I’ve been on the hunt to find a web enabled media streaming box to add to my home theater. After much research I narrowed down my decision to 2 devices I feel that are the best out there. Those devices are the Roku 2 XS, the Boxee Box. The Roku and Boxee have a set of common features between them so I wanted to thoroughly test both to determine which was the one I’d like to keep. The Roku is a cheaper and simpler device to setup and use, so in my comparison I decided to focus on the distinct features that the Boxee box offered to see if it was a better choice for me. Below I’ve identified the unique features Boxee offers.
1. You can stream your own videos, music, and photos on it I feel that this feature is a must for any home theater today. We have all now amassed personal collections of photos, music, and home videos. Some of you may have setup other boxes you already have such as an Xbox 360 or PS3 for streaming these files. I was streaming using my PS3 and the PS3 Media Server. But as you may have found, this method isn’t ideal. The Boxee was built for sharing your own media from its inception. They also offer you several different ways to get the content from external sources to it. I’m using the built in SMB sharing to access the files from my NAS. It’s nice not having to have a program running on a computer that needs to be on to share content. So while there isn’t a native way to do this on the Roku, if you’re willing to hack a bit there are several third party apps (private channels) to do this. Probably one of the best options is Plex which is also based on the same XBMC software that powers the Boxee.
2. The remote has a keyboard I feel this is a very important feature that shouldn’t be underestimated when considering a streaming box. I have experienced the frustration of the single letter hunt and peck process of virtual keyboards on enough systems to know that I don’t want to continue wasting time using that process in the future. You will need to type words more often than you think on these boxes. Whether you are logging into a service, or trying to type in search words for a movie you want to find on Netflix, or if you need to type in the url of a website into the browser. You will need a keyboard to do this without losing your hair. And speaking of browsers…
3. It has a web browser So you have a box connected to the internet. Might as well offer the ability to browse the web too right? Well with a Boxee Box you can do this and with the keyboard on the remote you can rest assured that it won’t be an awful experience like it is on other devices without one.
4. You can bookmark videos on the web to watch on it Boxee offers a bookmarklet for your browser that provides a feature called “watch later” which allows you to be on any web page and when you click on the bookmarklet it will add any videos on the page to a view later area of the Boxee box to watch next time you fire it up on your couch. These videos can also be accessed via the iPad app. Wait what? They have an iPad app?
5. They offer a full featured iPad app add-on for free There’s an iPad app that provides access to some of Boxee’s features. This includes the “watch later” videos you bookmark functionality I mentioned above as well as accessing your personal movies, photos, and music. Another feature offered here (and also on the Box) is the ability to see all the videos shared by your friends on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. You can also start watching something on the iPad and easily resume where you left off on the Boxee Box or vice versa.
6. You can send video to your Boxee Box from an iOS device using AirPlay This is an experimental feature and I’ve had some mixed results but it’s pretty cool. I’ve successfully sent videos from apps that support AirPlay to the Boxee box and this is a great feature that I hope improves over time. I also am not sure if they’ll support the mirroring function that came with iOS to send content to a TV but that would be great too.
7. You can watch live broadcast TV Boxee just announced their LiveTV $49 add-on which adds the ability to watch local broadcast stations (like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC) for free. This feature will go a long way to attract cord-cutters whose primary concern for eliminating their cable subscriptions is the loss of being able to watch live news and sports programming.
There is one major feature on the Roku that the Boxee doesn’t have. The Roku 2 XS comes with a remote that includes a gyro built-in accelerometer for gaming. Included with Roku is the ever popular Angry Birds. It was lots of fun to kill the piggy’s on my big screen. Roku also aims to bring many more games to utilize this remote. So if this is appealing to you it may be something to sway you into the direction of a Roku.
So there you have it. A little deeper dive into the unique features of these devices. One thing to keep in mind when comparing them is that the Boxee does require a little more work to setup and access all of these features. The Roku is almost half the price so you need to determine whether these features offer enough value for you. Also, If your household has children or slightly less tech savvy users, the Roku may still be a better choice.