So What The Heck is Boxee, Anyway?

Visit Boxee.tv for the first time and you might be left scratching you head, wondering what the service is all about (and why it’s getting so much buzz). While it's clearly a video destination, it’s not immediately obvious how you’re supposed to use it. Many users stream Boxee content to their Apple TVs, for example, but where’s the information on how to do that?

"I don’t know," Avner Ronen, Boxee’s founder and CEO, says with a laugh. "I think it’s on our forum. We should do a better job of linking to it."

If that hasn’t made the top of Ronen’s to-do list, it’s because he’s shepherding one of the highest-profile launches of the year, one that won G4’s "Best of the Best Products of CES 2009" award, and one that’s suddenly in the news because of a scuffle with another video site, Hulu.

Boxee is a media front-end, a tool for streaming content stored both locally and online. It also stands out with an integrated BitTorrent client and social tools that let you share recommendations with friends.

The service’s roots go back to 2003, when Ronen was playing with various media centers, including Windows Media Center, Xbox, and Playstation, and found them all lacking.

"Existing solutions were missing the boat about how people were using media in their living room," says Ronen.

His idea was to create a device- and OS-agnostic interface that puts the user first. He began the company in early 2007, releasing a closed-alpha Linux and Macintosh version in June, 2008, which went open-alpha in January, 2009. A Windows version is now in closed-alpha.

While gaining funding in today’s economy has been difficult, Ronen says early positive buzz from the blogging community was a huge help, enabling the young company to raise funds from Union Square Ventures and Spark Capital.

"We couldn’t have done better," Ronen says of his investors.

The company is based in New York City, while the developers are in Tel Aviv and the marketing in San Francisco.

Getting Started with Boxee
You can see what Boxee offers on your desktop or laptop computer, but to really experience its benefits you’ll need to run it on your television. Approximately 80 percent of users do this, says Ronen. Boxee offers a 10-foot interface, and is simple to control from the couch. Most people run it off a connected Apple TV or Mac mini.

"This is where Boxee delivers most of its value, with the 10-foot experience with a remote control," says Ronen. "There’s value in using Boxee on a laptop, but its incremental value."

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