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Boxee goes for another round against WinMC and stays standing…at least in my book

2010/01/11 - Home Theater, PC, Software

Boxee as you may or may not know is a media center program for PC’s & Apple TV. I have used Boxee on and off since they started inviting Windows users into the alpha. At CES this year, Boxee has unveiled the Boxee Box. The Boxee Box is a set-top box that runs, you guessed it, Boxee. Along with the release of the ‘Box, Boxee has pushed their software into beta and have finally won me over.

From the start, I wanted to love Boxee. It promised to make a lot of the internet content that I enjoy (Youtube, Revision 3, Twit.tv, etc.) much easier to access.  However, it failed to deliver time after time. I eventually gave up on it and never thought to reinstall it after upgrading my computer to Windows 7. With the Boxee Alpha on Windows Vista I was plagued by frequent freezing, long access times (even to local media), and over all lag (even on my machine, details below). The apps were also very undependable and slow to update when providers changed offerings.

With the release of the Beta, I decided to give Boxee another round in the ring. And I have to say that I am impressed. I don’t know whether it is all the Beta or if Win7 is playing some part, but about 90% of my previous frustrations have been addressed. Boxee found all my local media with out my having to point it to every file over and over again. It seems like several of the content providers have decided to embrace Boxee as well. Revision 3 and IGN, to name a few, have well constructed and functional apps. And it all runs very smoothly. In fact it seems to run even better than Win7 Media Center, which will bring me to the main reason Boxee has won my praise…Netflix. More specifically, the performance of the Netflix interface.

Windows Media Center is the sole way that I have consumed my streaming Netflix content since replacing my Roku box with my HTPC and giving it to my cousin as a gift. Now the performance of the Netflix ‘app’ in Vista’s Media Center was a touch laggy, but bearable. For Win7, Netflix has changed the ‘app’. It is much cleaner and shinier and adds a lot of functionality. But I, like more than a few others, have experienced significant lag in the ‘app’. The most annoying of which is after selecting a movie to bring up it’s ‘page’, it can take an eternity to load. It also takes a very long time for items to load when changing between the different sub menus. From my searching for a solution to this problem, I have found that most of the blame may fall on Silverlight, which drives the entire ‘app’. I can’t complain at all about the video performance though. In fact, I actually have to say that the video performance is better in Media Center than in Boxee. The trade off is the Netflix menu in Boxee is so much faster than Media Center, that short of the potentially best looking movies, I see myself firing Boxee up first. Way to go Boxee.

A few technical specs for reference…
PC Specs:
Core 2 Duo @ 2.66 GHz w/ 1066MHz FSB
4GB RAM
750GB HDD
ATI Radeon 4870 PCI-E x16 Graphics Card w/ 512MB
OEM Supplied Internal USB WiFi adapter with modded external antenna
Network Specs:
DSL @ 6.0 Mbps Max
Belkin Wireless G Router