This review should, in hindsight, be more of an obituary. As you are probably aware, Apple is planning to ditch Front Row from its latest release of Mac OS X, Lion. Why is anyone’s guess, but the fact that the last update for it was released in November 2009, I think we could all see it coming.
In comparison to other applications, Front Row is very basic and only offers a limited number of functions. Apple may want people to switch to the Apple TV, a small digital media receiver which did borrow heavily from Front Row, or maybe it ditched Front Row because of the rise of other, third-party media applications.
Boxee is one of these. Although the whole app and its interface had larger TVs in mind, it can still be used on desktops without too much trouble. Boxee has been around for a little while now – the public beta was released in January 2010 – however the application is still in its beta stage of development. It does boast a neat interface and some handy in-built features so even if you don’t have a large TV, you can still gain some use out of it on your computer.
Boxee is, in my opinion, the final nail in the coffin for Front Row. Read on to find out why.
Boxee is a free HTPC (Home Theater PC) application available for Mac, Windows and Linux. As mentioned above, the application is still in public beta, but don’t be put off by this; the application does have a wide range of features and is extremely stable. Before you can start using Boxee, you need to sign up for a free account via their website and download the program. Once you get everything up and running, you are greeted by the main screen.
Here you have the option of viewing your photos, listening to your music, watching your movies or TV shows and running any apps that are installed via Boxee (more on these later). Boxee syncs with your Photos folder, so any photos in iPhoto or Aperture will show up, as well as your iTunes folder, meaning that you can play all your music from iTunes in Boxee as well.
Boxee has a number of features that rank it highly in terms of media centers and puts it years ahead of Front Row, where features were quite limited. Across the whole app, the interface is sleek and polished and does not look out of place, even though the app is still in beta. You can even download a remote for iOS, meaning that as long as both devices are on the same WiFi network, you can control it using your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Third-party applications are also available for Android and Palm.
Movies and TV Shows
Boxee supports almost all known video formats and you can either watch movies via a number of Internet sources (such as Netflix) or any that are stored on your computer. Boxee will download the metadata for both movies and TV shows off the internet and categorize them by title or, in the case of TV shows, the series and season number.
As with movies, there is a large built-in library of TV shows sourced from online streaming services, meaning you don’t need to search around the net to find what you want to watch. Bear in mind, though, that due to copyright restrictions certain TV shows might not be available to watch in other countries (e.g. programs from BBC iPlayer and 4oD will not play outside the United Kingdom due to licensing laws).
Boxee cannot play any DRM (Digital Rights Management) protected files (e.g. purchased songs or TV shows off iTunes). Also, in the case of a TV series, if you are missing any episodes, Boxee will attempt to find the missing episode from the Internet. This sounds great, but can be a bit hit-and-miss at times.
Boxee supports a wide range of plug-ins (called applications in the program) which can source multimedia from other sources. For example Vevo (music videos) or Mubi (foreign cinema) are a couple of the popular choices that help justify the need to never really have to leave the app if you want to watch something else.
Boxee promises to be a social media center, and you can manage all your plug-ins (i.e. any applications you’ve downloaded) as well as your social networks through the account portal on the website.
If you follow any friends on Boxee, you can see what they have been watching or listening to as well as publicly rate and recommend any content to your friends. The app also supports some third-party social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and FriendFeed.
Although Boxee is a very useful application it is, in my opinion, more suited for larger screens and media servers (such as the Mac Mini) than notebooks and desktop computers. The interface that Boxee uses is known as a 10-foot UI, which is aimed at larger screens.
Having said that, you can install Boxee onto your Apple TV (only first-generation though), offering far more features than the default Apple offering. If you’re got a spare $199 knocking about, you can also purchase a Boxee Box, which comes with Boxee installed, and use it as your main media center. On a laptop or desktop computer, though, all the hard work that has gone into this wonderful application is unfortunately wasted slightly.
Boxee adds a far greater dimension to your media and for the grand price of nothing is excellent value for money. The app is very customizable and supports a wide range of different media formats, so it will work with any type of media.
Boxee will certainly meet and exceed the needs of die-hard Front Row fans and is an example of a well-developed, intuitive and useful program. Bring on the full version!