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View Full Version : New to Boxee: First Impressions


saltyzip
October 22nd, 2010, 09:57 PM
Hi All,
Thought I would post my first impressions after using Boxee for a few hours on my Windows HTPC. I am not a newbie to the HTPC World, my current setup is WMC7 x64 with MyMovies and TMT3 which is doing me proud. Main usage is to play blu-ray (ISO+File Structure), mkv and MP4 (Camcorder) files. as well as display family photos.

[Positives]
1. Really easy to use
2. Lots of potential
3. Fast interface
4. If everything worked I would not hesitate in recommending it to friends/family.

[Gripes]
1. iPlayer doesn't work
2. Picasa doesn't work - Can't watch video clips and only thumbnails of pictures work.
3. MP4 videos only play audio, no picture
4. Blu-ray Movies don't play via ISO or Blu-ray file structure
5. Boxee Resolution doesn't seem to allow 1080p, only 24p 1080i, even though windows desktop is set to 1080p. Causing tearing on HD videos.
6. No auto switching of resolution based on file content 24p/PAL/NTSC
7. Quality of video playback doesn't seem as good as WMC or TMT3, might be due to resolution issue.
8. No separation between Home Videos and Movies and TV content. For example my home movies recorded with my camcorder/phone/camera etc. I would like stored under My Videos. Movies get stored under movies, and TV shows get stored under TV. For now I set my home videos as a Photos folder to avoid them polluting the movies listing.
9. Windows MCE Remote works, but buttons aren't assigned correctly for video playback. For example pause and play and volume don't work from the correct buttons.
10. Does bit streaming work for HD audio streams with ATI cards. Based on lack of blu-ray support I think probably not, albeit haven't tested it on mkv's.
11. Apps need to be categorised by type, too many to scroll through and you have little idea what they do.
12. Crashed a few times when navigating my mass of home movies.
13. Some TV Show content only displayed on half the TV screen. Other BBC content (not via iplayer) only displayed on screen when I alt-tab, otherwise I only get audio.
14. Movies identified are duplicated e.g. Band of Brother appears five times, one for each episode (mkv file), rather than just once, and an episode list being created. Needs improved movie collection management.

Conclusion:
What it is trying to do is on the money, and I commend Boxee team for putting their balls on the line and trying to create something that will hopefully create them lots of bread and butter. However what I want out of a media hub, it is behind the curve ball, especially when it comes to playing local HD content. The Apps are nice if they work, but the core functionality is to play content and this is where it falls short, so I am worried the Boxee box is going to miss the boat and be another wannabee that never made it. Nobody wants to convert their movies from their original format, they don't want to lose quality or wait hours trying to re-encode movies, then only to find the subtitles have disappeared or the audio no longer plays.

I just want to rip everything I own to the default ISO, File Structure, MP3 etc. and whatever format I download content in, I want to be able to play it, this seems more difficult that putting the moon on a stick.

Overall Rating: 5/10

judgeschambers
October 22nd, 2010, 10:27 PM
Some of the items you mention aren't necessarily "broken". And some may be.

