Yesterday Janko made the case for why a family man without cable access might buy a Boxee Box. There are many reasons why I won’t be buying one, but it mainly comes down to price, competition and content availability.


Yesterday, Janko wrote up all the reasons why he has already pre-ordered a Boxee Box. And today, I’m going to tell you why I think it’s a sucker’s bet.

It’s no big secret that I’m a Boxee skeptic. Let’s just get that out of the way. In our 2010 prediction piece, I suggested that the Boxee Box would be a bust. That prediction seems more likely to come true now, ever since the release date was pushed back from the second quarter to early November. Not just that, but now both Apple and Google have announced competitive products ahead of Boxee’s release date.

There are many reasons why I think the Boxee Box will have issues, but let’s boil it down to the basic reasons that I won’t be buying one.

For one thing, I question Boxee’s ability to offer a consistent user experience between its media center software and its set-top box. The beauty of Boxee is that anyone can build an application to deliver any web video to the TV set; the problem is that they can build those apps whether they own the content or not. Now that it’s a hardware play, Boxee can’t expect to remain an open platform and not have media companies try to block it from serving up content it doesn’t actually have the rights to.

Does anyone really believe Hulu won’t try to block Boxee from serving its TV shows as soon as the set-top box is available? What happens when a user buys a Boxee Box thinking that it will have a working Hulu application, only to find that app is just one of many that are unavailable?

Issues of content aside, the Boxee Box is overpriced for what it is, especially when you consider that Apple has found a way to price its broadband set-top box at $99, and even moreso when you compare its pricing to the Roku Player, which starts at $60. The Boxee Box, quite frankly, isn’t as much of a value when you look at the other options already available on the market.

But the biggest reason why I won’t shell out $200 for a Boxee set-top box is that it’s a band-aid. In that respect, Boxee is hardly alone. Apple TV, Logitech’s Google TV box and even Roku are all trying to solve a short-term problem — lack of internet content on the TV — with a short-term solution: adding another device into the living room. With consumer electronics manufacturers like Samsung, Sony, LG and the like adding connectivity directly into their TVs, and with carriers like AT&T working on routing IP video through their set-top boxes, the need for a separate box is quickly disappearing. The truth is that the Boxee Box is damn near obsolete, before it has even become available.

All that said, if you absolutely must buy a box to get web video on your TV, do yourself a favor and don’t spend $200 on a underpowered PC with unsanctioned video apps built by third-party developers whose content is bound to be blocked. Pay half as much for a top-of-the-line Roku box that has a lot of the same content, provided by the content owners themselves.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: Three Reasons Over-The-Top TV Apps Will Beat Big-Cable (subscription required)

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  1. In the end, all the functionality and features of devices currently in the works from Google, Apple, and Boxee will be swept up into some “crappy but acceptable to the masses” offering from the cable/satellite companies, in much the same way they overran TiVo with DVR’s. The Boxee box, like Apple and Google TV, is for hobbyists – and their collective sales will likely reflect this. The technology will only take off after the cable companies bring it to their customer base…IMO of course.

  2. Dear Ryan,

    I am sorry you will not be buying a Boxee Box. It might be that Roku is better suited for your needs. However your post is full of inaccuracies and is a bit misinformed.

    There are more than 400 apps available to Boxee users. Some developed by our partners, some by us and some by users.

    As you well know Boxee has partnerships with the likes of Netflix, MLB, NHL, Conde Nast, Sony Crackle, MUBI, CBS, LiveStation, many more and many more to come.

    To position Boxee as a collection of user built hacks is inaccurate and unfair. In the history of the company we were asked to remove only one user-built application for using a logo without approval…

    The Boxee Box has a webkit browser that enables the user to access any webpage and play the videos on that page, view the banners and watch the in-stream ads. Boxee is by no means the only company offering a TV browser and I don’t believe we will be singled out by content owners.
    Apple and Roku “found” a way to sell a device for $99 because they are both using hardware that is underpowered compared with Intel Atom and therefore can’t do stuff like play 1080p at 60fps, support Flash 10.1, run a full-featured browser and more… You can also get a free phone from your mobile carrier, but if you want a smartphone alas it costs more. There are plenty of people buying cheap, basic phones and there will be plenty of people buying cheap, basic Internet TV products.
    If you are in the market for a new HDTV or BluRay with Internet connectivity then go for it. You may find it underwhelming when it comes to how it handles Internet content, but then again you may be fine with being limited to a select few video sources offering a very rudimentary experience.

    We believe the Boxee Box is the best solution for people who want to watch any video from the Internet or their home network in 1080p with a simple remote. We hope that for people who would like to have this type of freedom that the $199 price will not be a turn off.

    My 2011 prediction is that by the end of the year you’ll have to print this blog post and eat it (comments included).

    which is why I’m making it a little bit longer…


    1. IMO Boxee is about to do for TV, what the iPhone did for phones. Not trying to kiss ass, but thanks for all the hard work Avner.

      1. Thanks! I am actually using that analogy a lot lately :)

    2. “My 2011 prediction is that by the end of the year you’ll have to print this blog post and eat it (comments included).”


