What could be cooler than surfing the Web and watching your big-screen TV at the same time? Getting rid of your cable box, perhaps. The folks who brought you the free Boxee software that transfers streaming video, music and other media from a computer to a TV announced upgraded features this week and debuted the first piece of hardware: A little black box (of course).
While the ability to use Boxee for free on your PC or Mac will continue, the hardware, built by D-Link, will allow Wi-Fi capability and output HDMI and analog stereo audio. You can even connect to an external drive, antenna or webcam via two USB ports. There's also a remote control, although many users may still prefer an iPhone.
Boxee features a 10-foot interface, meaning its display is large enough to be read from that distance. The sleek black Boxee Box, stylish but lopsided like it's melting into the table, was unveiled at a hip nightclub in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on Monday night.
Wired magazine's Epicenter blog, which covered the event, said developers showcased new applications for Boxee: Clicker, which provides an index of online TV shows and allows searches; The Escapist, a video-game review service; Qurious, which provides information about whatever is on screen and allows users to order songs and products; Trendlines, which recommends clips; and Suicide Girls, which provides adult-oriented videos and photos.
Boxee was developed by Avner Ronen, formerly a top executive at Comverse, a leading provider of software and services to telecoms. In founding Boxee he set up a direct challenge to cable providers.
"The challenge for the cable industry is how do they grapple with the fact that this is in some way a substitution for the things they do?" he told The New York Times in January.
Battle For Content
Access to the movie and TV site Hulu -- a joint venture of networks ABC, NBC and Fox -- was the key to Boxee's success, and the company has had an ongoing battle for the ability to carry the site's content. Earlier this year, Hulu said its content providers didn't want their material available on Boxee, presumably because they want to keep web TV and standard TV, with its much higher ad revenues, separate.
Boxee overcame the Hulu block by programming its code to appear only as the Mozilla Firefox browser it uses. Blocking attempts by Hulu reportedly continue.
Efforts to fuse TV and the Internet began in 1995 with the development of WebTV Networks. The company was later purchased by Microsoft. Rebranded as MSN TV in 2001, the company began offering its service free to MSN subscribers.
Boxee isn't the only option likely to cause heartburn among cable executives. Apple is selling its AppleTV device for $229, and Netflix offers streaming movies via the $100 Roku player.