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I was interested to see that there was a way to use boxee on an AppleTV, since that has been my primary digital media interface since I hacked it a while back. Unfortunately, the advertised method of adding boxee support (booting with a special USB key) would wipe out my existing hacks. But after digging a bit deeper, I found that I could manually do the boxee install by extracting the appropriate parts and adding things manually.

So how did it work? Figure 13 shows the main AppleTV menu with a new Launcher item where boxee can be started.

boxee on the AppleTV

Figure 13: boxee on the AppleTV

Generally, the interface looked identical to the version running on my MacBook Pro. But since the AppleTV doesn't have anywhere near the MacBook Pro's horsepower (it has only a single 1Ghz CPU), boxee on the AppleTV felt a bit more sluggish and it didn't stand a chance of playing back my HD basketball game.

I also ran into a serious glitch while trying it out. After attempting to play back a movie with embedded AC3 audio, all media audio stopped. I could still hear standard menu-press clicks. But anything else I tried, local music, steaming music, video, etc. were all silent. Fiddling with the audio settings didn't help and rebooting didn't either. I was stuck.

So, at least for me, boxee on the AppleTV is currently a no-go. I'll keep an eye on it because it has some nice features such as playing DVDs with menu support and the nice streaming capabilities. But I'll need to wait for an update to see my audio comes back.

Social Networking

As mentioned earlier, boxee is a spin-off from the standard XBMC, with a focus on the social networking aspects of multimedia. (What are your friends watching? Do I have any recommendations from my friends? ) As I mentioned earlier, boxee can post events to Twitter. So if I want the world to know when I secretly watch American Idol re-runs at 3 AM, I can do it.

boxee also can share movie watching and music listening habits via a web page. Figure 14, which shows my recent activities, is from the boxee web site.

boxee web site

Figure 14 boxee web site

This screen basically shows all the videos and audio that I was experimenting with during the review. It's a little bit deceptive, since several of the movies I tried didn't work, so I didn't really watch them. And the top item, Basketball was my name for the Final Four game so it's meaningless to anyone other than me.

When I first brought up this screen, it made me a bit uncomfortable. Anyone, anywhere could see what I had been watching. I know some people who would freak out at this possibility. But then, boxee isn't really geared toward them. There is an option to share only to friends or to not share anything at all. But the latter option kind of defeats one of the key aspects of boxee. It might be a good idea to have more selective control over your shared activities. But for now, it's pretty much all or nothing.

Speaking of "friends", the two shown in Figure 14 are a default "friend" and some guy who I just picked out at random to be my "friend". So Matt, if you're reading this and wondering who your new friend is: "Hi! And since you watched it recently, was Slumdog Millionaire really as good as they say?".

The boxee web site also has configuration options such as setup for syncing with Twitter and other social networking sites, setting up your Netflix account, documentation (but not enough) and a user forum for help and discussions.

Closing Thoughts

Boxee is only in alpha release, but it looks to me like it has potential. The ability to play most anything I threw at it was a nice change from what I usually experience when reviewing media players. And its potential for using metadata looks promising too. I really like to sort my movies by genre, rating, actors, etc.

The "Social" features of boxee weren't all that important to me. But a look at the number of people who use Facebook, MySpace and Twitter shows that there are a lot of people who are really into exchanging personal data.

I wonder if the boxee AppleTV port will ever really be good enough to compete with the other nice viewers that already exist for the box. But I'm willing to wait for a couple more releases to find out. And when the Windows port goes live, there will be a lot more users and feedback for the developers, which may well give boxee more momentum.

For now, if you're an Apple (or Linux) user and interested in this type of capability, give it a shot. You can't go too wrong with a free network multimedia player that can play just about anything you throw at it!

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