Tegra 2 was a platform developed primarily to serve the smartphone / tablet market. We were quite surprised earlier this year when it was chosen to power the Boxee Box. With Boxee's HTPC background, consumers were bound to have tall expectations and we were not too sure that Tegra 2 would be able to fulfil the necessary requisites.

The unit which was demonstrated at the 2010 CES did have a Tegra 2 SoC inside. Things were looking good, and the unit was slated to go into mass production towards the end of Q2. However, as Boxee started doing some stress tests, they realized that Tegra 2 wasn't living upto expectations. In particular, they found that the Tegra 2 was incapable of playing back high profile 1080p H.264 videos at even 10 Mbps. Boxee was well aware that if they shipped the unit with any sort of limitation, it would reflect very badly upon them. They went back to the drawing board and started approaching other companies with similar chipsets. Boxee's requirements were three-fold. The platform needed acceleration for Flash, considering that most of the online video content is delivered through it. The second requirement was that the platform had to support a browser platform (WebKit), and finally, the platform had to support decode of even the most demanding video encodes. The shift from Tegra 2 to CE4100 delayed the mass production to the middle of Q4, but that was inevitable once Tegra 2 had to be replaced.

Boxee was primarily developed for HTPCs based on the x86 platform. However, the form factor of the Boxee Box ruled out any sort of a real motherboard / x86 processor inside with similar multimedia capabilities. An x86 SoC was the need of the hour, and fortunately, Intel had just released a solution. This was the Atom based CE4100, their second-generation x86 based SoC targeted at the DTV / IPTV / STB / Blu-Ray player market. Prior to the CE3100, Intel used to have SoCs based on the XScale platform. The CE3100 had a Pentium-M core, while the CE4100 has an Atom based core, but we will cover this more in detail in the next section. In the SoC space, it is not possible for Intel to have the same sort of margins that it gets in the microprocessor space. This is one of the main reasons why no mainstream products based on the Intel CE3100 were seen in the market. Promising devices such as the Yuixx were announced, but they never saw the light of the day. In the meanwhile, Intel released the next generation product (Sodaville) at the IDF in September 2010. Things are looking up for Intel now, and at $199, the Boxee Box seems to be the perfect mainstream launchpad for the CE4100.

Being a SoC, the CE4100 has all the necessary IPs built in, including a specialized GPU, a video decode accelerator and an audio DSP. The more powerful nature of the CE4100 also brought with it some design challenges for D-Link and Boxee in the form of increased power consumption and more heat to dissipate. We weren't allowed to open up the unit during the meeting yesterday, but suffice to say that we saw a pretty big heat sink through the heat dissipation vents. There is also a very small fan inside the unit, but it was very close to being completely silent. We really would have a hard time seeing people complain about this unless the fan spins up really hard under load.

Introduction The Intel CE 4100
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  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    mataichi, What you are referring to is the SSA subtitle reproduction capability. It is part of our media streamer test suite, and Boxee has their hands on the test stream. I think they will make every effort to ensure that the subtitles display as intended by the subtitler.

    That said, do wait for a review of the unit from our side. We will confirm this for you, so that you can make an informed decision on the purchase.
  • conejo99 - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    I see where it says this supports ISO, but how about VIDEO_TS folders (IFOs, VOBs etc.)?
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    This is part of our test suite, and Boxee has it to make sure it is able to score as much as possible on it. I have no reason to believe that it won't be supported, but you will have to wait for the final review to confirm this.
  • gigahertz20 - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Thank god they dropped Tegra 2, everybody would have just dismissed the Boxee Box if it came out and couldn't handle high bit-rate HD video. Why buy a Boxee Box that can't handle true HD video when you can buy a WD TV Live for $65 off eBay that can handle almost everything? Now that it has the CE4100, the Boxee Box has become interesting again.
  • Uzan - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Surely when talking about network filesystems you mean AFS rather than HFS+?

    HFS+ is to AFP what NTFS is to SMB
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Uzan, that wasn't about network file system alone. Sorry if that was the meaning which came across. What we wanted to convey was that Apple based file systems are supported on external USB drives also.
  • icrf - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    I'm honestly much more interested in the hackability of the thing. I run both, but I'm a much bigger fan of XBMC than Boxee, as I have more often stream LAN content than from the internet and the UI is nicer for that IMO. They had previously said they were sending all their changes related to the hardware back upstream to XBMC and the box was supposed to be friendly to people that wanted to make a change to that, or anything else, really. I hope that spirit stays alive. If XBMC can run, due to the relative simplicity of an x86 core, but does have access to the decode hardware, I'll be a very sad panda.

    Any idea as to when they'll be able to send you a review sample? I assume the hardware is solid enough already, but they're spending time tweaking the software and don't want to send out too early and have reviews full of known problems (hence, you sending your test suite).

    But, even that said, I'll probably pre-order anyway. I'd wait for a review of the Tegra-2 version, but this I think I could just buy. I have more faith in x86 than ARM for a media player. If the above issues are handled, I'll evangelize the hell out of the platform.
  • haze4peace - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    gigE port just isn't needed on this device. 100Mbps can stream your most demanding videos with plenty of headroom to spare. Also I'm sure you mean eSATA, which would be nice, but USB2.0 also has plenty of bandwidth to stream a high quality movie. So these are really non-issues, unless you have an external drive that only does eSATA.
  • mindbomb - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Not a first.
    the western digital line of media streamers can do this.
  • ganeshts - Monday, September 13, 2010 - link

    Do you mean to say that special fonts / karaoke effects are supported in the WDTV Live? The last time I checked, it wasn't the case... I should probably recheck if you can confirm for sure :)

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