Boxee wants to be your media center. The New York City-based start-up has high hopes of becoming the easiest and most elegant way for you to watch, play, and look at movies, music, and photos, regardless of whether that content lives on your hard drive, local network, or the internet at large. The company’s goal is to deliver the virtually unlimited entertainment choice and social interactivity of the web to your living room, through a user-interface that’s more akin to an upgraded television guide than a web browser.

Last night, Boxee came a few steps closer to accomplishing its aims. At a jam-packed party in Brooklyn, Boxee unveiled its beta software and gave a sneak peak of its soon-to-be-released set-top box. A ton of news outlets covered the specifics – new and improved navigation and design, the partnership with D-Link and Astro for the development of the Boxee Box, the announcement that the device will be available in stores by Q2 of 2010 for around $200, and the promise of the public release of the software’s beta version in January at CES.

But there hasn’t been much, if any coverage or color commentary provided of the event itself. With that in mind, here are my three key takeaways from the Boxee Beta Unveiling.

Boxee is Very, Very Cool

Over 2,000 people RSVPed to Boxee’s event. After 750 of them were inside the Music Hall of Williamsburg, fire safety regulations required bouncers to close the doors. A line of Boxee fans unable to enter snaked up the block. To passersby, it must have looked like an (insert your favorite indie band of the last five minutes here) concert instead of a launch party.

How does an 18 month-old internet company still in alpha draw that kind of a crowd to a cash bar in Brooklyn on a Monday night? By being very, very cool.

boxee boxBoxee has an ethos of cool. There’s a palpable sense of technological savvy, aesthetic commitment, screw the establishment sensibility, and well-placed ego that permeates every aspect of the company. From its open source framework, to the playfully functional UI, to the “submerged cube” box design, it all trickles down from Founder and CEO, Avner Ronen.

Despite being backed by $10 million in venture capital, Ronen’s the type of individual who sports hoodies instead of blazers when presenting at high-profile conferences. He confesses to being “unpolished,” often revealing confidential product details at times and to people he shouldn’t, and being unable to exclude things like pop shots at Sarah Palin from product demos.

It’s yet to be determined if Ronen’s alt attitude towards business will be successful in the long-run, but it’s certainly been successful so far. Boxee’s recruited and poached high-profile talent from Vimeo – including Zach Klein and Casey Pugh – to work on its product and development teams. Employees like these (and their work products) both establish and further promote the culture of cool.

Once you play around with Boxee Beta or scratch the surface of the community, you experience a similar feeling to the one you get when you watch Connected Ventures’ Flagpole Sitta Lip Dub. You can’t help but think, “Woah. I want to be a part of this company.”

Amazing Apps

If you couple that ethos of cool with open source technology, you have the capabilities to court serious talent willing to work for free. Case in point: New York University ITP students Bryan Lence, Kristin Loeb, Josh Schelling, and Juri Imamura.

Boxee approached the ITP program (FYI, that’s the same ITP program from which Dodgeball was borne) and asked its students to come up with a novel software application. Lence, Loebe, Schelling, and Imamura responded with Qurious, quite possibly the most useful entertainment-oriented app I’ve ever seen on any device. Lence explained how it came to be:

“The project came out of a ‘wouldn’t it be great if your television was smarter?’ conversation.” Our team all had experiences where we wanted to learn something more about what was on television (from actors to music to products). But, we had to pause the show, grab a laptop, and start Googling around. Qurious is our first attempt at finding and displaying the information that television viewers want.”

qurious

In basic terms, it’s Minority Report technology layered on top of whatever television or film you’re watching. Pause the program and titles of any music playing, names of all the actors on screen, and possible storyline topics are displayed. Click on one and you’ll see a sampling of relevant Wikipedia entries, YouTube clips, and Google search results.

Pretty amazing and – considering the beta source code hasn’t yet been released to the general public – it’s just the beginning.

There Will Be Porn

Andrew Kippen became awkwardly excited when he introduced Missy Suicide to demo the Suicide Girls application. Boxee’s VP of Marketing even made jokes about Boxee’s “box,” a euphemism that probably would’ve elicited a few laughs had his audience been a room full of fifth graders. But maybe Kippen’s public, over enthusiasm of pierced and tattooed softcore could be explained because he’s aware of the implications. Namely, Boxee will have a helluva lot of porn.

suicide-girlsRonen is a CEO who’s ostensibly liberal and doesn’t follow traditional rules. His company is an open source platform that doesn’t discriminate against content. That’s the perfect combination to provide what the internet was made for. Boxee has implicit consent from its higher ups to quietly accept and approve apps from hardcore pornographers. If that hardcore pornography raises any red flags, Boxee can use its positioning as a content agnostic platform as a defense.

Don’t believe me? It’s already happening. Boxxxee created the “original adults only app for Boxee” in May of this year. Boxee approved the app from the independent developers in July, and allows users to access the content if they change the preferences of the adult filter in their settings menu.

If I was involved in the early stages of a consumer-facing brand that had the ability to tap into a billion-dollar sex industry while still maintaining an outwardly clean image, I’d be overly excited, too.