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THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX, OR IN THIS CASE IN IT: BOXEE UNVEILED by Martha

THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX, OR IN THIS CASE IN IT: BOXEE UNVEILED

Guest Writer: Martha Rivera

A sold out crowd gathered at the Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn, NY last night for the unveiling of the Boxee beta as well as to catch a glimpse of the highly anticipated Beta Box.

Launched in 2008, Boxee is software that aggregates media content from the web and your personal computer and streams it on your HD television. It searches web based content providers like YouTube, Netflix, MySpaceTV, Blip.TV, CBS.com, Revision3, flickr, and Pandora, among others and brings the content straight to your living room television. Missing still from the list of content providers is the online video site, Hulu. In addition to streaming web content, it also pulls media content from your own personal computer including your ITunes, personal videos and pictures. Boxee is an open source platform allowing users to create their own apps. To date, there are over 300.

“Our biggest challenge is distribution,” said Boxee CEO Avner Ronen.   The hurdle is getting cable affiliates and major content providers, like Hulu on board. At the core of the problem is fear of piracy and concern that the advertising is stripped from the content. However, Boxee pulls online content as is, which includes the advertising that is attached to it. Boxee also has the ability to track a host of analytics far outweighing television’s usage reporting. Ronen is hoping media companies and cable providers will become comfortable once they understand usage.

Four weeks ahead of its wide release at CES, Ronen introduced the beta software and Boxee Box, as well as announced the launch of 3 new apps: the hipster soft-core site Suicide Girls, the online gamer e-zine The Escapist and Clicker, TV guide, entertainment search engine and DVR all rolled into one.


Boxee Beta

Overall, Boxee Beta looks great and is much more user-friendly. The UI has been streamlined with a new layout. The menu, previously hidden, is now front and center. The home screen has been redesigned to feature the main menu, featured content, personal queue and the friend feed.

My favorite social networking feature is the ability to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Any media that your friends or followers share with you will automatically populate on your queue. Too busy to watch videos at work? Don’t have the ability to watch video because you don’t have an office or are on the go? Another feature allows a viewer to send media assets to your queue so you can watch when you get home.

The search function has also been streamlined. Now users can search for movies, TV shows as well as local and online content at once. Boxee Beta populates all content from your computer as well as from any web source that works with Boxee. Of note, you can now mark content as “watched.” Better yet, the search function lets you omit “watched” content from the results.

Boxee focused specifically on TV shows in the Beta redesign. TV shows are now organized by season and episode. You can follow your favorite TV shows, and like Hulu, it will automatically populate your queue with new episodes.

Another new feature is the Global Menu. This menu is essentially the shortcuts screen. It provides quick access to predetermined shortcuts, favorite apps, history, and settings.

Other features include allowing users to interact with the apps without having to download them, a now playing button on every screen allowing easier navigation back to the player, a new Last.fm and flickr interface as well as a main background that changes based on the time of day.

As of this writing, 85% of Boxee’s 700,000 users use a Mac. However, Boxee Beta has not forgotten about its Windows’ friends. It will now run on Direct X, which will mean a better experience for the PC user.

Boxee Box by D-Link

The night also included the highly anticipated unveiling of the Boxee Box. Boxee partnered with D-Link, better known as the makers of wireless routers, to create the hardware. Astro Studios, the cutting edge designers behind products like the X-Box 360 and Nike, designed the sleek cube. This small black submerged cube will sit on top of the many boxes taking up space near your TV. The guys at Boxee hope that eventually you’ll do away with all those boxes and just use the Boxee Box.

The Boxee Box will retail at $200 and will be available for distribution sometime in 2Q10.

Why Boxee?

I’m a three-screen user. I watch TV, while surfing on my laptop, with my phone not far away. Having used the Alpha, I don’t know if I can give up my computer that easily. As I was navigating the web content on Boxee, I found my multi-tasking self wanting to toggle out of the screen to search the web while the video played. Because I was unfamiliar with the navigation, or more like because I’m a specific type of navigator, all of a sudden I felt trapped. According to Andrew Kippen, VP of Marketing, “Boxee is about fighting tradition. It’s streamlining your viewing experience by consolidating it all into one. Boxee is the tip of the iceberg for what’s possible.”

The Boxee Beta version seems much more straightforward. It’s easy-to-use features will allow users to not feel so (excuse the pun) boxed in. Then again, in this case, that’s what the creators of Boxee want you to do. Engage with the content within the box.

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