I’ve been Alpha testing the new free open source Boxee for Windows media manager and the more I play with it, the more impressed I get. At first glance it’s just another media center software clone, kinda like MythTV, Tvoon and Front Row (here’s an excellent list of media center software) but dig a little deeper and some awesome features start to jump out at you.
The first thing to note is the 10 foot interface. Sure most of the better media manager programs have this, but the Boxee version is cleverly designed from the ground up to be no-brainer easy to operate from a distance. Not only are the text and icon assets nice and large, but navigation is a cinch. Hit an arrow key (or move the mouse to the side of the screens) to pop up the two main nav elements you’ll need to get around, and if you ever get stuck just hit the Esc key to back up. It’s fabulously simple, and you can get out of trouble easily no matter how lost you get (which isn’t often). It’s perfect for sofa-side browsing.
The crucial and all important premise behind Boxee though, is to make your media experience completely seamless, whether you’re consuming it online or locally from your local computer hard disk. There’s no differentiation between online and offline content, it all just appears on the menu, which is really cool. Fancy watching a DVD from your PC? Just fire it up from the Video menu. Bored with that and wanna catch a TV show on Hulu? Just select the icon and off you go. It’s all in the same menu, so no sweat. You’ll have to log in to Hulu the first time you access it, but from then on, you just click and go.
The same goes for all of your different media needs. Photos, music and Internet radio are all just a menu icon away, no matter where the media resides. In fact the biggest issue you face with the program is setting up all your accounts the first time out so they’re all accessed automatically from then on. I particularly like the Last.Fm integration which lets you listen to artist fan radio stations instantly, it’s a very cool way to get to some great music quickly.
But the other aspect of the program which is unique is the community aspect. It’s not just a Web 2.0 add-on, it really works. You can share your content automatically with any of your friends and vice versa, and the awesome feature is you can join in with a friend in watching or listening something if you see they’re online from your dashboard. How’s that for real friendship eh? On your feed page you’ll get to view a history of all your friend’s media habits, which makes it easy to pick up on great content when you need it.
It’s really cool to hit your front page, see that one of your friend’s has just watched something and hit the thumbnail to be taken to a nice short animation in Joost. Automatically and without having to leave the program, fire up something else blah blah.
You get a bunch of program settings, covering everything from video quality to the type of network you want to use, and it’s all clearly and easily laid out so you won’t get lost. The design of the user interface on this app is superb. Have I said that already?
There’s a bunch of other features that I won’t go into here – did I mention the ability to Twitter what you’re watching/consuming or the built-in BitTorrent functionality which lets you schedule and download something to watch? – so check out the video at Vimeo to get an idea, and wander over to their blog for some background info. The program is available for Mac (+AppleTV) , Linux and Windows (although all in invite only Alpha at the moment) and because it’s open source, there’s bound to be a bunch of extensible work going on in the background which should be interesting.
This is an application that could seriously change the media landscape if it grabs enough traction on launch. The possibility of having a simple media box hooked up to your TV which can not only access local and Internet media, television and radio but also help you share content seamlessly – and that’s the key word because no-one will bother unless it’s absolutely no effort – then suddenly you have a real rival for established broadcast technology, a kind of superset service which will be devoured by the new YouTube generation faster than you can say ‘Death to DRM’.
Watch this one closely, folks, it could be a game changer. I’m not sure about the situation with invites, I’ve got an ‘invite friends’ button, so I’ll check to see if that’s live and if so the usual rules apply. Ask in the comments and I’ll see what I can do.
boxee is the developer of the first “social” media center. boxee plays media from your computer and other devices in your home network, as well as connect you to various Internet sources that allow you to stream or download movies, tv shows, music and photos. boxee is based on the xbmc open-source project. we have been working with team-xbmc since early 2007.