Review: Boxee for iPad App

by Damian on August 15, 2011 · 9 comments

in Reviews

Just last week Boxee released their much anticipated iPad App. I had a chance this weekend to install and do some testing, so let’s take a closer at what the Boxee for iPad App brings to the table.

Requirements:

Install & Setup:

The Boxee for iPad App can be used as a standalone App for watching internet videos. However, to get the most out of the App you are going to want to install the Boxee Media Manager on a PC/MAC where all your media content is stored. For the purpose of this writeup the Boxee Media Manager will be installed on my Windows Home Server.

After downloading the Boxee Media Manager it was the typical installation process via RDP into my Windows Home Server

One item to note, after installation you may get a message that Windows Firewall is blocking Boxee Media Manager. Make sure you unblock this.

Once installed launch the Boxee Media Manager which will bring up a basic UI with a list of Shared folders. These folders should contain your local media that you want to be accessible on the Boxee for iPad App.

To add your media folders simply click the “+” button at the bottom left, navigate to the desired folder(s) and click the “Done” button

Aside from adding your media there are a few settings worth looking over which can be accessed by hitting the “cog” icon at the bottom right. From the settings you can enable remote admin for accessing the Boxee Media Manager in a browser (make sure you have port forwarding set if you want to access outside your network), check for software updates, enable automatic launch at login, and enable debug mode.

As you can see there isn’t much to installing and setting up the Boxee Media Manager. Over time I wouldn’t mind seeing more options/features added to the Media Manager, but I think overall it is simple to manage which is a plus.

Boxee for iPad:

Now that the Boxee Media Manager has been installed, let’s get to the fun part and see what the Boxee for iPad App is capable of.

When first launching the iPad App you will be asked to log in (you can even create an account if you don’t have one)

After signing in you will get the opportunity to connect to your facebook, twitter, and tumblr accounts. With this any videos shared by your friends through either of these social platforms will appear on your Boxee iPad screen. You can always skip this and connect to your accounts at any time from the settings menu.

Once you are signed in you will now be greeted by your personalized home screen. There are two tabs, “Home” and “My Media”.

Home:

The “Home” tab is broken down into three categories:

(1) Friends – this is where you can see all video feeds shared by your friends through your social connections

(2) Watch Later – this is actually a very interesting category. Not only can  you bookmark videos from the iPad App to watch later, but you an also add videos that you may come across while browsing the internet and they will show up here. All you need to do is add the Boxee Bookmarklet to your browser toolbar, drag the video over, and the video will be waiting in your Watch Later section.

(3) Featured – these are video feeds shared by Boxee’s editorial staff.

Selecting a video to watch will bring up further information on that video as well as give you a few additional options (across the top right hand corner) that may come in handy.

The first option (the TV icon) is the “Play to TV” feature. If you have a Boxee Box using this feature you can push the video to your Boxee Box to be displayed on your TV (just make sure you have the iOS streaming feature enabled in the Boxee Box settings).

The second “clock” icon allows you to add and remove the video from your “Watch Later” feed.

The third “heart” icon allows you to share the video with your friends in your social circle

The fourth “mail” icon allows you email a link of the video feed.

The Home tab has a nice clean look to it. If you are big with viewing video feeds shared over your social network or catching video feeds found on the internet later on, the Home tab definitely scores big (of course assuming the video feeds you are trying to watch are not Flash based). Keep in mind that currently you cannot search for online content, this is simply for viewing content shared by your friends, Boxee’s staff, or that you have added via the Boxee Bookmarklet.

My Media:

The “My Media” tab is where all your shared folders set up with the Boxee Media Manager will appear, broken out between videos, music, and photos.

Unfortunately this area is a bit unpolished. The most glaring omission is that music and photos don’t actually work. You can navigate through all your folders but no content will appear. Oddly enough when I first set up my photos did show briefly but vanished quicker then M.C Hammer’s career.

The videos section does work but with a few caveats. Those expecting to have their video jukebox waiting for them (similar to when using the Boxee Box or Boxee software with coverart, metadata, etc…) will be very disappointed. As it currently stands the “My Media” section is a simple file browser, allowing you to navigate around all your folders seeing each folder and file name. Since “My Media” acts as a simple file browser DVD and Blu-ray folder structures are recognized as just folder structures, so you must navigate through the structure to find the actual video file(s).

Once you find a video to watch you can either watch it directly on the iPad or you can push it to a Boxee Box for playback via the little Play on TV icon.

Playback on my iPad was surprisingly smooth. I tested a variety of content from Blu-ray m2ts/mkvs, m4vs, etc… and all played over my wireless network. I don’t use ISOs but from reading around that appears to be the one format that is currently not supported (and to be honest it is what I expected since we are just dealing with a simple browser).

For any content that isn’t natively supported by the iPad (which is just about every container lol) the Boxee Media Manager will transcode the content for playback. This is a very CPU intensive process so make sure that whatever PC you install the Boxee Media Manager software on can adequately handle this. During transcoding my quad core Windows Home Server would regularly hit between 90-100% utilization. One of my favorite scenes for test purposes is the opening scene from my Quantum Of Solace Blu-ray mkv. The Boxee for iPad App was able to play this scene without buffering or stuttering, and only occasional blockiness, much better success then I have had with other transcoding services. It should be noted that I only tested over my home wireless network.

