Boxee TV is the startup's new over-the-air DVR, launching on November 1 for $99. It's a relatively radical take on the traditional DVR experience: the Boxee TV has no onboard storage, nor does it expect you to add your own hard drive, ala Simple.TV. Instead, all of your recordings are uploaded, stored, and retrieved from the cloud, with no limits on how much you can record.
Boxee calls the experience "No Limits DVR," and it allows you to access all your TV recordings via Boxee TV or any device that can load its HTML5-based Web site, which includes most smartphones and tablets. Boxee TV can record over-the-air TV using an antenna, as well as unencrypted basic cable via its built-in QAM tuner. (Although the latter may be complicated by the recent FCC decision to allow basic cable encryption.) It's also a dual-tuner DVR, so you can record two programs at once, or record one program while watching another live. However, unlike a traditional DVR, you can't pause live TV, although you can begin watching a program that's already recording for a similar experience.
The big catch is that there's a $15 monthly subscription fee, presumably to cover the EPG (electronic program guide) data (provided by Tribune) and unlimited cloud storage. That's same amount you can expect to pay with a TiVo Premiere, and significantly more than competitors like Simple.TV ($5 per month) and Aereo ($8 per month) charge. Boxee TV's cloud DVR functionality is also only rolling out in eight select markets in 2012 (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Washington), with more to follow in 2013.
Boxee TV also signifies a major shift away from the company's geeky software roots. While the Boxee TV is capable of playing back a few common file formats off its back-panel USB ports, it's decidedly not designed to replicate the "plays everything" experience of previous Boxee software. Similarly, while there's initial support for few apps (Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, and Vimeo), don't expect the huge selection of niche apps that existed on the Boxee Box. And most importantly for current Boxee fans, the Boxee Box and Boxee software will be moving to "maintenance" status (meaning no new features), while the company shifts its attention to Boxee TV.
The hardware itself is simplified as well, shifting to a more traditional set-top-box look, rather than the unconventional cubelike design of the Boxee Box. The Boxee TV also lacks the double-sided QWERTY remote that came with the Boxee Box, opting instead for just a simple Roku-style remote for navigating the onscreen menus.
During product demos at Boxee's headquarters, Boxee TV worked well, with a slick interface and solid EPG guide data. But I have my doubts about how well Boxee's vision of a "cloud DVR" will work with a typical broadband connection. During peak streaming hours, my own broadband connection can sometimes struggle to maintain consistent HD Amazon Instant playback, so it's hard to believe it can upload hours of HD video. Merely uploading my digital music library to locker services like Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music took days. It also remains to be seen how Boxee can manage so much data; if it's truly unlimited storage, there's not much incentive to ever delete a recording. And even if Boxee can pull off the technical hurdles, the company still needs to convince buyers that the benefits of cloud DVR are worth the relatively hefty $15 monthly subscription.
Boxee claims that the cloud DVR experience is different enough that it "completely changes the way you think about recording." Even with my reservations, I'm looking forward to giving it a shot (especially as I'm a cord-cutter myself), and to seeing how Boxee TV stacks up against the slowly increasing selection of over-the-air DVR options.