Cool Factor::Slingbox Lets You Place-Shift Your TV

    by Mark Glaser
    May 1, 2006

    With some gadgets, there’s a “wow” factor that you can milk with each person you encounter. But when the “wow“s wear off, you’re sitting there with a device that doesn’t always have an everyday purpose. That’s my feeling with the Slingbox, a cool device that lets you watch your home TV — including your TiVo or digital video recorder — from any Windows computer or mobile device with a broadband Internet connection.

    First, let’s look at the gee-whiz factor. If you’re over at a friend’s house, you could bring up your TV through Sling Media’s software installed on your friend’s Windows-based computer (Macintosh support coming soon…). Not only can you watch your home TV and its cable or satellite collection of channels, but you actually control the TV — changing channels, watching shows you’ve recorded on your DVR, setting up shows to record, etc.

    And now, with SlingPlayer Mobile, you can watch your TV on smart phones with broadband Internet connections, like the Treo 700w lent to me by Sling Media, the company that makes the Slingbox. This is where you impress people at cafes, who stop to gawk as you watch TV on a mobile device and fast-forward through shows you’ve recorded. The software interface mimics your TV’s remote control, making it easy to learn to use. The only problem is that the lag time from you pushing a remote button and the TV responding is often so long that trying to fast-forward through commercials can be difficult to time. For instance, sometimes I would fast-forward through part of the show.


    But a bigger problem is the complex setup required to get the Slingbox to work properly. It took me half a day to get my TV hooked up properly, and another half day to get the mobile application running. You have to run video and audio wires through the Slingbox, which sits on top of your TV, and then hook the Slingbox into your home network, which is required to get it to work. And that has to be a wired connection to your home network — no wireless — so you either are lucky enough to have your home network hub in your family room, or you need a very long wire.

    (The other option is the Slinglink ($99), which I used, that extends your home network via your electrical wall plugs.)

    Sling Media tries very hard to make this complex setup seem simple as 1-2-3, with a quick-setup guide that comes with the Slingbox promising just three steps. But you quickly notice that there is a step 1-A, step 1-B, etc., showing just how much more work really is involved.


    Is There a Real Purpose Served?

    So I got Slingbox up and running, I wowed friends and random folks, and… then what? Is this something I really need? If I forget to tape a show at home, couldn’t I call my wife and have her tape it? With all the TV shows now available on the web, can’t I just watch them online instead of having to set up a Slingbox?

    I have a nagging suspicion that as cool as Slingbox is, it seems like a bridge technology — something to tide people over until they can access TV programs on their smart phones, on the Net and everywhere the Slingbox works now. However, you only pay once for a Slingbox ($250), and don’t have to pay for each show you watch or how much you use it. And of course 99.9% of the shows on cable TV aren’t available yet on the Net or via iTunes.

    Sling Media has showcased some of its users’ extreme uses for Slingbox, including one person, J.W., who uses Slingbox to access all these video sources:

    1. The DVD left in my DVR/DVD player
    2. The recorded programs on my DVR’s hard drive
    3. Cable TV (with channel changes)
    4. Satellite TV (with channel changes)
    5. Exterior home security camera
    6. Baby monitor
    7. Yet another wireless camera that I can move around the house or yard

    OK, that’s cool, but how many people are going to figure out how to set all that up? For me, I did find one interesting use for Slingbox and the SlingPlayer Mobile. While sitting at work in my cubicle, I had the Treo handheld playing my home TV tuned to CNN, so I could check out breaking news stories as they happened during the day. But I have to admit that it can also be a bit of a distraction, too.

    Philosophically, I like the idea of Slingbox taking the TiVo and DVR idea one step further by offering to “place-shift” your TV. This is something that the TV networks and rights-holders aren’t too thrilled about, as they like to control the environment and place where you get your TV. So anything that hands more control to the viewer is something I applaud.

    Overall, I’d give the Slingbox a hearty recommendation for people who like to have the latest, greatest gadget, and who just can’t leave home without their cable or satellite TV and DVR setup — and who aren’t afraid of elaborate electronics setups. But for the rest of us, it’s probably not worth the hassle at this point.

    Postscript: After returning my Slingbox and associated gear, I do admit to missing having it around. Not that I needed it, mind you, but it was definitely a cool toy to show off to people.

