As a proper geek and dad I’ve been looking for the one perfect answer to streaming media to a TV. Indeed, there are at least six different ways to get Netflix to our living room right now that I can think of, so it’s no wonder many nights, that’s what we’re watching (“Buffy” FTW!). But the folks at Boxee were nice enough to send me a review unit of their Boxee Box set-top device. And then the lovely folks at Logitech sent me one of their Google TV-enabled Revue machines. So, I figure it’s my responsibility now to look at them both from the point-of-view of a moderately tech-savvy consumer, and relay my impressions.
And no, I don’t have an Apple TV2, yet. Still have the 1st gen. But I’m pretty up-to-speed on the new model’s features, so I’ll reference that as needed.
Setup on both devices is… not bad. For the Boxee Box, you need to already have, or add, a Boxee account, and get the device set up on your wireless network. The Logitech Revue wants your Gmail account instead. Both will let you fine tune output to your specific TV as well. The ease of all these tasks really comes down to how you like the remotes, which are truly the key to interacting with the machines.
The Boxee remote is small, and imaginatively two-sided. One side is very simple, with directional buttons, a selector, a pause/play button and one for the menu. The other side is a tiny keyboard, not unlike some smart phones. It’s not really useful, but it’s way faster than using the pointer buttons to select letters on a screen keyboard (ahem, Apple).
The Revue remote isn’t really a remote at all; it’s a full keyboard with extra functions. Indeed, it even has a small touch pad. This makes entering long usernames and passwords (and eventually URLs) almost as easy as working on your computer, which is pretty convenient. OTOH, it’s a full keyboard — about 14″ wide. It won’t sit easily on the arm of your Barcalounger (though it probably won’t get lost in the couch, either).
Both devices have a plethora of features, most similar, some very distinct to the machines and what they’re trying to be. However a few things are as common as dirt, like movie and music streaming.
Both treat services like Netflix and Pandora as apps you start up in the framework of the machine’s UI. Setup is pretty similar to before, with the Revue remote keyboard making it much easier to enter usernames and passwords. After that, the services work seamlessly.
The biggest difference I see between the two machines is how you get to the apps. The Boxee UI seems a lot more intuitive, making it much easier to get to the offered services. I think there could be more sub-categorization to help find specific services/apps, but it’s better than the Revue environment which seems more scattered and unfocused on what the user experience is supposed to be.
However, the Revue has more available. For example, when we found that the current season of “Bones” wasn’t available on Netflix, but was on Amazon VOD, we had to turn to the Revue. The interesting fact here is that, though Amazon service is accessed as if it were an app, really one is taken to the Revue’s on screen web browser. Which is why the keyboard and touch-pad come in handy.
Basically, you can browse the web on your TV with the Revue, and as far as such capabilities go, it’s decent. Heck, compared to trying it on the Nintendo Wii browser, it’s magic. But it’s light years away from using a computer, and should not be considered a feature that makes the Revue more attractive than the Boxee. And I’ll guarantee the experience will pale in comparison to mirroring an iPad to your TV to browse.
Note: HUGE design flaw of the Revue keyboard — the browser “back” button is located just below the click bar for the touch pad. It is really easy to click it instead. And there is no “forward” button, so you have to re-enter data or URLs to get back to where you were.
Conclusions: Obviously this is just scratching the surface so far, and hopefully I’ll get time to dig much deeper with both devices (next step: getting them both to pull from our home NAS). But from what I see so far, the Boxee Box is the better consumer-level device. The UI is easier to understand, and you can get to what you want faster. But if you’re a tech-head, the Revue box may be more intriguing, because it’s easy to see it will be able to do a lot more as it develops. It’ll just take a bit more work to get there.