Roku Vs Boxee

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.

Boxee Explored

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.

Roku Vs Boxee
Photo by robertnelson

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.

Roku explored

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.

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  • DeafGirl

    That’s all well and good but for hearing impaired people, the Boxee box is a no brainer because IT SUPPORTS CLOSED CAPTIONING. Come on Roku, get it together.

  • Jim

    I gave my Roku away for free. The wireless stopped working. PLAYON TV was choppy on it. Customer support was ok but would not replace it. I currently use Boxee on a PC and a laptop. I like it much better. Also My Roku could add a limited amount of channels. I tried to add more but it said the memory was full.

  • http://www.michaelhanscom.com/ Michael Hanscom

    You’re right that Roku lacks “_out of the box_ networking to other computers for video content,” but as far as “networking to other computers to view content you already have access to,” I _highly_ recommend adding the [Roksbox][1] channel to your Roku. I’ve been using it for the past few months to stream downloaded video from my iMac to my TV. Easy setup, and works without a hitch.

    [1]: http://roksbox.com/home/

    While I haven’t played with the Boxee Box (or the software, really, as after a brief test run of a few options, I found [Plex][2] to be more to my liking), I _love_ my Roku. Easily one of the best inexpensive additions to my TV ever.

    [2]: http://www.plexapp.com/

  • Hey

    Wait, so which one “blows the other out of the water?” Your conclusion kind of says both are good or maybe just different. I sort of thought from your intro that there’d be an unambiguous winner.

  • MooseNY320

    Matt,
    I bought a Boxee Box and had to wait 3 very long months for it to be released last fall. After i got it I was so ecstatic about it and very proud owner of one. I didnt go with the Roku box because the Boxee was an all encompassing solution, tenable for future growth where the Roku was looking to be so ‘last year’. I was bummed that Netflix and SO many TV shows would not play on Boxee, most of my favs wouldn’t play. I reported these issues, but they were ‘known issues’. When we finally got the Netflix app to work and it was pushed this past Valentines day I upgraded the software, only to have it not work.
    I ended up selling my Boxee on eBay, now some other poor sucker will have to deal with the head aches and issues that I had with basic functionality not working properly.
    Now I have a Roku and I love that it “just works”

    My $0.02
    Dave

  • http://twitter.com/aaronwt WormholeXtreme(XBL)

    You should be comparing the Boxee Box to the Roku, not the Boxee software on a PC. The Boxee Box is much better than what is run on a PC.

    • Jim

      My Roku only did 720P and could not process MKV files.

  • http://twitter.com/aaronwt WormholeXtreme(XBL)

    You should be comparing the Boxee Box to the Roku, not the Boxee software on a PC. The Boxee Box is much better than what is run on a PC.

  • Josh Cohen

    Crackle is now available on the Roku, BTW.

  • Trevorheisler

    I would agree you should be comparing box to box, not box to software. The Boxee Box has a lot of functionality that the software only version does not. Oh, and the Boxee Box has Crackle too, as well as many other content apps, and a browser. I don’t see how the Roku truly compares.

  • Trevorheisler

    I would agree you should be comparing box to box, not box to software. The Boxee Box has a lot of functionality that the software only version does not. Oh, and the Boxee Box has Crackle too, as well as many other content apps, and a browser. I don’t see how the Roku truly compares.

  • Rokudeveloper

    Glad the “other” channels available on the Roku “weren’t worth mentioning”, way to invalidate hard work of dedicated developers bringing quality niche content that you can’t get elsewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/cnctNow Ben Anderson

    I have a couple of issues with this. Right click only works if you have a two button mouse…something that Chromebooks won’t likely have. The task bar is at the top…the tabs act as your “task bar” showing you the open items and are much easier to manage than a “windows” system. In fact you can still pan between windows with specific tabs at the push of a button. The App Store isreally quite clean and seamless. Offline gmail, docs, games, calendar, is a basic function of Chrome OS and will be more ubiquitous in coming months. Moving files between the download and file manager system is really easy. Drag and drop. The persistent pop-up tiles at the bottom of the screen allow drag and drop and you can move between them really easily. It’s also easy to open them in the browser and then grab the file in the Omni box and drag it to the folder you want. Frankly the only thing the Chrome OS is need of right now is a solid media player. I need to be able to use this thing to play videos on an SD card, or music I download. It would also help to have a dedicated “cloud” folder that I could call my “C” drive and download all of my files to rather than a GDocs, GMusic, YouTube, Box.net, Picassa, Flickr, etc…that require me to open up and enter passwords for half a dozen different storage urls. Even if this system was just a storage place for bookmarks that open up those Web Apps with the associated document/file without any need to sign in to said Web App. Chrome OS takes some getting used to and will require a learning curve of sorts. Although I see this system being the best system for average users in the long term, in the short term Google has some things to fine tune. That’s what the Beta program is about. I suspect the Chromebooks in the pipeline right now are more polished than the CR48’s out there right now which is a shame but I see that changing relatively soon.