    Slingbox: $250
    Slinglink (home network extender): $99
    SlingPlayer Mobile: $30
    System requirements

    (Note: I was given review units of all of the above for a limited time for free from Sling Media.)

    Other reviews:

    Slingbox sets your TV viewing free

    Slingbox Video Streaming Not Perfect, but Remarkable

    TV Here, There, Everywhere

    Legal issue with Slingbox:

    HBO Exec: Sling Slags Copyrights

    Slinging Lessons

    What do you think? Have you used Slingbox and do you think it’s worth the setup hassle? How do you use it?

    • So, the guy who recently wrote about how much he wanted to turn off all TV’s in public places is now reviewing a device that lets you watch TV in public places? I mean, I recognize the value in something like this, but at the same time, doesn’t it just further some of the same problems? Any technology can be abused, my friend…..

    • Good point, W. Shane. However, there’s a difference between watching TV on your mobile or computer with headphones and a TV blaring that no person turned on, and no one can turn off. Plus, in my review I did mention that it could be a distraction. Overall, I’d say I have a love/hate relationship with TVs, but the more control I get over schedules, fast-forwarding commercials, etc. — the happier I am.

    • willi

      and if you cary it out to another country ?
      i installed one in brasil and i doesnt work remote. cant see it via internet. so what do you do ? write an email to slingmedia. response: no service support poutside US.
      thanks for this support.
      still trying to set it up and be able to see TV from brasil.
      they tell you how easy it is to install it, but if you have problems and need support ?
      this means: i can buy it in US, but i cant use it outside ???
      very disappointed from slingmedia, i for sure, if there is another company who makes another box, ill throw my slingbox in the trash.

    • max graham

      no i don’t have a wife to call…and yes a i travel ever week all over the world and find myself in hotels in countries where only cnn is available…to catch my NBA games live over the web is worth every penny… i also found it very easy to set up…whats half a day? 12 hours?…6? jesus its apower plug, an internet plug and a wire to the DVR…

    • jason dalton

      I set my Sling up in about 15 minutes. I absolutely love it. I watch news and financials while at work, DVR’d programs when I’m in the tire-shop waiting room (on my Treo 700W)and saved a bundle by not having to buy a TV for my bedroom (or kithcen, or patio).

    • Ted nickel

      I would like to say the one reason I bought the Slingbow was to receive English speaking programs where I live which is in Lithuania. I am going to setup the box at my daughters home in Michigan and just leave it there attached to a cable from the wall. I got it to work great but do not know if my speed on my home internet in Lith. will be fast enough to make it worth while yet. If so it will be well worth every penny I paid. I travel alot but live most the year in Lith. where there are 12 lang. but only cnn and bbc in eng.

    • Tom

      This guy is crazy! I am a consultant and use it ALL the time! I love this device! I think it should be heralded for its innovation and no service fee structure! I am actually writing this comment in poland while watchin Entourage on HBO live! Long live the sling!

    • Jason Bilks

      You are a dumbass

    • I have looked at many boards and cant find the answer to my question. Does the Tv from which the sling is broadcasting from turn on every time it is remotely accessed? or could i just plug the slingbox into a cable outlet from the wall without even having a TV on the broadcasting side. I live in Taiwan, i would love to watch the canadian hockey games broadcasted from vancouver. but i dont want my brothers tv turning on everytime i want to watch something.

    • Luke

      No, a TV doesn’t turn on when you access the slingbox. You can simply hook up a analog cable to the slingbox and don’t even need to have it go to a TV. Or like me, I have it hooked up to a digital cable box between a TV and the cable box. The cable box is on, but the TV stays off. I am in the military and am currently in South Korea and use it when my wife is sleeping back in the states (it is hooked up to my bedroom TV) and she never know because she is asleep. Great Product, but be sure you have good bandwidth on both ends.

    • Kate

      I have a follow up to Chris’s question. If I use a slingbox to watch sports while on travel can someone at home watch a different channel at the same time?

    • John Zendano

      One note, I live in Hong Kong, spend a lot of time in China and Japan, and have family in Buffalo NY.
      It works great, and actually is a big joy for me to be able to watch stateside TV no matter where I am.
      I can see domesticly there is not much of a thrill, but if you travel internationaly the sling box is a big hit. There are also a few other brands, like Sony out there, but sling box is the favorite of the global community. FYI

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