At the Boxee Beta event in Brooklyn earlier this week, we got our first glimpse at D-Link's Boxee Box; the first dedicated hardware device designed to run Boxee on your TV. The D-Link Boxee Box is schedule to ship in the second quarter of 2010 for a price of $200.
Boxee says it is not a hardware company and that it plans to partner with several other manufacturers to bring the Boxee experience to a number of hardware devices. Let's hope so, because D-Link seems to be on the wrong track. The problem D-Link needs to overcome is that there's already a similar device on the market: the Roku, and it's going to be tempting to draw comparisons between the two. For starters, the Roku costs $80-$130, depending on version, which makes the Boxee Box's $200 seem high.
Next, look at the design. The Boxee Box's design is being called a sunken cube. It's interesting to look at, but doesn't seem like a practical shape for a home entertainment center. You certainly won't be stacking anything on top of it. Compare that to the Roku's unassuming rectangular box that will fit into any nook or cranny in the vicinity of your TV.
Connectivity for the D-Link Boxee Box is fine: it has built-in wireless and an ethernet port for connectivity. RCA and optical out for audio. HDMI for audio and video. An SD slot for display photos or video right from your camera, and finally two USB ports. I'm a little concerned at offering no component or composite video options; there're a lot of TVs out there with no (or at least, no available) HDMI ports. The Roku offers these additional video options, but doesn't have the SD slot, and only the most expensive Roku has a USB port and it has only one.
Roku doesn't support the Boxee software, but it does support Netflix streaming, which the Boxee Box doesn't. On the other hand, the Boxee Box supports streaming local content from a computer in your office to the tv in the living room. Roku can't do that (at least, not yet).
The Boxee Box will offer more content sources, but Roku offers the 800 lb gorilla which is Netflix, and its new Channel Store opens the Roku to all kinds of possibilities.
The bottom line, to me, seems to be this: these two devices need to be a single device. Boxee and Roku need to get together and produce one piece of hardware that can offer the end user all the benefits of both products. Don't make us buy two devices. These products are similar enough that they're going to cause consumer confusion. One unified piece of hardware will have a stronger presence in the marketplace.
D-Link's Boxee Box