[Gripes]
1. iPlayer doesn't work IPlayer changed their player and boxee is working on a work around.
2. Picasa doesn't work - Can't watch video clips and only thumbnails of pictures work. Picasa does work, just the application was not designed to play videos. Pictures work on my system...
3. MP4 videos only play audio, no picture. MP4 videos do play. First they have to be H264 .mp4. If you have only audio, you must go into boxee settings and turn off "enable hardware decoding when possible" and it will play like a charm.
4. Blu-ray Movies don't play via ISO or Blu-ray file structure. Blue Ray is not built into boxee due to expensive licensing (but is due to change). They can be played if ripped and use a DVD emulator. Search the forums to see how others got it working.
5. Boxee Resolution doesn't seem to allow 1080p, only 24p 1080i, even though windows desktop is set to 1080p. Causing tearing on HD videos. Without more video card details, hard to tell if it's a boxee thing or your video card.
6. No auto switching of resolution based on file content 24p/PAL/NTSC Not sure what you mean by this.
7. Quality of video playback doesn't seem as good as WMC or TMT3, might be due to resolution issue. Looks good on my system. May be a video card or boxee +video card reason.
8. No separation between Home Videos and Movies and TV content. For example my home movies recorded with my camcorder/phone/camera etc. I would like stored under My Videos. Movies get stored under movies, and TV shows get stored under TV. For now I set my home videos as a Photos folder to avoid them polluting the movies listing. This is a feature that was not implemented yet due to focusing on so many other important features during beta, but is on its way soon.
9. Windows MCE Remote works, but buttons aren't assigned correctly for video playback. For example pause and play and volume don't work from the correct buttons. My WMC remote works perfectly. What's yours?
10. Does bit streaming work for HD audio streams with ATI cards. Based on lack of blu-ray support I think probably not, albeit haven't tested it on mkv's. Not sure what this is....
11. Apps need to be categorised by type, too many to scroll through and you have little idea what they do.They are categorized with a filter on the left menu; by music, video , photos and general.
12. Crashed a few times when navigating my mass of home movies. Not sure without more details on how to duplicate.... I've seen this when boxee is doing its first Indexing of a movie folder.
13. Some TV Show content only displayed on half the TV screen. Other BBC content (not via iplayer) only displayed on screen when I alt-tab, otherwise I only get audio. Half screen could be caused by DPI and/or font set over 100%. Audio only could be a driver or flash install for FFox is needed on your system. Some shows are not flash and are H264 .mp4, which would require to turn off "enable hardware decoding where possible". Leave it off as it will not affect gpu acceleration of other content.

You should post your hardware specs, drivers and verify if you have installed Flash 10.1, DX and Silverlight. Also, readjust your DPI and Font to 100% if over.
Really need more info on some of the ones I could not give an answer to.

BBC Iplayer: http://forums.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=19090
Blue RAy playback option: http://forums.boxee.tv/showthread.php?t=18609&highlight=blue+ray

Prospero424
October 22nd, 2010, 11:13 PM
Yeah, many of the gripes (but not all) are just flat-out wrong, but judgeschambers already adequately addressed those.

I'd like to ask about this comment: "However what I want out of a media hub, it is behind the curve ball, especially when it comes to playing local HD content."

What devices/software available out there do it better with a viable, remote-ready 10-foot interface? I have a LOT of local content in every format from .avi files to .mp4 files to .mkv files to .ts files to .vob files to .ogm files to .flv files, to DVD .iso files; .mp3, .flac, .m4a, .wav, and even a few REALLY old .rm files, and Boxee plays all of them flawlessly on all three of my machines, which all have really disparate hardware.

I think you're just having some technical problems (which we'd be happy to help you with) and are rushing to judgment.

saltyzip
October 22nd, 2010, 11:21 PM
Thanks for the comments, further explanation below on some of my points. I will post hardware specs a little later, but it is a very common Gigabyte/ATI HTPC spec.

Point 5. Some of my HD content e.g. blu-ray movies is 24p rated therefore the Windows resolution needs to switch to 1080p 24Hz.

Some of my home movies and DVDs are PAL (50Hz), therefore the Windows resolution needs to switch to 1080p 50Hz.

American videos will be in NTSC (60Hz) therefore the TV resolution needs to switch to suit this format.

If the resolution doesn't switch you end up with pull down, tearing, stuttering of video content as it is not being played back in the resolution it was designed. A pretty critical requirement for a media hub.

Point 9. I have standard Microsoft MCE remote, operated via IMON software.
I think I was watching a You Tube video when I noticed the problem. I could only use the cursor and ok button to control what was happening on the screen, perhaps a limitation in flash type content.

Point 10. I want movie audio streams to be sent direct to my AMP over HDMI, without any down mixing, basically straight pass through. Correct terminology is Boxee needs to support PAP/Bitstreaming on ATI 5xxxx cards. The AMP can then identify whether the content is DTS, DTS-HD, Dolby Digital, Dolby TrueHD etc. and then blast it out of your speakers as it was intended.

It requires you to have hardware that supports a protected audio path, which my ATI card does, but the software needs to support it to, such as TMT3 which I currently use.

More later..

