How it works: D-Link’s Boxee Box explained


The Boxee Box by D-Link is a new lounge-room media centre device that will put more internet content than ever within reach of your remote. It started from humble beginnings back in 2004 when a group of friends discovered XBMC a free and open-source media centre application that could be loaded onto Microsoft’s Xbox games console.

XBMC provided a crucial link between the TV screen and internet and network-based content and Boxee’s founders saw its potential as a cross-platform media centre. Six years later the project evolved its own software called Boxee and its own hardware the Boxee Box. Boxee became a favourite of DIY home theatre enthusiasts the world over. It runs across Windows Mac OS X Ubuntu Linux and Apple TV (apart from the recently released driveless update) providing a TV-friendly ten-foot interface (TFI) through which lounge-room media junkies can access music photos movies TV shows and networked files.

“Boxee was meant to fix our own issues with getting the content we love and enjoy on the computer into an interface and control system that works on the TV†explains vice president of marketing Andrew Kippen.

The Boxee Box’s unconventional front view…

An app for every feed
Boxee also streams video and photos via around 200 purpose-built applications each of which lets Boxee stream content from RSS feeds or online content sources. Available apps include top-tier brands like YouTube TED Funny Or Die CNN Wired Digg Picasa Web CNET TV the BBC Washington Post Facebook and Vimeo as well as lesser-known feeds like Hot for Words Geekbrief.TV The Escapist Open Courseware NoobToob LOL Cats WheelsTV The Open University and more; parents should note there’s even a number of adult feeds available although these are disabled by default and access can be password-protected.

Each app is built using a tightly-defined folder structure which Boxee has outlined in detail here. Basically a Boxee app incorporates: a descriptor.xml file that stores descriptive and configuration details such as the ID version number platform copyright notice URL and other details; a variety of Python scripts to manage the functioning of the app; and a folder containing graphics and XML layout files to manage the look-and-feel of the application its controls (each control is an individual interactive screen element) up to 100 windows as well as Python scripts to manage appearance.

To update information into a Boxee application – for example to refresh the list of available videos – developers simply publish it as an RSS feed which can be fed to any list control. Boxee offers application programming interfaces (APIs) for developers working in Python and JavaScript and provides RSS GUI and Remote Control interfaces (visit here if you want to learn more about building your own apps).

…masks a more recognisable view of ports at the rear.

Once you’ve developed an application you can add it to your own Boxee environment or submit it for global availability. Boxee manages all applications which must be submitted through a standardised process and will be vetted by the company before being made available to users online. Once applications are available users can run them from the Apps menu or assign them to their My Apps menu for easy access; Boxee tracks each user’s chosen applications centrally with details downloaded at login time and a similar interface available across computers and the Boxee Box.

The variety of content available through the Boxee Box is a key reason Kippen is confident that the device – running the new Boxee 1.0 software and offering connectivity including HDMI 802.11n Wi-Fi Ethernet optical audio out two USB ports and an SD card slot – can carve out a niche for itself in a market dominated by devices that offer some measure of similar connectivity and are capable of viewing and recording free-to-air TV.

Building on the more than US$10m in venture capital that Boxee has attracted since 2008 the Boxee Box is manufactured by home-networking stalwart D-Link and will take advantage of that company’s established distribution channel – which in Australia includes big-name electronics stores like Harvey Norman and Dick Smith where competitors like Dvico and Western Digital have struggled to resonate with consumers befuddled by an increasingly broad range of online devices.

Indeed shoppers today have to deal with an unprecedented range of online content options with the TiVo and similar set-top boxes now contending with a raft of IPTV services such as FetchTV and Telstra’s T-Box and online services that all major brands have built into Blu-ray players and TVs. Consumers can even get Foxtel on their Xbox 360 without adding any new hardware – and load it with XBMC as well – so why would they drop an additional $349 on the Boxee Box?

Boxee’s home screen: your central launcher for shows movies apps and more.

Putting the ‘social’ into TV
One thing that Kippen believes will drive users to the Boxee Box is its social media-driven consumer experience. Social media integration lets users tell their Twitter Facebook or Google Buzz friends when they find good content. D-Link’s Australian arm has been in negotiations to localise its content. D-Link declined to give specifics at time of writing but catch-up TV services already available online from Seven Nine Ten the ABC and SBS would be easy to add to Boxee with the right apps as would access to Foxtel’s IPTV service streaming movies and other content channels.

Staring down the device’s worldwide launch Kippen is confident the popularity of Boxee as a PC-based media centre will give it legs in the cutthroat consumer electronics space even against alternatives such as Apple’s functionally-similar but feature-restricted $129 Apple TV and coming competitors running Google TV software.

“It’s such a nascent market and the spending that Google and Sony and Apple are doing to make people aware of it benefits everybody in the space†Kippen says. “Everybody is growing the pie at this point.â€