Sunday, January 18, 2009

Should you try Boxee?

Boxee is a multi-media tool that allows you to connect your Mac to an HDTV and navigate the web and also the video and music content on your Mac seamlessly on your TV. I had the good fortune to be an alpha tester of Boxee and, as noted in the NY Times on Saturday, Boxee is now in open beta testing for anyone with a Mac (sorry PCs are still in closed alpha). So anyone (with a Mac) that wants to can try it out.

People in the telecom industry speak of the "last mile" problem. The phone companies have super fast fiber-optic cable running down the main streets of every town, but there is only copper wire connecting most homes to these lines. Consequently, the end-user has a slow connection to the very fast pipeline. If the phone companies could just lay the "last mile" between the main roads and the actual homes of their users with fiber optic lines, then everyone could have super high speed internet and television connections for relatively cheap prices.

There is a similar "last mile" problem between most people's computers and their televisions. On your computer, you have your home videos, maybe some ripped movies and all of your music. If you have a decent internet connection, you can view high definition videos on your computer streamed from Youtube, Hulu, or whatever, and now you have connectivity to streamed movies through Netflix. Chances are, you also have a TV in your home, maybe even a HDTV, with a nice big screen. And it is probably in a comfy room with a couch. Wouldn't it be great if you could cross the "last mile" between your computer and your HDTV and watch all the video and audio content stored on your computer on your TV. Also, wouldn't it be great if you could stream Youtube or Hulu on your HDTV? That is what Boxee does.

If you connect your Mac to an input on your HDTV, Boxee will let you take over the media contained on, or available over the internet to, your Mac and control it so that it broadcasts on your HDTV. It has a simple to use and intuitive interface. Most important, it is controlled with the little white remote thing that comes with every Mac. You can easily select any movie on your Mac's hard drive and play it directly on your TV. You can also easily access the latest Britney Spears video on Hulu and stream it to your TV.

Even better, Boxee has a social networking/Web 2.0 overlay that allows you to see what your "friends" are watching and also quickly access those media elements. For example, if you friend is streaming a hilarious SNL digital short, this is displayed on your launch pad and you can select it to watch as well. This is especially cool if your friend has his or her media files in a "shared" file on his or her Mac, because you can actually watch a movie that your friend has stored on his or her hard drive. Of course, you can control which of your viewing habits is broadcast to the world. You might not want everyone to know you are watching the Little House on the Prairie boxed set.

One of the few drawbacks in the Alpha phase was somewhat glitchy access to iTunes and the content you've downloaded from the Apple store. Perhaps it is the DRM, but I had trouble getting movies in my iTunes to play correctly. However, I did not have these problems with MP4 files (which are DRM free).

All in all, this is the best solution I have seen for getting your media played on and streamed to your HDTV. If you have a Mac, I would recommend you try it out. You can download it here link.


  1. New version of Boxee includes support for ABC (read - ABC's attempt to curb torrent downloads of LOST).

  2. Thanks for the update, Seth. I will try this out tonight.


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Dividends and Preferences by Hank Heyming is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.