Let's start with the new beta release first. The new user interface was revealed early December, and it was redesigned from the ground up. The biggest change is that the "side" menu has been moved to the centre of the screen, and a "global" version of the side menu has been added - which I already find very, very handy. For the rest, not a pixel has remained untouched, so there is a little bit of a learning curve involved.
Not just the looks of the UI have been changed; behaviour has also been changed. One of the additions from the beta is the queue. "The Boxee Queue is a list that you control and manage. You can put almost anything into your Queue, a movie, a TV show episode, an Internet stream, a local file," the Boxee team explains, "In addition, if you added your favorite TV shows into My Shows then new episodes will automatically be added to your Queue. Unwatched items will appear in bold, white font."
One thing I haven't yet been able to find is the manual metadata function. In the alpha, when the automatic metadata tool couldn't find a match based on the file name, you could enter the name, season, and episode of a TV series by hand, after which it would search again and present any possible hits, including the handy "apply to folder" check box. I'm not sure if it has been moved, or simply removed altogether. If the latter, I'll be one unhappy camper. Admittedly, it's balanced out somewhat by the new resume function (finally!).
Windows users have an additional cool new feature: DirectX support. The alpha used OpenGL, but the new version uses DirectX and DirectX Video Acceleration, lessening the burden carried by your processor when playing high definition content. Do note, though, that you need the latest DirectX update (even Windows 7 users), or else you'll get a blank screen when playing some content.
The new beta release is available for Ubuntu (32bit and 64bit), Mac OS X, and Windows. AppleTV support is still in the works.
Boxee also introduced its first piece of hardware, the Boxee Box, which it builds together with D-Link. It has been confirmed today that it is powered by the brand-new NVIDIA Tegra 2 (T20) ARM platform. This means a dual core Cortex A9 CPU, a GeForce GPU, and a boatload of other chips (eight in total), making it possible to play full HD content without breaking a sweat. It only consumes 500 milliwatts of power. Software-wise, it runs the Linux version of Boxee, including Flash 10.1 so that it can play online HD content without a hitch.
Interestingly, it doesn't come with a hard drive. The idea is that you draw your content from elsewhere in your network (or USB hard drive) and use the Boxee to play it on your TV. "We discussed hard-drive at length with D-Link, and figured people already have storage solutions, and that we should do our best to reduce the price of the Boxee Box," the Boxee team writes, "You'll be able to connect your choice of storage devices directly to the Box using USB."
I've been able to stave off gushing about the design of the Boxee Box for two entire paragraphs - I must say, I'm proud of myself. Trust me, this is the weirdest piece of work you've ever seen, designed by the same company who did the XBox 360 (among other things).
I'm completely in love with the unorthodox angular design, the piercing black and glowing green Boxee logo. Finally hardware that does not copy Apple, but does its own thing. In fact, this has to be the most beautiful piece of hardware since the PowerMac G4 Cube. Sure, I doubt the practicality of it all (where the heck should you put that thing?), but beauty is pain.
The Box also comes with a custom remote, which combines the simplicity of the Apple remote on one side, with a qwerty-keyboard on the other - literally. This allows you to input text while using Boxee and its applications, all using the same RF remote.
The Boxee Box will set you back no more than 200 USD, and will become available during the first half of the year. I'll do everything within my power to obtain one for a review when the time gets here.
Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to enjoy another Gilmore Girls episode on my bedroom HTPC - running the Boxee Beta, of course.