Prospero424
October 22nd, 2010, 11:44 PM
"If the resolution doesn't switch you end up with pull down, tearing, stuttering of video content as it is not being played back in the resolution it was designed. A pretty critical requirement for a media hub."

All of that is avoided with proper rendering. I watch 1080i, 1080p, 720p, 480i, and 480p content that has frame rates of 24, 25, 30, and even 60hz all of the time in Boxee and I have no issues with artifacting on any of my machines or on any of my displays other than isolated problems with deinterlacing.

Also, I'm not aware of any media center software that actually changes resolution and frame rate to match the media being played back at the hardware level (video adapter output). I'm sure there are dedicated hardware devices that do this, but not software. And I'm sure there are some devices that may LOOK as if they were switching res/frame rate on-the-fly at the hardware level but are actually doing it in software.

"It requires you to have hardware that supports a protected audio path, which my ATI card does, but the software needs to support it to, such as TMT3 which I currently use."

I'm not aware of any media software that uses open-source decoding libraries and software structures (XBMC/Mozilla Gecko) that has been ALLOWED the licenses necessary to enable protected-path audio or video. This isn't up to the software developers, it's up to the licensing bodies who have a vested interest in maintaining their control over the devices they authorize rather than handing that control to the user.

Heck, that's why ArcSoft (who makes TMT) stopped including a DirectShow-compatible codec compatible with DTS-HD Master Audio/MLP: it allowed third party software to use their decoder, which the licensing body didn't approve of. Now you have to use their player with their decoder.

And this is why I convert my protected HD audio sources to lossless FLAC, even though it's a giant pain in the butt. I'm listening to a 6-channel, 24-bit, 96khz FLAC right now on Boxee, and it sounds fantastic. But I connect to speakers through an analog output both because of bandwidth (SPDIF) and content protection (HDMI) problems with digital interfaces and because my digital receiver broke, heh. :(

saltyzip
October 23rd, 2010, 12:04 AM
Yeah, many of the gripes (but not all) are just flat-out wrong
I'd like to ask about this comment: "However what I want out of a media hub, it is behind the curve ball, especially when it comes to playing local HD content."


We will have to beg to differ on whether things are flat-out wrong. All I can say is it isn't working for me and I am an IT Professional by trade, and I thought the whole attraction to Boxee is the simplicity in abstracting the user away from the technicalities of all the inner workings. All the suggestions for solutions seem to point towards inner workings which I shouldn't have to worry about, and haven't had to worry about with my current HTPC setup before.

I am comparing my experience with Boxee against Windows 7 Windows Media Centre, My Movies add in and Total Media Theatre 3. I use some other third party tools such as Slysoft Virtual Clone Drive too which MyMovies automatically integrates with and it also kicks off TMT3 for me and it is all seamlessly integrated into WMC. I also have coreavc installed so WMC can play MKV files directly.

WMC plays all my music (Only have MP3), all my videos (MP4, MT2S, AVI) without any trouble at all, unlike I do with Boxee. I can also play ISO files, for DVD and Blu-ray content with bitstreaming audio without any problem either, unlike I do with Boxee.

I haven't had to fiddle with DPI, turn encoding on/off to get my current setup working, it just works.

I know you are defending your product, and rightly so, and I am only trying to be constructive in my criticism, based on my current experiences. The Boxee solution at the moment does not meet my expectations, so therefore I wouldn't consider switching to it, as in my humble opinion it is not as good as my current setup, which is why I believe it is behind the curve ball.

Some people aren't interested in blu-ray's, but for me any media hub that can't play them is, dare I say it again, behind the curve ball, irrespective of any other issues I mentioned in my first post.

saltyzip
October 23rd, 2010, 12:40 AM
"If the resolution doesn't switch you end up with pull down, tearing, stuttering of video content as it is not being played back in the resolution it was designed. A pretty critical requirement for a media hub."

All of that is avoided with proper rendering. I watch 1080i, 1080p, 720p, 480i, and 480p content that has frame rates of 24, 25, 30, and even 60hz all of the time in Boxee and I have no issues with artifacting on any of my machines or on any of my displays other than isolated problems with deinterlacing.
(

If it was just down to rendering, why do they have HD TVs that are designed specifically for 24p content, what's the point might as well just run everything in PAL or NTSC?

