Boxee Delivers an Open, Social TV Experience

By Neil Vidyarthi 

Ever since YouTube opened a gaping maw for online video content in 2005, I’ve been attracted to the medium and its potential for new forms of narrative. Little did I know at the time that those new forms of narrative would consist mostly of befuddled kitten videos and increasingly brutal fail blogs. Still, I had my suspicions that a fully democratic web video platform would lead to all sorts of new experiments to get new types of videos, independent or produced, from independent creators to viewers. One of the experimental avenues for web video is the Boxee – a device that streams from nearly any web video source to your TV. I take a look at the device and its social features below.

Boxee, a green-black box straight out of a Ridley Scott film, sits in front of your television, and along with its qwerty-keyboard equipped remote, gives you the ability to view a wide spectrum of web video directly from your living room couch. You can browse online TV shows from various network websites; view web videos from YouTube, Vimeo and more; browse the web; and use a whole series of apps that connect you directly to services like Revision3. The device also lets you stream from any computer on your WiFi network so you can play whatever videos you have lying on hard drives around the house. Some set up is required on the sharing computer to allow Boxee to access the video, but it’s no different than sharing that content with any other PC or Mac.

Boxee also connects with services like Netflix, Pandora and Spotify to ultimately deliver a massive library of TV, Film and Music. It’s a cool box to have running at a party as well, as their app store has access to apps like Grooveshark as well.

All in all, it’s a whole lot of content available for a good price.

What’s significant about Boxee is its social integration and any-device approach. By being a Boxee user, you get a few cool social features including a friend list as well as integrations including Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr.

The friends list allows you to look at your friends’ favorite videos and save them, share them or of course, watch them. This is a pretty great way to start developing a stream of great up to the date content, and if you curate your list you can develop a really pithy list of relevant interesting videos. Boxee also lets you pull your friends’ shared videos from Twitter, Facebook and a few other networks that you can connect to.

You’re also able to share with any of the aforementioned social networks, as well as Tumblr, and the integration is seamless. I’m a consistent Tumblr user who runs a video sharing Tumblr site and now I’m able to immediately share any video with my Tumblr just with a few clicks. Fans of web video will know that finding an easy way to do this from your TV has been like trying to convert a Word document into an Excel spreadsheet – it’s possible but takes a lot of clicks. Unfortunately, the videos don’t embed directly on Tumblr, they’re just posted as a link; hopefully they fix that up soon.

Boxee has also introduced their Live TV Tuner, which allows you to stream your cable through the Boxee itself and watch “Live TV”. Boxee adds enough features to make it a true Social TV option, and as you flip through channels, your Boxee tells you how many people are watching a show through their Boxee Live TV, as well as how many people are watching overall. Check this out below.

Another cool Feature is the “Watch Later” queue. It lets you add items to your Boxee queue while you watch them on another computer. You just login to Boxee and use a Pinterest-style save button, and you can now save your videos to a “Watch Later” queue that will be ready the next time you load your Boxee up on your living room TV.  Check out the video below to see how it works.

Check out Boxee here and let us know what you think – is it a good Social TV service?