Today, boxee is releasing their latest alpha build for the flexible media player. The big news for this release is the tantalizing Netflix support and new custom interfaces for various channels like Hulu, CNN, Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube. There are a few new content sources as well.
Netflix takes center stage for this release at the request of users. The boxee team ran a survey just two weeks ago and the results put Netflix out in front as the most requested new addition to the media center app. The initial implementation for the desktop seems to be pretty complete even at this early stage. You can browse content available in Netflix’s “Watch Instantly” category, add items to your Instant Queue, and play the streaming content. Here’s a couple shots to tide you over until you can download and install for yourself.
Because Netflix uses a subscription model that makes instant content available to their DVD rental customers, there is an abundance of older “catalog” titles. New release movies are generally not available through Netflix Instant Play. TV shows are the exception to this rule as you can find several current season shows from CBS and NBC on Netflix. In some cases, the content on Netflix is actually better than what you can find elsewhere. For example, Hulu (in which NBC is a primary investor) only puts up the 5 most recent episodes of Heroes on their own streaming web site. Netflix has the full season available from the season premier to the latest episode.
The Netflix support is available for those that have an active Netflix subscription. Support for Apple TV is being worked on, but the limited hardware power of the Apple TV created some difficulty.
The other big change in this release is that boxee now has custom on-screen interfaces for certain content channels including Hulu, CNN, Flickr, Picasa, and YouTube. These custom looks go beyond simple skinning and provide a way to tap into the unique options of each underlying service. In this shot of the CNN interface, you can see the top stories on the site, what’s most popular, staff picks or browse by CNN’s sections.
The custom interfaces are intended to provide a proof of concept for the possibilities for developers to extend boxee. The CNN and Hulu screens show a lot of promise for what is possible.
The new content sources in this release are Netflix, The WB, The Boston Globe’s Big Picture Blog (an incredible source of photos from around the world), and MTVMusic. If you check the results of the boxee user survey, you wil see that there are a lot more sources planned that might appear in future releases. Personally, I really want to see Pandora radio next.
I’m a little disappointed that Netflix streaming isn’t available on the Apple TV just yet, but apparently the hardware requirements for Silverlight (what Netflix uses from streaming) are about double the specs of the Apple TV. I’ve noticed some minor glitches with Hulu streaming but the boxee team is working hard to improve streaming performance on the Apple TV and I’ve seen it improve with each release.
After getting past the envy my Apple TV feels for my MacBook at having Netflix content, I am really impressed with this release. I understand that features are still being added during this alpha phase, but I am surprised at how quickly new content is being added. Only two weeks after asking users for feedback, the top request is implemented along with other features, new content, and bug fixes. With a such a solid team of developers that care about their users and having just raised $4 million in new funding, I am really looking forward to seeing what will come next from the boxee team.
If you want you’d like an invite to boxee, just go sign up at boxee.tv/theappleblog and boxee will send you an invite in the next few days to use the boxee service!