If you run 24p content in anything other than 24p mode, the picture is speed up so to speak. If the windows resolution is not set to to 24Hz when trying to playback a Blu-ray movie or MKV or any file for that matter encoding in 24 Frames p/sec, how is the TV going to know that it should be playing it back in 24p mode?

On my TV, I get pull down effect if I don't set the resolution to 24p and I have a 50inch Pioneer Kuro.

I have the windows resolution set to 24p, but have WMC resolution set to 50Hz, it is great that they can be set independent of each other. Therefore when TMT3 jumps into life for Blu-Ray movies (I sold all my DVDs on Ebay) it automatically uses the windows resolution and I get judder free movie playback.

I am no expert in this field, but I know that changing the resolution in windows to match the video content you are playing enables smooth trouble free playback.

Hence I was hoping Boxee could assist in automating this some way.

Prospero424
October 23rd, 2010, 12:44 AM
We will have to beg to differ on whether things are flat-out wrong. All I can say is it isn't working for me and I am an IT Professional by trade, and I thought the whole attraction to Boxee is the simplicity in abstracting the user away from the technicalities of all the inner workings. All the suggestions for solutions seem to point towards inner workings which I shouldn't have to worry about, and haven't had to worry about with my current HTPC setup before.

I can't repeat this enough: beta software, beta software, beta software. You can't (fairly) expect software that is, by definition, still evolving and being tested to work perfectly in any environment you throw at it.

I am comparing my experience with Boxee against Windows 7 Windows Media Centre, My Movies add in and Total Media Theatre 3. I use some other third party tools such as Slysoft Virtual Clone Drive too which MyMovies automatically integrates with and it also kicks off TMT3 for me and it is all seamlessly integrated into WMC. I also have coreavc installed so WMC can play MKV files directly.

WMC plays all my music (Only have MP3), all my videos (MP4, MT2S, AVI) without any trouble at all, unlike I do with Boxee. I can also play ISO files, for DVD and Blu-ray content with bitstreaming audio without any problem either, unlike I do with Boxee.

All I can say is that all of these formats aside from Blu-Ray and Protected audio (SACD/DVD-A) work fine with Boxee with most current hardware; even low-power stuff running on Atom processors. Blu-Ray and HD audio media won't work on Boxee because the people who control those formats won't LET it work on Boxee because they don't have enough control over the platform.

I haven't had to fiddle with DPI, turn encoding on/off to get my current setup working, it just works.

Perhaps, and I can say that I and most users have not had the same problems you've been having with Boxee. But I don't think you could tell me with a straight face that many, MANY people aren't having similar problems with Windows Media Center (when they can get it). Due to architectural differences, the potential for conflicting codecs and filters and the like is actually much, much greater for WMC because it relies upon DirectShow while Boxee uses its own internal set of MPlayer libraries similar to VLC.

Don't get me wrong: I like DirectShow and I like Windows Media Center. They can provide fantastic quality and performance when properly set up (emphasis on this last part). I use them both and, like you, I also use CoreAVC and ffdshow on my desktop computers because they're just so damned efficient. Both approaches and both systems have their strengths and weaknesses.

I know you are defending your product, and rightly so, and I am only trying to be constructive in my criticism, based on my current experiences. The Boxee solution at the moment does not meet my expectations, so therefore I wouldn't consider switching to it, as in my humble opinion it is not as good as my current setup, which is why I believe it is behind the curve ball.

Believe me: I appreciate your point of view. I'm just saying that:

1. Your experience is out of the ordinary
2. Problems with certain configurations are inevitable with beta software

Basically, you've just had a round of bad luck. It happens to everyone.

Some people aren't interested in blu-ray's, but for me any media hub that can't play them is, dare I say it again, behind the curve ball, irrespective of any other issues I mentioned in my first post.

I hear ya, but there's only so much software developers can do when it comes to DRM if they don't want to get sued out of business or worse. Hell, if Apple devices (from full-blown Macs all the way down to Apple TVs) can't even play Blu-Rays, imagine how hard it is for smaller players like Boxee to negotiate their way in.

