September 14, 2010, 7:55 AM — Boxee had a big day yesterday. Remember last week when I mentioned that the Boxee Box was still in heavy development, based on the fact that they'd ditched Gecko and were going with WebKit for their internal browser? I didn't know the half of it. Early yesterday morning, Engadget spilled the beans on a change in the hardware: Boxee has ditched Nvidia's Tegra 2 chipset and is going with an Intel Atom CE4100 chip (the same chip Google TV uses).
You'd think between changing an integral piece of the software and now the main hardware chip, we'd be seeing news of a delay, but quite the contrary, because later yesterday Amazon started taking pre-orders for the Boxee Box. There's no ship date listed, but there is a price of $199 – $30 off the newly revealed MSRP; it's a good way to lock in a price if you're convinced the Boxee Box is for you. Plenty of you seem to be convinced: as of this morning the Boxee Box is #6 on Amazon's list of bestsellers in electronics.
Later in the day a post popped up on Boxee's blog explaining that the decision to move to Intel was made earlier this year. That makes me feel a bit less anxious about the release date. In fact the switch did cause a delay; one from the initial Q2 release date to the current November time frame.
One big question remains unanswered: Hulu support. Engadget specifically asked if Hulu would be able to block the Boxee Box and they were told that yes, that was possible. Avner Ronen, Boxee's CEO, told Engadget that he hopes "that everyone can just play nice." I don't know about you, but I'd like something a bit more concrete than wishful thinking before I spend $200, assuming getting Hulu on my TV was a big selling point for me. Thus far, Hulu hasn't been big on playing nice with devices that bring their service to the living room TV, and that was before they tried selling Hulu Plu (with its support of certain TVs and TV-connected devices) for $10/month. Letting Hulu play on Boxee Box goes counter to their goals of selling Hulu Plus and I think it's likely that Hulu will block the Boxee Box once it ships. Either that, or they'll put out a version of Hulu Plus for the Boxee Box.
So aside from how this news might impact your decision to buy, or not buy, a Boxee Box, I found the reason for the switch from Nvidia to Intel to be interesting and a bit concerning. Avner says the Tegra 2 just didn't have the horsepower to stream H.264, 1080P video. Engadget says that with the Intel Atom CE4100, the Boxee Box is able to handle 1080p H.264 playback at 60fps, something Boxee couldn't squeeze out of the Tegra 2.
This is the same Tegra 2 chipset that's powering so many of the upcoming Android tablets. Now granted none of the Android tablets we know about have the screen resolution to show 1080P onboard, but several of them have HDMI ports for broadcasting tablet media to the living room TV set. It would appear that these tablets will be limited to 720P video, thanks to the Tegra 2 (unless Boxee's engineers just missed something).
It's interesting that the Nvidia Tegra 2 seems to have gone from 'cream of the crop' to second-tier hardware before devices using it have even hit store shelves in any kind of number. I guess that's the price of the rapid progress we're seeing in these mobile/embedded chipsets these days. Perhaps we consumers are doomed to a life of perpetually playing catch-up to the cutting edge.