Although I have been using Boxee for quite a while both as a user and developing apps the closest I have come to seeing a Boxee Box was holding a prototype in my hands, and it wasn't even switched on. So it was a great opportunity to take up PR agency 33 Digital's open invitation to go see one in operation in their offices in London. They are representing Dlink, the hardware manufacturer for the Boxee Box on the social media scene and run the @dlink_boxee_box Twitter account. It was a great chance to have a play with this innovative bit of hardware and explore what it can do.
set top box
Having a nettop like the Acer Aspire Revo running Ubuntu and Boxee is a great addition to the living room. One thing that I have been meaning to do for a while though is add a proper way to shut the unit down from the remote control when I have finished using it. Walking across the room and using the power button just doesn't seem to be appropriate for a set top box experience! I followed the instructions I found on the Boxee forum to add this feature, but instead of changing the Suspend button into a power off button I decided to add a new button to the log out dialogue. Fortunately this was quite a straightforward procedure.
I am delighted to announce the release of a new application for Boxee: “Your MP”. The details and background to this application can be found in my original blog post about it: “An experimental Boxee app to keep track of how your MP votes” and at the time I said that if there was sufficient interest in it I would develop it further and release it. I am really pleased that there was interest and thank you to everybody who took the time to comment, tweet and spread the word about the app, I hope you enjoy it now you can use it! Since the original post I have added a couple of extra features too.
We are experiencing interesting times politically in the UK. Maybe many at one point were happy to elect a Member of Parliament once every five years and pretty much let them get on with it. Talking about politics could make people feel uncomfortable, but a wave of recent events such as the expenses scandal and the Digital Economy Act have started to change that. With the election producing a hung parliament every vote of an MP could make or break proposed legislation, but do you know how your MP is voting? There are already excellent websites where you can find this out, but recently I started to wonder if an Internet TV platform like Boxee could be useful in this area, so I built an experimental “app” to try the idea out. Could finding out how your MP votes be like checking the football scores on Ceefax?
Back in August last year I wondered aloud whether it was time for a remix of Ubuntu aimed at media centres and set top boxes. I was not the only one thinking along these lines it seems! In April 2009 “Element” was founded by Kevin L. Thompson with the aim of producing an operating system specially designed for media centres. They have just released version 1.0 of Element OS, a new Linux distributon based on Ubuntu designed around the concept of the ten foot user interface (a user interface you can see and operate on your TV from across the room). It was time to make myself comfortable on the sofa and see what this new remix is all about.
A fun project that you can do with open source software and some carefully chosen hardware is to build yourself a media centre PC. This is a very different computing experience from a desktop or netbook, it can stream content from the Internet to your TV, act as a PVR, be a jukebox and stream media files to devices such as Internet radios in your home. When you connect a computer to your TV though you need a very different user interface to control it compared to a desktop or a netbook, everything must be visible and usable from ten feet away from the screen, content and functionality navigable by a simple remote control, and even content must be different, more video and audio focused and less text heavy. On Linux systems we're really lucky in having a wide range of media centre software options, popular choices include Boxee, MythTV, XBMC and Freevo. The problem is that these tend to run on top of desktop versions of Linux and certain functionality requires that you exit "set top box" mode and use a desktop or the command line.
If you have made the move to digital TV you might be familiar with the “red button” service, the idea of pressing the red button on your remote control to take you into digital interactive services. These are usually the modern equivalent of teletext from the old analogue days but can be a little more adventurous with services such as news or sport “multiscreen” services where you can choose a video you want to watch. Various technologies make these services possible, they all include ways to display information sent over the airwaves and also provide ways to show information provided over the Internet (if available on the set top box you are using). If you are using Ubuntu (or any Linux machine) you can get hold of software that will allow you to experiment with an open standard in this area called MHEG-5.