with the user is another one. They should try to build their future business around these two foundations.

Innovation in the living room will not come from the set-top makers or the networks. If you would like to see the wild creativity of the Internet come to the TV screen, well you need to let the Internet come to the TV screen..

The arguments and comments seem to go on forever. But what it boils down to is this: no content provider would hurt their profit margins partnering for a subscription-based internet alternative to cable as cable subscribers look for less expensive alternatives. Cable isn’t dead and likely won’t be if they change and grow with the times. People are willing to watch commercials on their computer to get content legally, ala Hulu. US internet infrastructure needs to keep up with the increased bandwidth demand this technology is generating. And finally…things will change. We just have to wait and see how.

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Streaming Video Update

Boxee iPhone app
Image by nwistheone via Flickr

On Tuesday, we’re heading down to the Boxee NYC meetup. For those of you not coming(probably a lot of people), they will stream it live here. We’ll blog a bit about the experience of hanging out with 650+ Boxee enthusiasts when we get back from it. The meetup will launch a new version of the Boxee Alpha, as well as discussing some of the changes planned for when the product moves into beta. seveal guest content providers, such as, a surprise guest, and a q&a session.

A few other things that we’ve spotted:

  • Boxee released an iPhone app to allow the iPhone to act as a remote control. For those of you with iPhones, the screenshots look like this is a wonderful addition to their offerings.
  • In a recent post, we mentioned that Windows Media Center users were having trouble with guide data. Engadget reports that some, but not all of that has been resolved after they blogged about it. They have restored analog guide data which was used to populate digital channels, which means it is still not entirely accurate.
  • In our search for new media hardware and apps, we cannot always present our own reviews, as we don’t have the money to buy everything we like the sound of(Someone can send us free things though, and we guarantee we’ll review them fully). Engadget reviewed the Popcorn Hour A-110. The Popcorn Hour line of products sounds very promising, even if used only as a media streamer from your computer. The final line of their review of the item sums it up: “While it can do just about anything, we didn’t find it super easy and wouldn’t expect those without a fundamental knowledge of networking and video to be able figure how to make it do anything useful. But for those who like to tinker, you’re in for a real treat.” We like to tinker, but we hope firmware and future updates will enhance the product offering.  If so, we are in the market for a set top device that can play all the stuff we normally use an HTPC to play.
  • iPlayer, the BBC’s internet streaming player, may bump itself up to HD offerings as soon as April. Unfortunately, the BBC doesn’t allow us here in the US to stream using their player…at least not officially.
  • The daughter of a Spanish city councilor used her mom’s 3G modem to download episodes of Lost, not realizing that the size of the episodes would end up costing $40,000 in data fees, or $300 an episode.

Otherwise, we continue to look for new news on easy streaming video, and to make plans to enhance our broadcast offerings, mostly by trying to pick up stations farther away.

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Hulu on Boxee is Back…Sort Of

Image representing Boxee as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

In a blog post today, Avner Ronen announced a new Boxee update. In characterizing the issues with Hulu, he said that “the fact that it’s becoming easy to consume Internet video on a TV brings into question many of the industry’s business models that developed before the web.” And this is the center of the problem with Hulu, or rather their content providers. Apparently, the industry gets it, but they need time to adjust to the new reality.

But, since users won’t wait, and are taking matters into their own hands, with hacks to reenable Hulu content in different ways, Boxee has  “decided to enable access to their favorite content using a new built-in RSS reader optimized for video. like IE, Firefox, or Google reader, the RSS reader supports Google Video, Yahoo!, YouTube and feeds from many other websites. while it’s not as attractive or robust as our previous Hulu application, it will additionally support Hulu’s public RSS feeds.

The new version will also include an Application Store, allowing users to install new applications and plugins from official and third-party repositories, as well as an Auto-Update feature. This is not a stable release…that is set for the Boxee Meetup on March 24th(which we hope to attend, schedule permitting). They are planning to share some concrete plans for the beta there. We hope for them to work on some of the code that makes Boxee(and XBMC) very Ubuntu-centric. Then they can cover the whole Linux market.

The new RSS video feed reader is not specifically designed for Hulu content. By itself, it is a good addition, as it will allow users to add in video content from RSS feeds without writing plugins. Plugins are a superior choice, as they can be customized for the content. But, it is a solution that keeps expanding Boxee’s reach. And it is certainly better than our kludge, which we’ve reenabled, which creates a menu out of the RSS feed, and launches Firefox, sets the video to start and play fullscreen.

