Boxee, Hulu Desktop bridge the gap between the Web, TV

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By Rob Pegoraro
Sunday, January 31, 2010

Last weekend, I caught up on a few TV shows I'd missed, but the experience wasn't a rerun of my usual viewing routines.

Although I watched these programs on the high-definition set in the living room, no digital video recorder or cable on-demand service brought them there.

Instead, I turned to the Web -- but using an Internet connection as a TV antenna didn't mean I had to tap a keyboard to summon my choice of content.

I just had to install two free programs on a computer, Boxee (http://boxee.tv) and Hulu Desktop (http://hulu.com/desktop), that bridge the gap between the Web and the biggest screen at home.

Connect a PC or Mac to a TV, set it up with a wireless remote or mouse, and each program's full-screen, large-type interfaces let you click away from the couch.

The concept isn't too different from Apple's Front Row and Microsoft's Media Center. But where those older programs mainly present your computer's music, photos and videos, Boxee and Hulu emphasize Web video.

Boxee -- available for Windows, Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux, with Apple TV support farther behind-- is the more ambitious, more useful and less refined option.

It connects to a wide variety of video sources, such as YouTube, Netflix, individual network and channel sites, and MLB.tv. Boxee also tunes into Web radio, displays photos at online galleries such as Yahoo's Flickr and plays your media files.

And at times, Boxee even connects to Hulu -- when that popular TV portal hasn't shut it out.

Not long after early releases of Boxee added a Hulu widget, Hulu asked Boxee to remove access to Hulu, then began blocking Boxee's software.

But why bother when Boxee, headquartered in New York, shows the same ads as Hulu's site? New York-based Hulu's management has said nothing beyond an apologetic blog post by chief executive Jason Kilar in July that blamed requests by unspecified content providers.

Read between those lines: TV providers are worried about making it too easy for viewers to cancel subscriptions and switch to online viewing (as if their escalating charges and rigid programming bundles had nothing to do with that).


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