      I think Ryan knows little to nothing about Boxee and mentions nothing of its perks and slick UI. I pre-ordered the Boxee Box on day1 and can’t wait to get my hands on it. Even though many of the online content won’t be available to me in Canada, I’m still looking forward to it and its future offerings.

      Keep it up Boxee!

    3. My 2011 prediction is that by the end of the year you’ll have to print this blog post and eat it (comments included).

      which is why I’m making it a little bit longer…

      I like your style.

    4. Boxee gets my vote. I’ve been using it for months now and love it. Recently got a Roku as a gift — it’s nice and works great, but really does feel primitive when compared to Boxee… and very lacking in content.

      The Boxee UI is fantastic and I love that I can use my iPhone as a remote. I’m definitely concerned about the content providers trying to block their material though, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out. Hopefully they can strike enough deals to make that not an issue. If the providers are smart, they’ll come out with their own apps and monetize the hell out of them. And why shouldn’t they? It’s only fair.

      Only criticism about the box itself is the design. Looks cool, but it would fit much better on a desk than within a home theater setup. Hopefully v2 will take care of that!

    5. This piece was clearly meant to be opinion. And part of that opinion is based on what I see as the potential risk of certain content not being available, whether it is viewed through an app built by you or a third party, or through the built-in browser.

      Regardless of the more philosophical discussion of whether or not you should be able to view web content through a dedicated piece of hardware like the Boxee Box as opposed to on a laptop connected to the TV (and whatever the differences between them are), the fact is that you’re on shaky legal ground here. I mean, you’re basically promising users that they will have access to certain content that you have not actually secured rights to distribute. That includes Hulu and all the major broadcasters.

      I just think that consumers should be aware of that risk and should take it into consideration before they spend $200 on a piece of hardware.

      1. Ryan that’s the problem. Most Boxee users are thieves that torrent content illegally. This is their “sling box” for lack of a better term.

      2. Ryan, I understand where you are coming from but people have been connecting their computers to TVs for some time now and Boxee Box just makes doing so more convenient. You don’t need the box to run its software… its just a computer that’s main purpose is the Boxee Media Center. I think your are over-exaggerating.

      3. “Shaky legal ground”? Citation needed.

        Are you asserting that companies putting content on the web are going to complain when people watch that content via the web?

        I’d be really interested to hear the legal definitions used to make a distinction between allowed and disallowed web browsers. It might have interesting ADA implications.

      4. A player that can play every format,a and have a browser because i might need to check something while i am seeing the news in the bed.

        Cant be a bad idea

  3. I have roku and love watching netflix on it. However, it does NOT offer nearly the content that boxee on the htpc does. Roku, unfortunately, does not have shows from hulu, crackle, NBC, ABC, CBS, cartoon network, etc… I have had a roku box for seven months and it is only after the htpc with boxee program that I was able to cut the cord and loss my $80 cable bill. If the Boxee box is able to do what their computer app does I will gladly pony up $199 for one for the bedroom TV.

    Also I am a bit surprised that you failed to mention that hulu attempted to block boxee before and failed. Why do you think they would be more successful this time?

  4. While I have used the PC version of Boxee, I am yet to see the Box in action. I like what I see in the PC version. I wouldn’t spend money on a Roku just because it’s not as feature rich. For my mom however, it is possible that a simple UI with a few content sources is the way to go (Roku?).
    I tend to agree that a stand-alone OTT box will find it hard to compete with the rest of your electronics in the living room in the short run. In the long run however, it is possible that you may just swap your blu-ray out for one of these.

  5. Plex anyone? The deal with LG and a windows version coming soon this becomes the best media center on the market and its free!

  6. Apple or rather Steve Jobs summed it up when he called a lot of these HTPC companies and their media content distribution as ‘amateur hour’.

    With all due respect to Mr. Ronen, despite his list of 400 available apps and his list of partners the content is extremely lacking for them.

    The good content like MLB is for a niche male demographic and limiting. NetFlix is the only portal providing decent ‘pro’ content but Boxee is far from the only offering allowing me access to it. I can get better quality content on a cheaper device and that is why in 12 months time, once the small portion of geeks and advocates buy their Boxee Box, Avner will struggle to push further sales beyond the techies.

    Having worked in this sector, people still have a hard time understanding what a ‘media center’ is and nobody is getting it right in terms of UI, features and content combined, therefore it remains a geeks pastime for now… but at least those with valued content will make a living.

    I look at Boxee sometimes and think. Ok, marketing it well, saying the right things, talking a good fight, but not making any money on their investment… are they just going to be the space monkeys, shaved and sent out there to see what happens. Tthen someone will send up the real astrounauts (like Apple)? Nobody remembers the test monkeys… Buzz Aldrin took all the glory!