In the meantime, at least Boxee is trying on both ends…enabling a Hulu alternative option and continuing to negotiate. We’ll keep an eye on both.

Update: Hulu has blocked the new Boxee browser from accessing the Hulu site. As they put it. “this is a disappointing development since their RSS feeds are publicly available, and our browser, while optimized for a great 10 ft video experience, is no different in how it accesses this content than Internet Explorer, Firefox, Flock, Opera or any of the other browsers out there.” Either way, Hulu is playing hardball.

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Hulu Support in Boxee Disabled

Image representing hulu as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Hulu has announced that its content will no longer be available through Boxee. As they put it…

Our content providers requested that we turn off access to our content via the Boxee product, and we are respecting their wishes. While we stubbornly believe in this brave new world of media convergence — bumps and all — we are also steadfast in our belief that the best way to achieve our ambitious, never-ending mission of making media easier for users is to work hand in hand with content owners. Without their content, none of what Hulu does would be possible, including providing you content via and our many distribution partner websites.

Our mission to make media dramatically easier and more user-focused has not changed and will not change. We will not stop until we achieve it and we are sober in our assessment that we have such a long way to go.

Boxee writes that it has been pleading its case with Hulu’s content partners, but despite the positive feedback, they were unable to change their minds either.

i hope the content owners will realize boxee is their friend. we make it easy for people to access ad-supported TV Shows or use a subscription service like Netflix.  The reality is that if the content owners will not make it easy for users to get their content legally, then people will find other ways.

A lot of comments indicated people would go back to illegally downloading episodes via Bittorrent. Certainly not a good day for the future of television content online. We’re disappointed. We spent all this time promoting Boxee+Hulu as a really good content option. This cuts one of the best features. The XBMC Hulu Plugin has stopped working as well. Back to our wireless mouse and browser hack, we suppose.

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Last week, the Device Guru website was temporarilly overloaded due to the syndication of one of its posts on Slashdot about building dedicated hardware to run Boxee. Boxee has been getting a lot of press, not just from us.

For those of you who haven’t been following it, Boxee is a complete media center solution based on XBMC, which it is an alternative for. Both provide an easy to install media solution with complete support for most video and audio formats, as well as streaming. Both have full plugin support, so you can extend it to support additional sites and online content, such as RSS-based media enclosures to follow podcasts.

Boxee takes it a step further by integrating flash-based players into its offerings, allowing it to offer full Hulu and other flash-based player site support controllable by a remote, although rewind and fast forward are apparently still buggy. XBMC has a Hulu-plugin that uses direct RTMP streaming. Since this eliminates the commercials, it means if it continues, Hulu will likely try to find a way to stop it, unlike the flash player method, which is fully supported.

Every month, Boxee seems to get support for a new site, such as ABC, BBC, etc. They even ask users to vote on what they want to see next.

That brings us back to Device Guru, who detailed his goal of building a sub-$500 IP-STB(Internet protocol set-top box), essentially something with the form factor of a piece of dedicated hardware, ie dvd player, stereo, etc, and capable of delivering a/v content to a TV/entertainment system/home theater without monthly cable fees and such. One can get some dedicated prebuilt boxes to do this, including the AppleTV, which Boxee has ported its software to, but there are advantages to building a small form-factor computer and loading Boxee, XBMC, and whatever else you want to use into it.

The DeviceGuru uses an Intel MicroATX motherboard, and an ultra-slim case. You can go for a Mini-ITX motherboard, and go even smaller. But if you want room for extra memory, firewire, DVI/HDMI, digital sound, etc., and the horsepower to decode and playback HD video, you may need the extra throttle.

Boxee, as well as XBMC, runs best on Ubuntu Linux, and thus all the software is free of charge. Get yourself a USB remote, set Boxee to autorun on startup, and your device will be indistinguishable from a DVD player.

We have a media player of our own, but we opted for a MicroATX cube, like Device Guru’s, from Silverstone. The SG-02. It uses a normal power supply, and has enough room for high-end video cards and hard drives with a moderate sized form factor. We have another cube made by Antec.  They move well, they allow us to use spare parts from other systems to upgrade, and for flashy effect, we added in a Crystalfontz front display. Many home theater PC cases, designed to be integrated in this manner, include displays for displaying the currently playing program, and there is display support in XBMC for them.

Either way, for a variable amount, less if you have some spare drives, you can build a media center that will integrate internet and computer based video into your entertainment center. And it will offer a unique selection of items, many of which you cannot find on cable.

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