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Boxee TV Debuts With Real-Deal Cord-Cutting Options: Live HDTV Channels and Unlimited DVR

If you've used a TV before, you can figure this out, promises Boxee's CEO.
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Pawnee’s finest, live. (Photo: Boxee)

Suddenly the days are growing shorter and there’s a snap in the air, and you know what that means: Everyone’s getting ready to duke it out for the top spot on holiday shopping lists. (Only 69 days left, folks.) Stepping into the ring today: Boxee, with the announcement of the Boxee TV–and the specs sound pretty promising for any aspiring cord-cutters out there.

The new device–which The Verge first leaked pics of last week–combines apps like Netflix, live broadcast TV, and an unlimited DVR offering all in one device. A dual tuner will allow you to watch live television from either a basic cable connection or antenna, as well as recording up to two channels at once. The price: $99. The device hits shelves November 1.

“There’ll be one place where you can watch live television, you can watch your recordings and you can watch video from the key over-the-top services,” Boxee CEO Avner Ronen told Betabeat. “We’ve streamlined the experience so it’s familiar grounds for anybody that has used the TV before.”

He called Boxee TV’s new streamlined interface “very different than existing connected TV experiences,” though the device will come with Netflix, Vudu, YouTube, Pandora and the like pre-installed.

Boxee’s company blog trumpeting the announcement helps explain Mr. Ronen’s excitement yesterday over the FCC’s new rulemaking on cable encryption, which prompted him to take to the Boxee blog and write: “we are happy to see that the FCC’s rulemaking does indeed provide a path forward that’s good for consumers, the cable industry, and startups.” Says the blog:

With Boxee TV you’ll be able watch live TV broadcasts in beautiful HD from channels like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, Univision and many others.  It works with antennas and unencrypted basic Cable that deliver the channels listed above, and has 2 tuners so you can watch one thing… and record another. 

Mr. Ronen emphasized the similarity to the TV-watching experience, which even your luddite great-aunt will recognize: “You turn it on, and there’s live TV playing and you can go up and down and switch channels, and you can see what’s coming up, what’s being played right now, and you’re always a click away from watching something.”

The device comes with “a very small, basic antenna.” However, your results with that may depend on your television’s proximity to the window. If you’re still not getting the reception you want, “what we recommend is that they call their cable company and get the broadcast basic tier, which can cost you, if you live in New York it’s probably $15 a month,” said Mr. Ronen. So it’s not a total ax to the cord, but it’s certainly getting closer.

The company is particularly keen to emphasize the DVR offering, which is unlimited. “We actually are going to be the first to introduce the cloud-based DVR,” said Mr. Ronen. “The Boxee TV device is going to upload your recordings to the cloud, and it’s stored in there for you.” That means users can record as much as they want and watch it through either their TV or their PC or tablet.

The company is comparing its offering to the advent of digital cameras. “Today, when you hit record, you have to take into consideration that whatever you’re recording is, the DVR is going to run out of space and that’s going to get deleted. By removing that restriction, it just makes it so it’s a no-brainer to click record.” Mr. Ronen added that he’s now recording every episode of Seinfeld and The Simpsons.

We’re sure that true television junkies will appreciate no longer having to agonize over whether to record the umpteenth Law and Order episode or the new Dancing with the Stars.

Boxee is confident in its offering: “The product is going to be very unique in the marketplace–nobody else has built the cloud DVR, and we believe that this is going to be extremely differentiated,” Mr. Ronen said.

Of coures, there are some limits, or at least additional considerations, to the No Limits DVR. For one thing, it’s an optional service and will set you back an additional $14.99. Nor will it be universally available on November 1 to all Boxee TV buyers. It’s rolling out in the top eight TV markets–New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Philadelphia and D.C. That covers about 30 percent of the total TV households in the U.S., so “we feel we’re in a good place for the start,” said Mr. Ronen. Everyone else should keep an eye out for the service’s appearance “later in 2013,” though the timing is likely to depend on what Boxee learns in its first eight markets.

“That enables us to scale the launch of our cloud DVR,”  which isn’t cheap from either an operational or financial perspective, Mr. Ronen explained.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com