I have been a very satisfied user of both the Roku box (original version) and running Boxee software on a computer attached to my TV set. Remember, I don’t have cable or satellite TV any longer. So these are my primary sources of TV/movie content. The beauty of both options is that they’re fun to use. Tons of great, legal content choices and plenty of control for adding or removing content channels of your choosing.
Despite all of the hoopla however, there are some significant differences. And to that end, I’d even venture to say that one appliance blows the other out of the water. But rather than spoil that surprise, let’s look at what each has to offer, shall we? And remember, I’m not comparing hardware/specs. I am looking at provided content…the entire reason to bother with either option in the first place.
Based on XBMC, Boxee is an amazing media center type solution for those folks who are looking to put their cable bill down forever. The first thing to note is that if you’re going to go with a Boxee option exclusively, it’s best to buy the box. Why? Because having a PC attached to your TV is not going to go over big with your spouse. Whoever the non-geek spouse happens to be, chances are good they’re not going to be too keen on a computer sitting next to the entertainment center. Just saying. Also, there is another reason to go this route. Not all of the functionality works that great on all platforms. Not through any fault of Boxee, rather the content providers they are using. This is true of many of the TV sources Boxee provides. Half of them don’t work with Linux and some even fail with OS X. Generally speaking though, they all work fine with Windows.
Content channels provided? The ones to note include the premium options. MLB, Netflix, NHL, Vudu and Pandora. There is no Hulu option these days, but there are a number of video channels available through Boxee’s content scraping services. Not entirely clear how many of these sources are 100% legit and how many aren’t. Most of them appear to be legally from the appropriate networks. Others however, remain a mystery. They just “work”…until the sites go down for some reason.
Biggest advantages? Being able to add other media sources both locally or through your network. You can thank XBMC for that functionality. Biggest disappointment? Crapshoot on TV content. Just because nice looking poster images appear for all of the TV content you can imagine, doesn’t mean that the provided streaming sources always work. Again, Boxee did everything possible to deal with this. Sadly though, many of their sources are still pointing to bad Hulu links. And this is frustrating as they don’t work on any OS.
Running on embedded Linux as a read-only type platform, you have to upgrade to a higher end model if you wish to attach any kind of USB storage. This is something that must be purchased, you will not be running Roku on any sort of desktop. The good news is buying a Roku is extremely cheap, unlike the Boxee box.
Premium content provided includes Hulu Plus, MLB, Netflix, NHL, Amazon VOD, Pandora, among other less exciting channels not worth mentioning. You will not find web based streaming shows available on Roku without a Hulu Plus subscription. This might be seen as a downer to some. On the upside, I have found that when Hulu says they have something — it actually works. And anything Hulu is missing, I just grab from Amazon anyway. The great thing is I know 100% where the content is coming from and that it’s legal to view. Nice, as it makes me feel a lot better. Even better, in addition to Hulu Plus, Roku just added Crackle. They offer their TV content for free.
Biggest advantages? Dependable content on a box with a small form factor that takes up nearly no space at all. You can also add USB hard drives with video content, if you upgrade to a model of device that supports it. Biggest disappointment? Lack of non-Hulu/Crackle TV streaming. The need to buy a device as there is no installable software, plus the lack of out of the box networking to other computers for video content.
Best option out of the two?
If dependable video content is an issue, I’m leaning with Roku. While Hulu Plus lacks a lot of stuff, it’s slowly getting better. And with Netflix and Amazon, the gaps are easy enough to fill in. That said, if you are really into networking to other computers to view content you already have access to, I’d suggest the Boxee box. A third option of course, is Boxee on a PC with a Roku box as backup. Assuming you can get past the big computer sitting next to the TV set, it’s the most economical option in my opinion.