Last year, the Consumer Electronics Association created a contest for technology startups called i-stage.
The winner was an unknown called Boxee, a content aggregator so comprehensive that Hulu was a mere subset of its offerings (until Hulu pulled the plug).
Boxee was perhaps the first company to combine IP-based video from Hulu, CBS, Joost, Netflix, YouTube and scores of other content providers in a single user interface. On top of that is a social networking element so users can recommend shows to their friends.
If 2009 was a momentum-building year for Boxee, then the new year promises to be a technology-building year for the company. Here’s what’s on tap:
The problem with aggregating so much content is that it’s hard to develop a universal search function that will mine the metadata from the respective providers.
Hulu does a nice job of it, but Boxee aggregates far more content.
In the new Boxee Beta, the search function is there. Enter “CSI,” for example, and Boxee will list the relevant episodes, regardless of where they live on the network or in the cloud.
It’s not entirely comprehensive just yet, but it’s a start.
“We looked to CBS.com, Netflix, the WC, Hulu and a couple of other sources – essentially figuring out what’s available on all of the mainstream sites – and then we added Netflix,” says marketing VP Andrew Kippen. “Hopefully we’ll add others.”
Currently, the new Boxee version searches only for full TV episodes and full movies in order to narrow the search; however, the service does incorporate a Clicker.com app “that replicates a lot of their functionality, like keyword search, actor, and director.”
Clicker is yet another content aggregation site that ranks right up there with Hulu – it’s a good thing because Hulu doesn’t like Boxee—and even incorporates Netflix.
Neither Hulu nor Clicker incorporates content that is on the home network.
Additional Boxee Features
In addition to the search feature, Boxee is offering some other compelling features to the new version:
- Queue: Users can add shows to their queues and watch them later.
- Bookmarklet: If you stumble across some interesting online content outside of the Boxee environment, you can still add it to your queue.
- My TV: Subscribe to TV shows, and Boxee automatically adds new episodes to your queue
D-Link: First Boxee Hardware
Since its launch, Boxee has been relegated to PCs and Macs. It has not been incorporated into CE devices and does not have a dedicated streaming device, a la Roku.
That will change in 2010 as Boxee brings on D-Link as its first hardware partner.
The Boxee Box by D-Link is a WiFi-enabled cube with an SD slot and Boxee built in. It is expected to retail for about $200, about double the price of similar products from Roku and several manufacturers of streaming Blu-ray players.
Boxee wanted a hand in the first product to bear its brand, but the company didn’t want to go it alone, as Vudu did, for example.
“We wanted to provide a box that was inexpensive for consumers but came under the backing of a very strong brand,” Kippen says. “D-Link was the first hardware choice because of their great distribution. They are a leading network distributor worldwide with an expertise in the home and small business market.”
With the D-Link product, Boxee officials played a leading role in the process, overseeing such things as “the out-of-the-box experience, industrial design, and the way the remote works,” Kippen says. (The remote, by the way, is RF).
Down the line, Boxee will make its software more widely available for other manufacturers who want to create streaming devices that are “powered by Boxee.”
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Julie Jacobson is co-founder of EH Publishing and currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro, mostly in the areas of home automation, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. She majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. Julie is a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player with the scars to prove it. Follow her on Twitter @juliejacobson.