Chalk up one for the open-source geeks: Boxee, the legalised cousin of XBMC, is set to appear in an awesome looking D-Link home theatre device.
Boxee, a long-developing media centre platform known amongst media centre hackers for its ability to run on Apple's Apple TV media player as well as Windows, Mac, and Linux computers, has hit the big time after securing a product deal with home networking bigshot D-Link.
The seemingly redundantly-named 'Boxee Box', due in the first half of 2010 , will be made by D-Link and feature a hardware-based implementation of Boxee, which recently progressed from alpha to beta release and will, based on D-Link's stated release schedule, reach 1.0 stage early next year.
One of several media centre applications based on the open-source XBMC, Boxee has gained a devoted following for its seamless access to networked photos, music, movies, TV shows, and other files. Boxee also incorporates social-networking services for rating and recommending shows, and supports plugins for services like Flickr, dig, last.fm, YouTube and limited support for streaming services like Hulu and Netflix (although the last two are of no relevance to Australians since they're geographically restricted to US residents).
D-Link describes the new box as a "killer new box", and its novel, NeXT-like styling (it's a cube, 12cm on a side, with a number of corners cut off so it sits at an angle) suggests a clear intention to stand out from the crowd. Stated specifications are slim: HDMI, S/PDIF and composite audio out as well as Ethernet, 2 USB 2.0, and an SD card slot confirm D-Link is focused on ease of use and a high-quality experience out of the box.
The box will clearly run the eventual Boxee 1.0 release, which has been long-coming but whose final look and feel became much clearer with this week's release of the Boxee beta. A new look and feel is backed by underlying improvements to Boxee's code, including a rewrite of its graphics subsystem to take full advantage of DirectX and its DXVA (DirectX Video Acceleration) technology – which means even moderately-powered computers can now play full 1080p high-definition video without skipping a beat.
Software-based platforms like Freevo, MythTV, Plex, MediaPortal and others are growing in popularity amongst hackers and slowly creeping towards the mainstream as tech enthusiasts come to grips with the possibilities of the once-esoteric media centre market. However, their lack of off-the-shelf credentials has left them distant runners in the race against more mainstream entrants like Sony, LG, DViCO, TiVo, and others that offer fully integrated hardware and software packages.
One Linux-based PVR, Neuros LINK, was designed from the ground up to be hackable and supports a broad range of third-party applications, but still languishes in relative obscurity compared with the more mainstream offerings dominating retail shelves.
Hacker favourite Topfield has enjoyed somewhat more success, but whether or not the Boxee Box can follow the same path and will be of great interest when the device emerges from the D-Link R&D labs next year. Standalone media players have so far tended to use proprietary, closed designs, but the successful pairing of a known hardware maker and popular media centre could raise the bar and spawn a rush of imitators.