But be patient. There are rumors going around that these negotiations actually are currently under way and we just MAY see Blu-Ray support in Boxee sometime in the future.

To sum up my point of view on the Media Center/Boxee debate in general:

Media Center can be a great platform with superior playback quality when it's properly set up, when it runs on the right hardware, AND when it's integrated with the right third-party software solutions. Problem is that, from what I've seen in the business, maybe one in eight (and I'm being generous here) end users actually have Media Center properly set up.

Unlike Boxee, it includes PVR functionality. No getting around that this is a big plus for WMC if you're into that sort of thing. Boxee can integrate with MythTV, but that can be a hassle.

However, having used both, I can unequivocally say that Boxee is superior in almost all other areas, ESPECIALLY social networking integration and when it comes to the variety of streaming media sources available. This is where Boxee shines. Nothing else can even come close to matching it when it comes to streaming, social networking, and third-party app support. Once you start digging into these functions, you really see what sets Boxee apart.

That's not to say that Boxee isn't a very capable solution for local media playback. Unusual hardware and third-party software (drivers, OS, etc.) compatibility problems aside, it's format support is also second to none and it certainly beats the PANTS off of Windows Media Center in its out-of-the-box state.

Anyway, disagreements aside: welcome to the community! Constructive criticism is always welcome and discussions/debates like these can be instructive to more people than most would expect.

I just want to make sure that you're not operating on misconceptions. that's my motivation.

Prospero424
October 23rd, 2010, 01:05 AM
If it was just down to rendering, why do they have HD TVs that are designed specifically for 24p content, what's the point might as well just run everything in PAL or NTSC?

This gets really, really complicated. I'll try to keep things as basic as I can.

First off, while there is certainly a native resolution for any TV, there's really no such thing as a native frame rate. The majority of HDTVs out there run at 60hz or 120hz regardless of the frame rate of the content they're playing. The scaling (say, from 720 to 1080) and the frame doubling/re-sampling is all done by the electronics and software within the television.

On my TV, I get pull down effect if I don't set the resolution to 24p and I have a 50inch Pioneer Kuro.

If you're getting artifacting in WMC when playing 24hz HD video on a 60hz (for example) display running at 60hz within Windows, I can absolutely, positively guarantee you that this can be fixed either in your TV settings or in software or both.

If you're running Windows itself at 24p for Blu-Rays, do you switch to 30p (actually 29.97fps) in Windows when you watch recorded American television? Do you switch to 25p in Windows when watching recorded European or Asian television or DVDs (PAL)? When you're watching streaming content, the already complicated dilemma can be multiplied exponentially.

Anyway, I could go on all night like this (not really, heh) but I think you get my point.

Now, while your specifics may in some place be incorrect, your "instincts" on this topic are right on. Ideally, you want the display device (HDTV) to be doing the scaling, interpolation, resampling, etc. whenever possible. However, ideal scenarios are hard to come by when it comes to multi-purpose media devices.

When you have software that supports such a VAST array of formats, implementing a native output for each one of them is an absolutely Sisyphean task. It's not just difficult and it's not just time consuming. In the long run, it's actually impossible. This is why even the big guys with BILLIONS of dollars to spend on their platforms (like MS and Sony) only have a limited set of formats they support. And Boxee (in cooperation with XBMC and MPlayer) is beating them (when it comes to local media format support) with a team and with resources a tiny fraction of that size.

Prospero424
October 23rd, 2010, 04:03 AM
And I guess it's worth a mention that it's not really an either/or debate. I talk to users and even moderators on here all of the time who happily run both Boxee and WMC on their HTPCs and have figured out ways to switch between them with just a remote control.

They won't interfere with each other 'cause Boxee doesn't use DirectShow.

Just an option to think about.

haveringcottage
October 25th, 2010, 02:32 PM
just to clear up point 1.... the problem is not down to a BBC site redesign, it is a boxee regression... they broke something in the latest release - if you do a search on this forum, you can find a fix to this issue by replacing the flashplayer folder within the boxee installation directory with a folder from an earlier release.