The dual-sided remote is clever: You can navigate most of Boxee’s onscreen menus with the simpler side: It’s got a play/pause button, a D-pad, and a menu button. Any time you need to enter some text, you just flip the remote over, turn it sideways, and start thumb-typing on the tiny but usable QWERTY.
The remote sometimes gets confused if you press buttons on both sides at once, which is easy to do unless you hold it carefully. Also, entering passwords using the QWERTY (as you have to do for secured Wi-Fi networks and to access your Boxee account) is extremely frustrating, especially if your passwords have a mix of upper and lower case, because you can’t see what you’re typing on the screen.
Once you’ve got it set up, Boxee lets you navigate through TV shows and movies in its system. These are a really mixed bag, ranging from mainstream TV hits like Glee to truly awful C-list comedies and bizarre independent films you’ve never heard of, like The Auteur. Disappointingly, some shows are listed in Boxee’s menus, but won’t actually play when you select them.
I had better luck with the videos recommended by my Boxee-using friends, and videos I’d saved using Boxee’s “watch later” bookmarklet, which lets me stop wasting time at work so I can waste time at home instead. (Except with Vimeo videos: For some reason the bookmarklet isn’t able to reliably identify these videos on web pages.)
Web videos from these two queues worked fine, although the interface was sometimes jarring; It would launch a browser window, briefly show the entire YouTube interface, and then switch into full-screen mode.
It’s here that I came up against Boxee’s biggest problem: It’s only as good as the web video it delivers, and there is an awful lot of web video that can only be described as crappy. Poorly edited, low-quality clips are one thing. But when you blow them up onto a 47-inch screen in all their pixelized glory, they look terrible.
Even professionally shot and edited video from the likes of the BBC looked poor, because it had been down-sampled to fit a tiny YouTube video window, and then was being blown up again on my TV. It was like using a high-end stereo system to play an MP3 of a cassette tape of a CD.
Worse, videos that seemed funny and entertaining when I was at work often fell flat when I was at home on the couch. Maybe it’s because I was no longer procrastinating, and maybe it’s because of the pixelizing, but the joy was just sucked out of them.
The upshot is that Boxee’s slate of available video comes nowhere near being well-rounded enough to satisfy even my meager TV-watching needs. Add in its interface quirks and the poor quality of so much of the available video, and you’ve got an attractive but nearly useless piece of TV room furniture.
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