    1. Um… That was Alan Shepard.

      1. Yuri Gagarin, actually.

  7. You’ve won me over Avner. The Boxee Box offers more features than any other internet STB plus the continuous addition of more apps means it will even be more useful in the future. The RF remote is fantastic. It has an input for an SD card which is rare in these devices. I actually like the unusual design. It makes a statement in a sea of black boxes. But with the RF remote you can completely hide it if you wish to. Those who think it’s too expensive are unrealistic. The WD Live Plus with a WiFi dongle costs about the same yet only offers channels and access to your NAS. The Boxee Box offers all of that with a fully functional web browser giving access to virtually anything on the internet. If you can manage to make Netflix access available that will be great too. I understand that you do have definite plans to implement Netflix at the time of release or soon after.
    To those who say just buy a HTPC I respond; show me a HTPC for $200 with all of the features of the Boxee Box including it’s nearly silent design and a cool RF remote and small form factor. The Boxee Box is meant for the big TV room, not a second computer room. Plus it’s going to be a whole lot faster and easier to reboot the Boxee Box than any HTPC. I can’t wait to get mine!

  8. This guy barely knows what he’s talking about. I am with Avner on this one. In my household, there is a PS3, an XBOX 360, a Wii and 3 laptops capable of streaming Netflix and doing other things Boxee does, and I’m still going to buy a Boxee box. Why? Because they all do it poorly or are making me jump through hoops. The PS3 requires me to stand up, remove Modern Warfare 2 and put a Netflix streaking disc inside for it to allow Netflix instant streaming. The 360 requires me to pay a 60 dollar yearly membership in order for Netflix to work. The picture on the Wii sucks and hooking up my laptop to my LCD TV and operating it from the couch with wireless mouse is not only uncomfortable but robs me of my laptop while watching Movies which I like to use for facebook, twitter etc. Let alone the 1080p MKV movies I like to watch the most, are incompatible with my ps3. Of course I can make them work after converting them to VOBs or I can transcode them on the fly with PS3 media server. But they’re a pain to fast forward if transcoded. The problem is………..I don’t want to do any of that crap. I just want 1 device, that does everything, instantly and smoothly. I don’t want to worry about converting, or encoding, or codecs, or compatibilities, or yearly memberships or streaming Netflix discs. I just want to power on, and start watching. And that my friends, is what makes the cookie crumble!

    Oh and by the way, “the Boxee Box is damn near obsolete, before it has even become available” is one of those moronic conclusions people just like to pull out of their asses. I’m sure all of you have heard these idiotic maxims which Newscasters love to proclaim in the varieties sections of the nightly news like: “Soon we will have flying cars”. or “Look at those Japanese robots! Soon we will all have robots doing stuff for us at home” The reality? No flying cars and no robots and I assure you, no internet connected DVRs free of charge for everybody courtesy of your cable company for at least 10 years. And the other gem: ” with carriers like AT&T working on routing IP video through their set-top boxes, the need for a separate box is quickly disappearing”. Really? How quickly? Sooner than Christmas? No? How about Spring? No? Then when? Is this just like Verizon which has been “working” on upgrading their horrendous HD DVR capacity for the last 4 years and they keep telling us: “soon”. So Ryan, if you’re willing to come to my house and insert the Netflix streaming disc for me until that omnipotent DVR Utopia you talk about comes to fruition, maybe I won’t buy a Boxee box. But just like the flying cars and the servant robots, the reality is, Boxee can count with my 200 dollars as soon as their box is released.

    1. “the 1080p MKV movies I like to watch the most”

      BTW, where do you purchase or rent MKV movies?

      1. Nice try. MPAA employee? It’s called “fair use”.

      2. You can’t. But If you have an extensive Blu-Ray collection like I do, you can rip them to your PCs hard drive and organize the better in MKV format. that way you don’t have to get off the couch to switch discs. There are also plenty of free documentaries available on Bit-torrent in MKV format.

        How’s that for a response I just pulled out of my ass to show that despite you’re convinced you’re this brilliant sarcastic mind who caught someone red-handed doing something wrong, and you’re about to out that person in front of everybody just to make yourself look smart and cool, you’re nothing but a self-important douche and you can’t prove dick.

    2. Easy Broheim. It was you who made the association between MKV and illegal use not me. I just asked where you could rent or buy them. MKV is a great container for media and it is open source. Who could ask for anything more?

      I’ll chalk your caustic reply up to it being Friday. Have a beer and give thanks for the weekend.

      1. @timekeeper: I guarantee you that anybody who read your first comment connected the implication that you were making about illegal use. Acting all innocent about it in your 2nd comment convinces nobody.

    3. “… that way you don’t have to get off the couch to switch discs….”

      Holy cow, are people so dang fat and lazy they can’t get off the fricking couch? Get outside, go for a walk, look at the real world.

      1. I just got back from the gym and I don’t feel like doing more exercise.

  9. Anyone who has used boxee next to the Apple TV or Roku knows that there’s no comparison. Boxee isn’t just about internet streaming to your tv, it’s also about organizing streaming video collections from your computer. The metadata scrape that provides context in the form of pictures and summarys of movies and tv show episodes from imdb and the like is awesome. The open source format streams everything with greater ease than the apple tv ever thought of at this point…they’re just not comparable products for what they do. I’ve already pre-ordered mine, and I’m super excited for it to get here!

  10. I turned into GigaOM from other techsites since I believed I could get a better insight of things.
    Unfortunately, articles like this are misleading and misrepresent the reality of things.

    I live in uk and can’t wait to buy my Boxee.

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