Will the new Boxee be worth buying?

Is the new Boxee, which combines cable and OTA with a cloud-storage DVR and Internet video apps, be what you need? It doesn't look that great from here.

The first generation all-in-one Internet TV, Boxee tried to do everything you could do with TV and the Internet...and it wasn't very good at doing anything. Oh sure, if you put in the sweat equity you could do great things with it. At day's end, though, the Boxee was a device for hardcore Internet TV geeks. The new Boxee, which will be available in some U.S. markets on November 1st for $99 and a monthly $14.99 service fee, also tries to do a lot, but it's meant for Joe TV-Watcher instead of Joe Techie.

Boxee co-founder and CEO Avner Ronen claims in a statement that with the new model of Boxee "you’ll be able watch live TV broadcasts in beautiful HD from channels like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, Univision, and many others." To do that, “It works with antennas and unencrypted basic cable. The device has two tuners so you can watch one show while recording another. So far, that's just an ordinary DVR, but Boxee's special sauce is that Boxee records your videos to its own cloud storage service for a "No Limits DVR" experience. 

That sounds OK, albeit you're going to need a darn fast Internet up-link to actually save your HD over-the-air or cable broadcasts to your service. Some people are also up-in-arms about having to trust "their" TV recordings to a fee-based service. Clearly, these same people have never used TiVo or thought about what was actually happening witth their cable-based DVRs. All DVRs, one way or the other, charge you a monthly service. If you want to keep "your shows" without paying anyone else, you need to get a DVD recorder or transcode videos to their servers with Handbrake. 

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In addition, instead of presenting you with a wide variety of finding and watching Internet video, the new Boxee adopts the more common model used by most Internet-ready DVRs and Roku, giving you a choice of supported Internet streaming services. These include Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and Vimeo. It does not, at this time, support Amazon Instant Video or Hulu Plus. Unlike Google TV, and the first Boxee, you also can''t use this new device to surf the Web. You will, however, be able to play your own video from DLNA servers. 

On the hardware side, the new Boxee will include 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, a single HDMI port, two USB 2.0 ports, and, of course, a DTV cable port. 

Curiously, Boxee is not rolling out its service across the country. Instead, it will only be available at first in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Don't ask me why. Were I them, I would have made a deal with Amazon or one of the other major cloud storage companies so I could roll it out nationwide.

It's impossible to say anything concrete about Boxee since the product isn't shipping yet, but I really don't see it being a game changer. If you want a great DVR with Internet services for both over-the-air (OTA) or cable, you want  a TiVo Premiere. Yes, it costs more, but it works well and, if you haven't cut the cable cord, you can record all of cable's offerings and not just the basic cable shows. If, on the other hand, almost all your TV watching comes to you via the Internet, then Roku is still your device of choice. 

The new Boxee? From here it looks like a non-starter. I'd love to be proven wrong, but it's going to have deliver more than it's promising to convince me to add it to my Internet-capable entertainment center.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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