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The Boxee Experience - TV

I downloaded the most recent "beta" for Windows (boxee- and installed it on both the Acer Revo 1600 (XP Home SP3) and an Acer Aspire 1810T notebook (Win 7 Home Premium, 64 bit).

The Boxee home screen is currently divided into four sections, a main activity bar across the top and three content-related sections: Feed; Featured; and Queue.

Boxee Home Screen
Click to enlarge image

Figure 2: Boxee Home Screen

The Feed column is where you see content from social networking sources. It currently contains whatever the default boxee staff "friend" decides to put there. But it seems like that "friend" has lost interest because it hasn't changed in the weeks that I've been using Boxee on and off. This is tending to annoy users (me included) because you currently have no control over the column and can't even shut it off.

The Featured column is totally controlled by Boxee and does change from time to time. This will probably be a source of income for Boxee, who may eventually charge content partners to put items there or use it to sell pay-for apps.

The Queue column is the one area that you control by tagging content that you want to watch. There's only one queue and you can't control the sort.

Navigation can be done with a mouse or by using your keyboard's arrow, page up/down and Escape keys. I started by mousing, but have found keyboard navigation less frustrating. The mouse pointer tends to overshoot when you use it to scroll and it then seems to stay stuck one item below or above where you want it to go.

The Escape key always brings you back one screen and if you hit it enough you'll get the navigation shortcut overlay shown in Figure 4. This one little screen contains links to just about every major Boxee function. System level controls are on the top, main functions in the middle and shortcuts to applications and shows are on the bottom row.

Shortcut overlay
Figure 3: Shortcut overlay

There's also an iPhone / iTouch Boxee remote app that offers "gesture" (somewhat like using a trackpad) or "button" modes (Figure 4). I definitely preferred the button mode during the short time I've used it. But whoever chose the blacker-on-black color scheme needs to learn something about good user interface design!

iPhone / iTouch Boxee remote app
Figure 4: iPhone / iTouch Boxee remote app

Since my focus is using Boxee for TV, I'll jump right to that feature. A click on the TV Shows icon will bring you to the screen shown in Figure 5, unless you've been foolish enough to add a show to the My TV Shows list. Because, if you do, you get that screen every time you go to the TV Shows section when you first start Boxee. I'd much prefer that Boxee remember the screen I viewed the last time I was in a section, which most times, is the TV Show Library.

Boxee TV Shows library
Figure 5: Boxee TV Shows library

The left column contains filters and a Search function for locating desired content. The only sorts available are Most Popular and Recently Added, the latter of which refers to when the show was added, not new show episodes. When you select a show, the screen scrolls left to hide the filters and expose a description of the show.

The TV Shows include many, but not every, show offered by the content owners represented, which include NBC Universal (and its NBC and SyFy and USA cable properties), CBS, ABC, Fox, PBS and Comedy Central. In some cases, you are presented with multiple sources for a show, usually Hulu and the content owner's site.

Most everything is "Ad supported" and, of course, you can't skip the ads. So as one SNB Forums poster commented, you'll acually end up watching more commercials using Internet TV (at least using Boxee) than you will by using your cable / satellite DVR.

As big as Boxee's bundled TV Shows selection is, there are plenty of networks and channels missing. In its Alpha days, Boxee had a feature that easily let you add RSS video feeds. But that feature disappeared from the Beta, supposedly to return in a later release. There are some who have crafted XML files to pull in RSS feeds, but I haven't tried that.

Your main alternative if you want more shows, is to hope that someone has written an App to access that content. Clicking the Apps icon in the main menu bar will bring you to a screen where you can explore what's available. Figure 6 shows apps that I was trying out.

Boxee apps
Figure 6: Boxee apps

Make sure you select the App Library filter to see all the apps that are available (177 as I write this). But don't get your hopes too high for finding things like Discovery, HGTV and other commercial cable-only content. And even when you find something like TVLand, you may find that it has mostly clips and not complete shows.

You will find plenty of Internet-only content, though, because those folks are hungry for as many eyeballs as they can get. But I'm not a big fan of that stuff, YouTube included, so there could be 1,000 apps for it and I could care less.

If the built-in apps aren't enough for you, you can add Boxee app repositories. But after trying some of the places in this list, I ended up taking advice found in the Boxee forum and just added the Boxee Repo (via My Apps > Extras > Repositories), which seems to be a superset of most of the apps found in the other repositories.

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