In Depth

Column: Boxee Leads Way to Convergence

The Internet has a new designer drug and its name is Boxee.

Sure, the name is clunky. And yep, the service is even clunkier.

But consider what Boxee does: It brings Hulu to your television set.

Boxee is a new service that’s popular among the just-graduated-from-college-crowd and the tech cognoscenti. That also means Boxee might never amount to anything more than a beloved geek product that doesn’t make it to the mainstream.

However, Boxee has the potential to pave the way for more defections from the cable mothership to the renegade world of broadband-only video viewers—the world I now inhabit.

In the ongoing saga of my current cable-free and over-the-air-less lifestyle, I decided to install Boxee on my AppleTV. You can use Boxee as a sort of one-stop shop that aggregates a ton of online video programming on your computer. But that wasn’t my goal. My goal with this experiment has been to beam—magically or otherwise, but not illegally—as much programming as possible via broadband back to my TV set.

Since Boxee loops Hulu, as well as CBS.com, CNN.com and ComedyCentral.com, into AppleTV, I did what any self-respecting new-media journalist would do: I instructed my husband to download the software and set it up. (Look, he has a Mac computer, I don’t. For now, Boxee runs on Mac and Linux computers, with a Windows release slated for the coming weeks.)
The first attempt went poorly. The software mucked up both his computer and the AppleTV, taking over the computer screen and necessitating several reboots of the AppleTV device itself.

So we left the Boxee project dormant for a week and then attempted the install again after downloading an upgrade.

That time the installation went smoothly and now my iTunes menu on the AppleTV includes a link for Boxee. That link takes me to a screen where I can watch programming from Hulu and the other aforementioned TV sites directly on my TV set, with the ads intact.

So when I want to watch “The Office” or “The Daily Show,” I don’t have to bend over a computer screen. I can watch them both on the big screen from the couch.

It’s not always easy. Navigating through Boxee requires some moxie because clicking from one show to the next comes with its own seven-second delay. Plus, getting around the service is not intuitive yet. Sometimes you wind up in what feels like a dead end. Do you click back or forward? Or just turn it off? The answer isn’t always obvious.

Also, you can only scroll through the list of television shows on Hulu alphabetically right now. Kind of annoying if you want to watch “Young Hercules.”

I surveyed other Boxee users via Twitter and the feedback was similar: The service is still buggy, you can’t fast-forward or rewind yet, and the user interface needs a big facelift.

So yeah, Boxee is so alpha it’s beyond alpha. And let me be clear: While cool and interesting, Boxee is not a threat right now to cable operators or satellite providers.

But let this thing simmer and we’ll see if it can bubble over.

The service is free, and so far Boxee hasn’t received any pushback from Hulu or Apple.