Using the Push To TV option surprisingly provided less reliability. I tried to push several of my videos to the Boxee Box where it would switch over to the Files screen, think for a few seconds, and then nothing.

Final Thoughts:

Overall I would have to say that the Boxee for iPad app is a solid addition to the Boxee library. The UI is very fluid and well laid out, the watch later and friends feature is nice for those online video junkies, and Boxee has put together a solid transcoding engine with its Boxee Media Manager software.

Some of the missing features such as no access to music and photos, the simple file browser mode, no support for DVD/Blu-ray folder structures, and lack of a video jukebox is a bit of a disappointment, but hopefully something that will be added over time. Also, it would be nice to see one of the strengths of Boxee (i.e. Boxee Apps) integrated into the Boxee for iPad App (I am not sure how possible this would be since there are Apps that Boxee has that I know aren’t supported by Apple). Basically a combination of the Boxee for iPad App and My Movies App would be killer :-)

Also, as an Android Tablet user I am feeling a little neglected, but hopefully Android is on Boxee’s radar.

Pros:

  • Simple setup
  • Fluid and well laid out UI
  • Watch later and Friends feature
  • Excellent transcoding engine
  • Push to TV feature (when working)
  • Free

Cons:

  • No music or photos
  • Simple file browser
  • No DVD/Blu-ray folder structure support
  • No Video jukebox
  • Push to TV feature (when not working)
  • Only works with the iPad




Article by

Hi, my name is Damian, and I'm tech gadget addict! Although I always had some interest in technology, it wasn't until I got my EX470 and more importantly found Mediasmartserver.net, that my interest became an addiction. My goal, aside from world domination and to see the Mets/Broncos win another championship, is to set up the perfect digital home where all my media is available at the click of a button. When I am not writing for Mediasmartserver.net you can find me over at my blog at http://www.adigitalhomeblog.com or follow me on twitter


{ 9 comments }

t-bone August 15, 2011 at 7:51 am

is suppose to work off network also?

“It should be noted that I only tested over my home wireless network.”

Do you see this maybe replacing airvideo or app like that in time? I might be a little more interested. being as I dont use any social media websites I found the app a little disappointing. I also was hoping that by having the boxee box on I could avoid installing another app on the server because boxee would handle the rest. With mention of transcoding that hope was laid to rest. haha

Damain, again thanks for a great article.

Damian August 15, 2011 at 7:55 am

I would expect it to work off network but tbh I didn’t test (my iPad is Wi Fi only and I don’t usually carry it with me outside my home).

Yeah, Airvideo is what I can see the boxee for iPad app replacing. I am not an online video guy, but what I want is an App that shows my local video library in a jukebox (coverart/metadata). I can choose to either push the video to a player or play directly on the tablet. The Boxee for iPad apps gets close but obviously still falls short in the jukebox department (reason for me saying the Boxee for Ipad App + My Movies app would be the one to rule them all!!!)

Brajesh August 15, 2011 at 8:21 am

I’m liking this setup better than AirVideo. No need to set-up BMM as a service under WHS, transcoded video quality on iPad looks better, and you can use it with Boxee Box as well. If Boxee adds AirPlay to push content to Boxee Box for local videos (as it does now for web videos), it would be terrific.

Paul August 15, 2011 at 1:20 pm

It’s not an air video replacement until it can be streamed over the internet :) You can’t do that right now. The lack of a real jukebox feel and inability to browse isos was a huge disapointment, but I think it’s a good start. I hope they continue to improve on it. Of course, I hope they also fix the audio issue that they have been denying even existed for 9 months!

Damian August 15, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Thanks for sharing that it can’t be streamed over the internet. I am trying to test out setting up a VPN between my WHS and my iPad so I assume that would resolve the internet streaming issue (if I can even get working of course lol)

H August 18, 2011 at 6:06 pm

I tried VPN and it crashed the iPad app instantly when I tried to load Boxee streaming app. :( FAIL if you ask me.

Robberson December 6, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Now the apps are more and more convenient for ipad lovers, I have download many apps.

Cirrus August 31, 2011 at 9:54 am

This app stinks. It should have never released. You can’t see pics, you can’t hear music and streaming video is horrible. I have a 20meg pipe and the video streaming is constantly buffering. Can anyone recommend a good iPad app the i can see my pics, movies and listen to my music? The one released by istream doesn’t work for me since I have uverse and their 2wire modem does not support upnp.

Damian August 31, 2011 at 9:57 am

When I tested the app first it actually handled my high bitrate movies.

A few days ago I tried again and it was bad, a lot of stuttering and eventually it crashed. It definitely has a lot of potential but it is obvious it is quite an unfinished product (which for better or worse seems to be the norm these days…)

Comments are closed, visit the forums to continue the discussion.

Previous post:

Next post: