Boxee Gets Reborn as a Digital Video Recorder for Broadcast TV

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Boxee, Techland Illustration

After years of being undercut by cheaper streaming TV boxes, Boxee is changing course.

The company has discontinued its Boxee Box, a $180 device that streamed Internet sources such as Netflix and Pandora to televisions. In its place, Boxee will sell a new device called Boxee TV, which mainly acts as a DVR (digital video recorder) for broadcast channels. The Boxee TV hardware will cost $99, and DVR service will cost $15 per month.

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Unlike TiVo and DVRs from cable providers, Boxee TV only works with over-the-air broadcasts–the kind you need rabbit ear antennas to get–or with basic cable. That means it’s limited to channels such as ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS, but the overall cost of service is a lot cheaper than a full-pay digital cable or satellite TV package with DVR service.

Boxee Screenshot

Boxee TV has no internal storage. Instead, recordings are stored online with no storage limits. This allows users to stream their recorded shows to any device, including phones, tablets and PCs. The downside to cloud storage is that it requires a lot of bandwidth and, presumably, time to upload and download all that video.

Boxee isn’t completely abandoning streaming video. The Boxee TV will come pre-installed with apps such as Netflix, Pandora, Vudu, YouTube and Vimeo, but it’s a far cry from the Boxee of old, which was open to all developers and brought together an eclectic mix of online video sources. (Before selling the Box, Boxee got its start by offering free desktop software, but discontinued it in January.)

It’s a necessary change for Boxee given how fierce the competition has become. Internet streaming boxes from Roku and Netgear start at $50, while Apple TV and Vizio’s Co-Star Google TV box both cost $100. Many high-end televisions now have app stores, and game consoles have been cultivating their own streaming apps. There isn’t much room for a $180 box with essentially the same functionality. Although Boxee users will surely feel burned by the company’s reboot, I’m at least happy that Boxee is sticking to its cord-cutter roots with a box designed to save money over cable or satellite TV.

But even in the broadcast DVR space, Boxee isn’t alone. Just this week, a new product called Simple.TV went on sale. Simple.TV doesn’t store recordings in the cloud, but instead requires users to plug in their own external storage. It doesn’t connect directly to a television, but instead streams its broadcasts over a home network to other devices, including Roku, PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads. At $149, the up-front cost is higher than Boxee TV, but there are no recurring charges unless you want pay $60 per year for a few advanced features such as remote streaming and automatic series recording.

The competition from two start-ups is a sign that cord-cutting is becoming more popular, so while Boxee is admitting defeat on its original approach to hardware, at least it’s found a way to offer something different. The Boxee TV will be available in November.

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