Boxee on Apple TV: Don't bother

Boxee, the free fork of the stupendous Xbox Media Center (XBMC) project, certainly gets a lot of attention. And it's often mentioned in the same breath as the Apple TV, one of the platforms on which it can run. What isn't said is this: Boxee on Apple TV is not very good.

Here's what's good about it:

Install is simple. Download an app to make a USB stick, follow a few short steps, and you're golden. ⌦ The form factor is right. The Apple TV is small, but has all the right outputs: HDMI, component, optical audio.

Here's what's bad about it:

It's so slow. The Apple TV has a 1GHz processor inside. The variant of OS X that runs uses that processor for all video decoding, which works fine for Apple-provided content, because Apple has optimized both its content and its software to take full advantage of that modest processor. But Boxee is trying to do all sorts of magic, from streaming internet video to indexing content on network shares. That little 1GHz processor just can't handle it, especially since there isn't yet a way for Boxee (and XBMC) to pass some of that decoding over to a GPU. ⌦ It crashes a lot. Button presses from the remote are often ignored. The interface will lock up when trying to stop playback. ⌦ There's no way to shut it down. Telling Boxee to shut down (or at least go back to the Apple TV software), on my unit, just fails. That means to turn the unit off, you have to get up and physically remove the power plug. ⌦ No Netflix streaming. The little processor can't handle it. ⌦ Uh, I guess that's it. But isn't that enough? It's slow, buggy, and crashy. Boxee is pretty great, but I don't want anyone else to make the same mistake I did when considering new hardware on which to put one of these XBMC variants. Next for me? A Mac Mini, with Boxee and/or Plex. It'll cost twice as much, but there's no content it shouldn't be able to play with ease. Photo: SkyFirePDL
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20 Responses to Boxee on Apple TV: Don't bother

  1. randalll says:

    I tried Boxee on my ubuntu box, 2.4 Ghz w/ 1 gig ram, Nivida 6200. Not huge computing power, but way more than the Apple TV- and it was slow as HELL. I fiddled with it for an hour or so with the same problems you describe above before giving up and sticking with Gmote (with the G1 app) and VLC player.

  2. william_k says:

    I did the appletv/boxee thing but I agree is just too slow to be useful. The joy of watching season one of Airwolf was really tempered by the frustration of the UI. Also you can tell it really wasnt designed for the limited remote the appletv uses.

    I put my appletv back to factory and love its built-in functionality for music, pictures, and properly formatted video. I also picked up a $350 vista machine with HDMI out from Acer and I use that to play divx/avi stuff. Also its great for using the browser on the big screen.

  3. pork musket says:

    After 4 or 5 months I still absolutely love my Popcorn Hour. With some configuration you can stream Hulu, Netflix, etc to it, but I don’t really use those services so I can’t speak to how well they work. For everything else, it’s fantastic.

  4. Matthew Thiel says:


    I’m glad someone finally said this. I’ve been wondering for months if people were using some other kind of AppleTV that I wasn’t aware of, because Boxee really sucks on it. I’m just glad to know I wasn’t missing anything.

  5. veronica says:

    thanks to everyone for all your comments. they have been really helpful for someone like me who recently installed boxee on my two day old apple tv and was disappointed when i couldn’t even load a tv show on hulu.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What about using XBMC itself on the Apple TV? Have you given that a shot?

    • Joel Johnson says:

      You have to install XBMC to get Boxee on there in the first place, so you can certainly use it. And XBMC works pretty well — as well as it did on the original Xbox, for me — on the Apple TV. But I want all the fancy pants streaming and indexing stuff from Plex and Boxee, or else I’d just stick with an old Xbox :)

  7. Sneak says:

    I agree Boxee sucks on Apple TV. XBMC, however, kicks ass. Now my AppleTV does everything the old XBox could do, but it is small, quiet, cute (wife-friendly), is always on, etc. Instead of having to teach my wife how to turn on the XBox and navigate the menus to the movies directory, we leave Apple TV on with XBMC running and pointed to the Baby Einstein folder on the network. Now she turns on the TV, switches HDMI inputs, and chooses the movie to watch.

    Sure, it won’t play 1080p video and Boxee runs like crap on it, but for $200 and a quick patchstick hack, I’m happy to have replaced my 6-year-old XBox with it.

    One thing I DO like about Boxee – Pandora radio. That works great – you can set it and forget it and have it running all the time if you want.

  8. InfoMofo says:

    @9 – I recommend Plex or Boxee.

