Boxee is based on the same core code as the XBMC project, but has differentiated itself with a different (and, in our opinion, not quite as appealing) look and a social, net-connected focus. The new home screen brings a new look and those social/feed aspects front and centre.
It's divided up into three columns of items on the bottom: friend recommendations on the left, featured media from Boxee and its partners in the middle, and items you've queued up on the left.
Anywhere you go in Boxee, you can quickly pull up the universal menu, which lets you rate, recommend, and queue an item, shut down or configure the system, and get access to the major media categories. The very bottom is a kind of bookmark bar, filled with shortcuts to your favourite media channels or files.
Whether you're looking for a TV show episode you've downloaded or a show available for streaming anywhere in Boxee's ecosystem, you can find it by doing a quick search from the sidebar. There's a tiny keyboard built in for remote users, and quick filtering tools below. In general, Boxee treats your local media and streaming content as pretty much one and the same, in search and in handling.
Under the hood, Boxee's beta will feature a number of bug fixes from the alpha, and will switch from OpenGL to DirectX graphics on Windows, along with enabling DirectX video acceleration, allowing for much speedier and less resource-intensive playback. There's also going to be baked-in support for NVIDIA's cheaper-but-powerful Ion graphics chips, likely pointing to the pre-built Boxee box. Coincidentally, this also makes this editor's homemade Boxee media center an even more badass investment.
Boxee's beta is rolling out now to approved early access users (you can sign up here if you feel lucky). Next up will be those already using the alpha, and then, on Jan. 7, the general public. Tell us what you think of Boxee's new look and direction, and what else you think it needs, in the comments.
The Boxee Beta [Boxee Blog]