Being an avid fan of online media sources for TV and movies (ie, file-sharing sites), my backlog of stored media files is getting larger every month. While there’s nothing like binge-watching episodes of classic shows or viewing esoteric movies without commercial interruptions (which are slowly creeping onto sites like YouTube and DailyMotion. too), the process I’ve been using has been hogging up my main computer box. It’s relatively easy to download flix as digital files, connect a multipurpose dongle to my 2016 MacBook that includes an HMDI port, connect it to a TV, fire up VLC, and kick back with a show, but this process stops me from using the MacBook for anything else until the show’s over. Holy No-Multitasking, Batman!
The most convenient way to watch my backed-up, downloaded media files would be to have a dedicated box with USB inputs and an HDMI port out, so I could connect my backup drives and run shows from them while leaving my MacBook alone.
Enter Boxee Box, a strange device circa 2010. Boxee was a spinoff of the XMBC Project, which was a customized form of Linux for game consoles and PC hardware designed for 10-foot TV watching. XMBC (now called Kodi) had been developed years before but was relatively difficult to install yourself, so a set of developers, working with the D-Link hardware company, created a set-top box that would do what XMBC did with better ease-of-use.
It was an interesting idea that lasted all of two years. By 2012, the Boxee team sold the assets to Samsung for its Smart TV initiative.
But flash forward to 2018. Finding this strange box (Boxee Box DSM-380) at a local thrift store in San Francisco selling for five bucks, with a power adapter but no remote, had me pondering what it was. I had no idea what the backstory of the gizmo was (until I got home and got on the Net), but I could see that it had an HDMI port, two USB ports, a LAN jack, and an SD-Card slot.
I felt it could probably do what I needed to do in terms of video playing, so I got it home, ordered a used remote from eBay, connected it to the TV and the home network, and fired it up. No joy—no network access at all, despite a solid hardwire connection to my Xfinity router. And unless you can connect Boxee to the Internet, you can’t register an account, and the system software recursively hangs at that point. One Factory Restore later, the Boxee saw the Internet, created an account, and was ready to use.
I skipped the part of the Net-based service of the interface for Boxee and went right to my external drive. I figured since we already have a Roku box hooked up to the TV for Net-based services, why replicate that here, and the old system software for this device probably wouldn’t be good anyway for newer Net-based video providers.
On the other hand, the file browser on the Boxee worked like a charm, and read the files on the external drive with no problem. The integrated video player software ran my media files with near-complete fidelity, only balking and stuttering with a very large video file (over 20 GB).
So now my fun plan for media files is to offload them onto an external drive from my MacBook, connect the drive to Boxee, and play them from there. I also sourced a Western Digital 4TB external hard drive new on eBay for $34.99 flat NIB, and that can keep every bit of stored media I currently have with room to spare.
NB. If you want to play with Boxee yourself, eBay currently has them on sale for cheap. There’s a variation from Roku, the XD/S, that also supports local files through USB, but that also appears to an orphan product.