Boxee Box owners will soon be able to watch live television through the device, with the help of a special USB dongle that functions as a tuner for free over-the-air HD TV signals. The live TV feature is part of a major update to the Boxee platform that is likely going to be rolled out over the coming weeks.
I stumbled across the live TV integration when I was able to obtain an unreleased build of the Boxee 1.5 update earlier this week. Live TV is prominently featured on the Boxee home screen, and the configuration menu promises users the ability to enjoy their “favorite broadcast TV stations through Boxee’s unique social interface.” Check out a video of the new feature below:
It’s worth noting that I wasn’t actually able to watch any live TV with the new version, simply because I don’t have the dongle necessary to receive broadcast signals. I tried to connect an EyeTV One USB TV tuner to my Boxee Box, but the device wasn’t able to find any stations with the tuner.
However, the first glimpse at live TV on Boxee was nonetheless very revealing. A separate live TV entry in Boxee’s setup gives users the ability to enhance their experience “by sharing viewership data with friends.” Boxee has always been big on social and currently allows users to share their favorite videos both with other Boxee users as well as their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. It’s possible that live TV viewing would be shared in a similar fashion, which could turn Boxee into a competitor to check-in services like Miso and GetGlue.
Boxee users will also be able to access their unencrypted basic cable TV feeds with the live TV dongle, but it’s fairly obvious that the company is going to position this as the next big step for cord cutters. Anyone who has tried to juggle live TV and Internet content in the living room knows combining the two is a big deal: Viewers will now be able to watch live and on-demand TV through the Boxee Box without ever needing to switch back and forth between the inputs of their TV set.
Boxee is also squarely positioning itself as an alternative to Google (s GOOG) TV by emphasizing free over-the-air broadcasts. Google recently relaunched its TV platform, which also aims to combine live television with Internet content. However, users of devices like the Logitech (s LOGI) Google TV set-top-box need a cable box or a similar device from their pay TV provider to access any live TV.
It’s unclear yet when exactly Boxee will release the live TV dongle, and which company it has partnered with to do so. The Boxee build I got to play with looked like it was close to finished, which could mean that Boxee may aim to release the dongle in time for the holidays. Boxee wasn’t available for comment on this story.