    Plex is a great slick interface. The only drawback is they are a little behind boxee in terms of cutting edge features (they were a few months behind getting netflix, their torrent support still doesn’t include RSS feeds and such). Still, if all you want to do is have a remote control client for netflix, hulu, and joost, Plex is probably the best one right now. They also have much better SMB support than Boxee if you are planning on accessing network shares.

    Boxee is the big name in 10 foot experience applications on the mac. They have probably the most active development community of all of these applications, so they are usually the fastest to get new content. Their torrent client is really amazing, and supports RSS feeds. Right now this is my client of choice- I have it start up when my mac mini starts up and I almost never have to leave the boxee interface. I cancelled my cable 3 months ago and I haven’t regretted it at all.

    I keep both apps on my computer though and I’m following the development of both closely. It’s pretty much at the point now where a major feature breakthrough on either side could tip the scale to make one better than the other, but right now the two products are pretty similar, depending on what exactly you’re looking for.

  9. I use Boxee on my Mac Mini. It’s a real computer, not an underpowered appliance like AppleTV Sure it crashes occasionally but most of the time it runs great.

  10. avner ronen says:

    boxee on Apple TV has lots of room for improvement. some of it is in our control (crashes, freezes), some of it is beyond us (relatively weak processor, no access to the GPU).

    i agree that boxee on Mac Mini is a superior experience, but it is also expensive. hopefully we’ll start seeing sub $300 machines that can run boxee properly.

  11. MaciekS says:

    No. You are not giving up HDMI when using Mac Mini. Just get a dongle converting from DVI output to HDMI. It should cost $10-$20

  12. @#9 Install Plex. It has support for the apple remote out of the box, and you can install plugins for Joost, Hulu, FanCast, Comedy Central, etc. etc. to get your TV fix.

  13. ScottMcG says:

    Good timing – I did the research and just bought a Neuros Link that I’m going to run Boxee on. The only thing I’ll be missing out the gate is Netflix streaming (not so good on Linux yet) but it’s small enough and powerful enough to do the job in my living room. And for $250 without the keyboard it’s a great deal. I’ll buy a Windows media center remote kit and program my universal remote to use it.

    I’m a long-time XBMC-on-the-original-Xbox user, and like Joel I’m upgrading so I can get the cool streaming and kill my satellite bill. I tried using my Xbox 360 as a media center extender, but it’s painfully slow, doesn’t play everything I’ve got, and requires you to adhere to the way MS wants you to organize your media. Blech.

    We’ll see how it goes, but I’m pretty excited about the possibilities…

  14. robinson says:

    So, what do you all recommend for a Mac user who wants to view old tv shows that are on joost, (BH 90210, MacGiver, etc.)?

    Is it possible to use the Apple Remote to control a Mac Mini/Safari stream combo?

    I’ve hooked up the MBP to the TV, but there’s no remote control and it’s nuisance messing with the cables each time!

  15. Tom says:

    XBMC on AppleTV rocks. Plays back smoothly, and no issues. I tried Boxee but got all kinds of stutters playing back my DVD iso rips. XBMC on the same hardware and same wireless network plays everything flawlessly. Just boot XBMC and forget Boxee and you’ll be happy.

  16. Aric A. says:

    Boxee on the Mac mini is the way to go, although you’re giving up having an HDMI out. I bought a used mini for less than the price of an AppleTV and use it as an HTPC running Boxee, and have excellent luck with it. Boxee’s still technically an alpha, so I get some occasional hiccups, but it’s been plenty sufficient for daily use. Don’t have cable, don’t need it.

  17. PLeblanc says:

    If you are planning a future purchase, why not plan on an ion based net top, rather than a mac mini? You won’t pay much more than an appletv, and it’s got a pretty good gpu and will be power efficient and should be very quiet.

    I don’t know boo about boxee, but it runs on linux, and is pre-release on win vista and win 7, (according to their forum) so the nettop should definitely run it for you.

  18. twofedoras says:

    Thank you. This was my plan to escape cable. I want to replace cable with one caveat. The initial setup cost must be no more than 6 months of cable at $60 a month ($360). Back to the drawing board.

  19. GeekMan says:

    Honestly, if you like the AppleTV interface and want to play DivX or other media files, just hack the thing. Provided you’ve got some intermediate computer knowledge, pretty easy to create a patchstick that does most of the modification legwork for you, without even opening the box. I love my (hacked) AppleTV!

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