Boxee is an open source media center software alternative to many of the heavily commercialized, codec-light set-top boxes on the market. In its early stages, Boxee was only available for PC (Windows and Linx) and Mac users. Apple TV users could also convert their boxes into something useful. Boxee can play just about any video you download or create, as well as a large collection of online streaming content from Netflix, VUDU, and several TV networks.
Currently, I do not actually have a home media center, so that title might be a little confusing. I have an old HTPC that is so ancient, it cannot even handle Boxee (which actually has pretty low system requirements). I also don’t have the money to run out and get a Boxee box or upgrade my current system.
What I do have, however, is an Eee PC netbook with a dual core Atom 330 and an Nvidia Ion graphics chip. Boxee runs beautifully on it, and the little 12-inch workhorse can churn out 1080p video without any problem using VDPAU hardware accelerated video playback.
The problem, of course, is that it is portable. My solution was to get a 25-foot HDMI cable and hook it up to my TV whenever I need it. The dilemma then was making each connect as painless and simple as possible.
I wrote two articles that cover the two areas of concern I had: 1. easily and quickly change display settings in Linux on the fly when using an Nvidia driver and 2. getting HDMI audio to work in Linux (to be published next week). I solved both and now have an ideal solution that only cost me $9.
I just finished watching the latest episode of The Event on my Sony Blu-ray Disc player, using Hulu Plus streaming video. It played well with a clear HD picture, and it was nice to sit in front of the TV to watch it, rather than at a computer.
Despite that good experience, Hulu Plus falls short in other areas. For one, the presence of ads, even with a $10 per month subscription, is just annoying, and the ads seem to take longer to load on the TV than they do on the computer, making the wait time to get back to a show significant, especially when an ad comes up after every normal commercial break.
The ad issue aside, the biggest problem with Hulu Plus is mostly about content. While I found The Event, I did not find Community. On the other hand, 30 Rock, which airs on the same channel, on the same night as Community is available for this season and previous ones. Similarly, you can watch Law & Order: SVU but not Law & Order: Los Angeles. These inconsistencies are compounded when you consider that some shows are available through Hulu Plus on the computer but not on other devices. If you go to Hulu’s website, these unavailable shows will have disclaimers offering excuses about licensing.