OK, I finally got my hands on one of these new media streaming devices and my feet wet delving into the wave of future entertainment delivery. We’ve done plenty of reporting and speculating on the topic and I am definitely excited to be getting a first hand look.

First Impressions

Out of the box, this is one of the simpler setup processes I’ve had — bearing in mind that often what I get to test is not really ready for prime time. I’m running it on a wireless network for the test so all I had to do was plug it into a power strip and connect it to my home theater receiver using one of the many hdmi inputs available. Once I powered it up and got the display up on the screen I just had to follow a few steps to size the display and log into my wireless internet channel. Next thing to do is get yourself a boxee account so the box can keep track of your stuff and away you go.

The Remote

I think one of the coolest things about this box is the remote that comes with it. Firstly — it’s wireless — which is great for control when the box is in the closet like mine. The bad side of this is that I can’t teach my learning remote to take over, so I am back to needing at least 2 remotes to control my system. The design of the remote is great though. 2 buttons (pause-play and menu) and a navigation cluster (up down right left select) is all you need to do 90% of the tasks you need to do. On the other side of the remote is a full keyboard for directly talking to the system (browsing and probably texting and a bunch of stuff I don’t do because I’m old). Control is quick and responsive with a nice little pop sound indicating that the boxee got your command.

The Interface

I think by now most of us are familiar with streaming media and this interface, while a bit quirky, keeps it simple and is fairly intuitive.

Friends – Let’s you share stuff via Facebook etc. I guess this is a must for almost every bit of code written these days for some reason.

Watch Later – Let’s you set up favorite shows to keep track of.

Shows – This is a list of TV shows that are available via the various apps such as Vudu.

Movies – Again, this is a list of movies available.

Apps – Huge list of apps such as Pandora, Vudo and many others. A few of these are great, some are good, many are of fringe use if any and many are IMHO a waste of time and space. I won’t go into specifics here except to say that I think over time a few relevant entertainment apps will so dominate that many of these other sites will just fall by the wayside.

Files – This is what I really wanted to work with when I set up the unit. It allows me to access all of the content that I own and have burned to my network storage device — movies, music and photos. I first had to go and tell the boxee where my stuff was and what kind of media it was and then it did a pretty good job of finding it and listing it so I could recall and play it at will.

The Performance

Boxee does what it says it can do quite quickly and accurately. A lot of the content is free but apps such as Netflix, Vudo etc. are paid subscriptions or rental sites. They are easy to set up and use.

There are a few major apps missing such as Hulu and Amazon streaming video. I tested the support system by asking if Amazon was coming soon (I am a Prime subscriber and get free movies). I was disappointed when 3 days later I got a reply that said “Please promote this great idea at http://forums.boxee.tv/forumdisplay.php?f=12 the more votes the higher the priority.” This just doesn’t float with me. They need to have someone there to answer questions directly.

The system crashes or locks up occasionally (just like every other software driven device I have ever tested) and it does seem to cause my receiver to lose it’s mind once in a while too. This is something I think we have all learned to live with — unfortunately. I wonder if those F-15s have to be rebooted in mid battle? Actually, I think they do — which is a scary thought.

I love that I can access my own music and movies but I must say Boxee could do something about the music management system they have — which is none. All I can do if find an album or song and play it. No cover graphics, no playlists — nothing to make it much fun. Same goes for my movies.

Final Thoughts

Streaming video is here to stay and I think it’s going to change everything. It’s still early days and needs more polish and attention to detail and quality but that will come as we move forward. What makes it different and difficult to control is the basic way it works. Boxee for example can only build a box to stream the content based on a few standard hardware and software rules. The media company on the other hand is responsible for building the app that provides the interface we see and control. Each media company see’s things a little differently and that’s where the confusion and lack of quality control enters the picture. Some are great and some are terrible. In the end the winners will prevail by making our experience an enjoyable and cost effective one.

In the meantime — my advice is for you to get your feet wet as soon as you can. These devices and services are very inexpensive and in fact you can download the boxee software to your computer and use it for free (http://www.boxee.tv/download) . You need a device of some sort however to throw the content onto your entertainment system and that’s where things really should be enjoyed. The Boxee Box retails for under $200.

So, have some fun out there.