Sling Media has been gaining a lot of attention over the past year with their new device, the Slingbox. Slingbox is a set-top device you hook up to your television and broadband Internet connection to watch your TV on the go. So what makes this different from a TV tuner card? Mainly, it’s the ability to watch your TV anywhere your laptop has an Internet connection. Slingbox will make you get back into watching TV again if you’ve stopped for a while–especially with a great price of $249.99. Find out why Slingbox is a winner in home entertainment, as we cover every inch of it.
Features and Design
First, let’s check out the design of this awesome little box. Slingbox is gray and small, which is very nice. It integrates well with your home theater setup and fits into those spots in your entertainment center. It has a nice rectangular shape, with three separate little squares in the middle. On the top, you’ll see words like “My Videos, My Shows, My Movies Anywhere” to remind you what Slingbox was designed for. The back features quite a few inputs that require some looking over to understand. Power, S-Video, Composite Cable, IR, Coaxial Cable, Audio Inputs and Ethernet line the back of this device. There is also a reset button that is easy to use when you need to reset your box. The front sports just two LEDs: One for power and one for network status. Because the Slingbox streams content to your PC it is limited to a relatively low resolution, thus the lack of component video or true HDTV support (although it works with HDTV equipment, it just will not output it via HDTV quality video).
To run Slingbox properly, you’ll need decent system requirements. The Sling Media site lists the following:
â€¢ WindowsÂ® XP Home/Pro/MCE or Windows 2000 SP4
â€¢ IntelÂ® PentiumÂ® IV 1Ghz
â€¢ 256MB RAM
â€¢ 100MB Free Hard Disk Space
â€¢ Graphics Card (24 bit)
â€¢ Sound Card (16 bit)
â€¢ CD-ROM Drive
â€¢ Network Connectivity (10/100 Ethernet)
â€¢ Router-Wired or Wireless (UpnP Capability Recommended)
â€¢ Cable or DSL Modem (Out-of-Home viewing)
â€¢ 256Kbps Upstream Speed (Higher Upstream Speed Recommended)
Video (NTSC) and Audio Source
Any of the following:
â€¢ Analog Cable
â€¢ Digital Cable Set Top Box
â€¢ Satellite Receiver
Â· Digital Video Recorder (including but not limited to TiVoÂ®, DirecTVÂ®, DISHÂ®, ReplayTVÂ®, UltimateTVÂ®)
You had better make sure your computer is up to the task before plunking down your hard-earned cash for this device. You won’t regret it, though, especially if you have a laptop.
Image Courtesy of Sling Media
Image Courtesy of Sling Media
Setup and Use
The packaging for Slingbox is simple and shows the product right away. Tear open the box and you’ll find a bunch of cables for hooking it up to your TV, DVR, or whatever, IR controls for your cable box/TV, a power cable, and software. Setting up the device is pretty painless. Just decide how you’re going to hook it up (I chose to use my cable box and used composite) and what you’ll be hooking it up to. Don’t forget that you can use Slingbox with your DVR and DVD player, in addition to your cable box. Then, all you have left is to hook the Slingbox up to the Internet. You’ll obviously need a router to both hook up and view your Slingbox. After that, just install the included software, follow the instructions, and ten minutes later, you’ll be watching TV!
Let’s use my setup as an example. I hooked up my Slingbox to a Motorola cable box in my living room. I placed the IR controller in front of it and then tucked the obscene amount of cables behind my entertainment unit. My router is an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station, which only has one available Ethernet port. The Slingbox is compatible (with some effort) to work with multiple routers, but I decided my Xbox Live could take a break while I tested the Slingbox. I also use all Macs, so I had to get a Sony Vaio laptop to test Slingbox, as they aren’t releasing any Mac OS X software until Q2 of this year. My problems aside, it still set up painlessly and I got going in no time. If you want to watch Slingbox outside your home network, you’ll need to configure your router to do so.
When I installed SlingPlayer, the software used to watch Slingbox, it was essentially no frills. After updating it, however, I (thankfully) found lots of nice features and an improved interface. The first thing you’ll notice about Slingbox is that it truly takes over your television. Change a channel on Slingbox and the channel will change on your regular TV set. Mute your show on the TV and your SlingPlayer won’t have any volume. This is a very important factor to consider if you have a few people living in your home. You may want to get an extra cable box to use with your kitchen TV. In that way, if everyone’s watching a show in the living room and you’re in the den with your laptop, you won’t be playing tug-of-war with the remote.
Software in Windowed Mode
However, the fact that Slingbox acts as a remote is a nice feature sometimes. For instance, my cable service is Comcast and I happen to particularly enjoy the on-screen guide used for finding shows. Sure enough, if I hit the “Guide” button in SlingPlayer, all it does is bring up the guide that I normally see and allows me to navigate it with arrows. SlingPlayer comes with a customizable soft-remote that is used to control your Slingbox. It works great and has all the features of a regular remote control, so I praise Sling Media for not screwing up here.
Because you’re watching your television over a network connection, delays are expected. The two-second delay I have between my laptop and television set while watching shows is fine. One thing that drives me nuts, though, is the delay with switching channels. Bringing up my on-screen guide screams lag and takes forever to load–about three seconds. This is on a 3Ghz laptop with 512MB of RAM and great video, etc., so I worry about what it would be like with a slower machine. Eventually, you get used to it and start memorizing favorite channels in order to speed up the process.
I’m sure Slingbox is great with a desktop computer, but it really shines with a laptop. Slingbox opens the floodgates of being lazy to a whole new degree. Now I can stay in bed with my laptop and watch TV there instead of having to go upstairs and lay on the couch. The quality of the video is pretty darn good and audio is superb. After spending a day with Slingbox, you will achieve a new status of couch potato-ness, I assure you. Before Slingbox, you’d never have the ability to waltz into your local Starbucks with a laptop, sit down with a drink, and watch cartoons. Now the only choice I have to make in the morning is whether I’m in the mood for Scooby Doo or Ren and Stimpy.
Flawless, though? Almost. The SlingPlayer software will thankfully be available this year for OS X and PocketPC devices. However, for a current Mac user it’s frustrating to not be able to watch TV on my new iMac G5’s crisp display. Also, there is a slight chance your cable box won’t be compatible with Slingbox’s IR controller. Slingbox has a few workarounds, but they may not work and thus you’ll have to change your programming on your regular TV if you’re sick of watching Animal Planet on your laptop. Otherwise, you won’t find much else wrong with Slingbox and SlingPlayer.
Slingbox is a great device from a new company. The price is set just right: Not too expensive, but not a cheap device by any means. For about $250, you’ll get a box that lets you take your television anywhere with you. From Starbucks to your bedroom, you can enjoy your cable TV from your home. This is especially nice for people who travel a lot and don’t want to miss local news or sports. The interface is great and easy to use. Video and audio quality also are very good. No support for OS X is a problem, but it’s one that already has been addressed and a solution drops in Q2 of this year–same for PocketPC users. Slingbox is a must-have product for anyone who enjoys their cable service or DVR and wants to seriously get the most out of it. For Mac users, hang in there and you will be able to use the Slingbox shortly. With a little polishing, the Slingbox will be worthy of an award; as it stands this is one hot product.
– Great price
– Excellent software
– Multiple devices can be used (DVR, TV, etc.)
– No Mac OS X software yet
– Laggy when changing channels
– Mediocre image quality
– Onscreen guide takes a while to load