I have begun testing the new Boxee Box Live TV dongle and so far I have to say I am impressed. Once again I hope the other media center device manufacturers take a look at what Boxee is doing here and follow suite. Before I could install the Live TV dongle, the version 1.5 update was waiting for me to install. The update only took about 5 minutes to complete. Once done it did make several cosmetic changes to the interface. We will discuss those another time.
For its $ 50 price tag the Live TV dongle comes with a high definition TV antenna so I decided to give that a try first. I have a HD antenna in my attic so I know how many stations I can get. Although most are Spanish stations I also get the main ones ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS, some of their alternate or substations and an assortment of local broadcast stations. I cannot say I spend too much time away from the main 4 but I know what is out there and there is plenty of good TV to watch. I did not have much hope for the included antenna but its there for you if you have nothing else to rely on.
The initial setup is easy and hassle free although they did slip in an option to connect to Facebook and upload what you are watching in real time. I don’t know why people feel the need to share such information but they do, I just wish they would stop. Somehow despite the fact that I did not sign up for the Facebook connect feature every station I went to had a little message stating 12 people are watching or 3 people are watching. I don’t know where this data comes from but once I do I will pass it along.
With the included antenna Boxee found 23 channels. Many had poor signals and it did not find the local ABC affiliate at all. This is no surprise. A good HD antenna is hard to find and I could not expect one to be included in the price of the Live TV Dongle. Even the ones you can pick up at your local Best Buy or Radio Shack are sometimes dubious, but often it is not the antenna’s fault. There are plenty of obstructions out there and you really need to have the antenna calibrated and facing the correct way to get the best signals you can. I had a professional install mine because all of the indoor antennas I tried just did not do the trick. The 23 channels it found was still pretty good and the low signal strength stations were not ones I would watch anyway. While I did not get the full breath of possible stations, I did get most of what I was actually concerned with seeing. The only real problem was that the ABC station did not come in. If this happens to you and the Boxee antenna is your only choice then I would suggest getting the antenna as close to a window and unobstructed as possible and then have the system rescan the channels. In my case I simply switched to my own antenna and went on with my day.
Once I switched sources I needed Boxee to rescan for stations. I found this in the settings. From the main menu hit the home button on your remote. A new pop up window appears and you should see an icon that looks like a cog, it is on the second row of icons. Select the cog and you will find the Live TV setup on the second row far left. Choose that option. The rescan feature is the last of the Live TV menu options. It will go through the whole process that you initially saw from the beginning including the option to sign up for Facebook Connect. Once that was complete the Boxee found 60 channels. Now that is more like it. Once again although I only watch anything on 5 or 6 of those channels you really want to know that your antenna is getting all that it possibly could.
Watching TV on the Boxee was a nice experience. The picture quality was excellent. This includes when I was using the Live TV antenna. The good and bad thing about HD stations is that you either get them or you don’t. There is really no half way point or static filled signal like you use to get with the old UHF stuff. The stations that came through the Live TV antenna were crystal sharp and had excellent sound quality. To see the channel guide just press left on your Boxee remote. The guide comes up as a column of information on the left hand side. You can then press right and see what is coming on next for the range of stations you are looking at or press up or down to scroll through the list of available stations. If the Boxee was able to download programming guide information for the channel then that information will be listed showing you the channel, name of the show and whether it is a repeat or new episode.
As far as cutting the cord and getting rid of cable goes, this is not a game changing device, but it is certainly one that makes life for the Boxee user a little bit easier. You no longer have to worry about switching tuners or devices to watch your streaming content or your live over-the-air content. Now Boxee has them all in one place for you and that can be a pleasant experience. Sometime down the road I would hope that Boxee develops a DVR like system. I would imagine an OS upgrade and an external hard drive attachment would be necessary. If they can pull that off then they will be light years ahead of the pack with everyone else scrambling to catch up. As it stands right now they have certain gained a few extra strides on the competition.