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First look at Boxee Alpha media center for Windows

Boxee Windows Alpha
Boxee is a media center application for Mac, Ubuntu Linux, and Windows that's based on the open source XBMC project. The Mac and Ubuntu versions of the media suite have been available to private alpha testers for a while now, and over 200,000 people have signed up so far. Last week the Boxee team removed the private label and opened the alpha up to all Mac, Ubuntu and AppleTV users who want to use the software.

They also launched a private alpha of a Windows version of Boxee.

Boxee for Windows looks and feels a lot like the Ubuntu version I tried a while back. The software provides a full screen interface for browsing photos, video, and music stored on your PC or for accessing online media from sites like Last.fm, Hulu, YouTube, and Shoutcast. The developers also recently added support for Joost and the BBC iPlayer, but this feature only works for users in the UK due to the BBC's IP limitations (it's worth noting that Hulu and other US-based services may not work for users outside of the US unless you use a proxy server).

One of the best things about the way Boxee handles online video is that every movie opens in full screen mode. You can tell that the developers have designed this application to use a full screen interface that will look as good on your HDTV as your laptop. The font size is a bit small for standard definition television sets, but Boxee menus and dialogs are a bit easier to read than the text areas in Zviewer, which is clearly not designed for standard definition TVs.
When I met up with the Boxee guys at CES they warned me that there may be a few bugs in the Windows version. After all, this is still Alpha software. But I found that the program was fairly stable and responsive.

One of the things that sets the Windows version apart from the OS X version is that many Mac computers come with a standard hardware remote control while this is not the case for Windows machines. This is one of the reasons the Boxee team focused on the Mac software first. But using a standard Windows Media Center remote I found it was pretty easy to navigate through the Boxee screens.

I did have trouble pausing, starting, stopping, and fast forwarding through files during playback. I also found that the volume buttons on my remote were pretty much useless. But these are all issues that I suspect could be worked out by remapping some of the buttons on the remote control.

Overall Boxee presents a slick media center interface which could be a compliment to Windows Media Center on Windows XP, Vista, or Windows 7 computers. While Windows Media Center provides a pretty decent solution for browsing and accessing media on your hard drive, Boxee's web video browser is far more sophisticated.

While Boxee doesn't work as a personal video recorder, if you have a TV tuner in your computer you can schedule recordings using Windows Media Center and configure Boxee to scan your recorded TV folder so that you can watch recorded, downloaded, or online video all from the Boxee interface without ever having to use Windows Media Center for anything besides setting up recordings.

Tags: boxee, boxee-alpha, media-center

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