I've spent a good deal of time recently and a few years ago when I started putting together my "cut the cable solution" at home.
When boxee hit alpha, and unfortunately tailored my solution for HTPC around the boxee idea. (There were and are other solutions out there that I checked on again but all of them really fail around the idea of cutting the cable)
Plex - Back then only MAC but the PC media server was cool and intuitive, focused around local media. Now at least there is a windows client. And phone client too "kinda nice but not really", its a lot like watching netflix on your phone. If you love it, you'll love this. I hate it
XBMC - Great player flexable very configurable (very time consuming), Plex addon non existent when i started, and always buggy every time i played with it. Again focused primarily on local media. Biggest complaint couldn't handle more then one TV show in a single directory without separating it into sub directories.
Boxee - Was/Is great it focuses around the show, more then the other two, yeah had the silly apps section, but they seemed to realize people care about the content not the provider.
PlayON - Cool idea, lots of content, playback varies, decent on my Xbox, fair on the WII. Inconsistent controls and it HATES NAS devices, unless you leave them unprotected (no user/password Least so support tells me, I will not leave anything unpassword protected so I have not tested this) Content is TERRIBLE to navigate, you must chose provider then navigate through a ton of folders to find what you want. PlayON has a phone app, not really all that useful unless you know networking you cannot connect outside your home.
Surprisingly no application really has gotten "content is king" not provider. It boggles my mind that the providers don't have a 5 second clip that plays at start and at commercials of "Brought to you by XXX". Just like with TV back in the day NO ONE cared what station it was on. Over time you started to learn the call letters and relating good programming to that provider. Basically product will define a company not the other way around!DUH
So for me that is where Boxee excelled. I purchased a NAS RAID 5, 6 TB of storage, setup a Twonky server on it hoping that UPnP would take off. Got a netflix subscription as that seemed to be key at the time still does.
Setup my file shares so I have a TV directory and a Movie Directory, i ripped my Season X of SHOW boom in the library, best part, so were web available episodes, even if they were the same episode!
Slowly over time I started grabbed another NAS (well actually attached a USB to my router no redundancy, basically a place to put stuff I could care less if i lose) and made a single directory for TV shows i wanted to maybe see and check out and delete later on, scripted it actually to delete everything after 6 months. Setup a showRSS feed to get content, again Boxee great job, found the shows, no individual directories, web available stuff populated perfectly.
Only real failure I found on Boxee part of content was the "queue" local files didn't trigger a queue, only web content, removing local only stuff from the queue was buggy at best. A recently added would have been perfect to show movies i recently copied or TV shows as reminder.
So life was good, kind of Boxee has issues with web content, not all but some, apps break all the time, providers change how they serve the media etc. Hulu keeps breaking, but work arounds are found, eventually installed Hulu desktop. Life gets better cable bills been cut for 3 years maybe 4 I don't recall.
My answer, BOXEE BOX! Right? Absolutely DESPISE the idea of yet ANOTHER item connected to my TV. Why? Well lets see, I have my Xbox and Wii to watch netflix because Boxee fails in the netflix app, nor does it tie MY netflix content into MY movies/TV. VCR for the stuff I haven't converted to digital Media, my HTPC as our cable replacement sorta, a DVD player which pretty much only gets used for Seen it anymore. 5 items, here we come #6... (don't get me started on remotes.)
I have My HTPC setup with Boxee/Hulu Desktop, why because well boxee was continually being blocked by hulu and well honestly the hulu playback kind of sucked anyway.
The Boxee box arrrives! Life should be somewhat good other then I expect to have to switch to the PC for hulu content as I won't get a Hulu + account, if I'm paying for it, I'm not watching commercials.
I won't delve into the many crashes, slow upgrades, still pictures, jittery playback, lack of hulu standard, and other problems that the boxee box had, I'll simply say that it was by far worse then my HTPC running 0.9 beta.
So finally after long wait, Boxee comes out with 1.5 for the PC, my first thought is THANK GOD. The beta is a great application but I've watched it deteriorate over time, natural progression when NO SUPPORT happens to a product, it becomes dated and things break since the nature of the web changes all the time.
Played with Boxee 1.5 overall it's a huge step backwards, could care less about the loss of Vudu, I wouldn't buy a Vudu show anyway, 2 bucks for a movie/episode? Red box is 3 blocks away for $1 + I already have my Netflix account and they just raised the damn price. Loss of Netflix although it was terrible on 0.9 was a huge downpoint for me, even though I was already using something else.
So the family and myself TRY anyway, and find pretty much the same problems as well as a huge change in the interface functionality. Same jittery content, same issues with queue, and more you can find many posts complaining bout how 1.5 is a step backwards, I wont go on about it.
Anyway I've given up on the new 1.5 version of boxee, rolled back to running 0.9 while get the Plex server situation. Server/Client running on the same hardware as I have my boxee box, is well not enough, but it's an older system so I knew I'd have to replace it sooner or later. Funny part is, my old laptop runs boxee better then the commercial "boxee box". And runs Plex well enough to outperform Boxee in every way.
Now before you go running out and installing a Plex server let me tell you a few minor issues I found with it.
#1 Plex just like all the others separates content from provider unfortunately so you won't find your local media files and web content under one queue. There is a solution though called PlexFlix, it's mac only so I can't tell you how well it works from first hand experience but it appears to do EXACTLY what I want. May end up writing my own plug in to do it.
#2 Plex focuses more on media scraping then XBMC and definatly more then Boxee, the good thing is, Plex at least puts the content it CANT identify into your movies selection unlike boxee which use to bug the crap out of me.
#3 Plex although it has a opensubtitles plug in, it doesn't work that well. As near as I can figure the show must match exactly for it to use the file from opensubtitles but I'm not 100% positive. I have found a work around though, it requires a separate process to launch a batch to download srt files. Not as elegant as the Boxee "choose your subtitle" idea but it does work. Check out EolSol. The GUI interface suxs just use the CLI interface.
#4 Plex doesn't identify "watched" online videos differently from unwatched, really annoying.
#5 Plex is 2 separate applications, which isn't terrible, but if you are running just boxee you won't get a "same/same" feel running the server and the client on the same box. I tried it both ways, Server/Client on my boxee box, wasn't bad just sluggish. Separated it to a different server (much slower server actually) and it worked great. The Server does most of the meta data scrapping and handles client settings so it doesn't need a beefy system.
#6 Plex multi-user is based upon windows log in. Not a terrible setback but just something different, I'd prefer an application level log in but the family will test it out and I'll let you know.
Ok well I'm sorry to have rambled on for so long, but I'd love to hear from others who have been struggling with Boxee End Of Life for the PC/HTPC and see if anyone else has found a better solution for the PC.