Yesterday, boxee released an update to their media center software for Apple TV and Mac OS X at a New York meetup. CEO Avner Ronen took the stage at Webster Hall to show some significant features in this latest alpha release including Pandora Radio, RadioTime, a new API for add-ons, an XUL-based framework for web-based video, and a PBS application from BoxeeHQ.
Pandora and RadioTime
The Pandora feature is absolutely brilliant. I had a chance to play with it for a while on Tuesday; it is the full Pandora experience on a 10-foot interface. You can log in to your account, select any of your channels, give a thumbs up or down, skip a song, and even create a new channel. I cannot begin to tell you how cool it is to listen to Pandora on my home theater sound system with the song information displayed on the big-screen TV, all thanks to boxee on the Apple TV. Driving this software with the free boxee remote iPhone app just makes it that much sweeter. Pandora on Apple TV is amazing.
The CTO of Pandora, Tom Conrad, got on stage at the meetup to talk about how excited his company was to be bringing their Internet radio service to the platform. You can get even more Internet radio by using the RadioTime application, finished just in time for the release, to listen to over 100,000 terrestrial radio stations. This app cleverly picks up your location by your IP address and presents you with a list of local stations. I found several popular FM stations (but not all of them) in the Denver area.
Developers, Start Your Engines!
The boxee API has big implications. The Pandora Radio service was built using it, and developers with Python and XML skills can build boxee apps with full control over the UI and the metadata for media playback. BoxeeHQ also released a PBS application in conjunction with the alpha release. This app updates every 30 minutes to pick up PBS shows as they’re added to the web site for viewing. If the excellent Pandora and PBS apps are any indication, we can look forward to really well-done add-ons for boxee.
Can We Get Hulu, Please?
The XUL-based framework for getting web content is built on the same technology as the Firefox browser. This should allow boxee to access just about any web-based video content, even Hulu’s RSS feeds. When asked about full Hulu support returning to boxee, Avner was noncommittal, but expressed hope that the pressures that prevented Hulu from working with boxee would fade over time. In contrast, ABC is working closely with boxee to bring their content to the media center software.
Will boxee Ever Reach Beta?
During the meetup, Avner also discussed some of what we can expect to see in the beta release. A lot of time was spent on the customizable home screen, which will allow you to arrange your favorite channels and content for quick access. There will also be more control over finding and adding friends, as well as over how you share what you’re watching with them.
I’m So Excited, and I Just Can’t Hide It
With apologies to the Pointer Sisters, I am about to lose control and I think I like it. Boxee just keeps getting better and better. The new radio features and the promise of the API and XUL-based framework have me really looking forward to the beta releases and an eventual 1.0 version. I am also fascinated by the evolution of the business plan. Avner was very sincere when he said that boxee is agnostic to the business model of their content partners — they just want to bring more people to content providers that are looking for more viewers. Netflix is one business model (access to content with a paid subscription) and ABC is another (free content with inline ads). I’m fascinated to see how this all works out.
If you watch the video loop of the presentation, be sure to hang around until they do the stupid human tricks contest at the end so you can watch the beatboxing performance that won the Mac mini giveaway.