Sling Media SlingBox networkable TV tuner
Review One day, the world's broadcasters will make all their programming available across the internet. But at least it's possible to watch any show transmitted to your home from anywhere else on the planet without having to worry about whether your hotel has the right cable deal. Enter Sling Media's SlingBox, in which a TV tuner is connected directly to an internet video streaming engine. You can even use it for multi-room viewing in your own home...
Having seen piccies of the SlingBox, I'd always imagined a solid, machined-metal unit, so it's somewhat disappointing to find it fabricated from cheap-feeling lightweight plastic. I'm not a fan of the device's styling, but it has a certain high-end AV look about it that's spoiled only, as I say, by the materials it's made from.
The unit's slab-of-chocolate design makes for easy stacking if you decide you need more than one, though doing so will obstruct the top-surface air vents on the lower-stacked boxes. The vents have been cunningly disguised as text telling you some of the device you can hook up to the SlingBox and have beamed "anywhere". Stacking is an issue, as the box gets mighty hot during operation, but more of that later.
The SlingBox's front sports just three lights: one for power, one for network activity and the third, the 'n' of manufacturer Sling Media's logo, which indicates the box's state. The rear is the business end, with the power connector; Ethernet port; s-video and composite-video input and output ports; co-ax aerial input and pass-through; and the connector for the infrared controller, used to simulate the remote controls that come with your other AV devices.
Alas, there's no WLAN support, so you'll need a direct connection to your broadband box or a network link. I used a pair of Devolo MicroLink dLAN powerline Ethernet adaptors to bridge the gap between my router in the spare room and the SlingBox in my living room. The bottom line: if your broadband connection isn't near your TV - and why should it be - you'll need extra cabling or a wireless bridge to connect SlingBox.
Broadband, incidentally, is essential, not only at the SlingBox end, but also wherever the SlingPlayer's host PC is connected. Is 3G mobile phone connectivity up to scratch? I can't say, not having suitable playback software to hand, but this is something Reg Hardware hopes to return to in due course.
With the box connected to the network, the mains and your aerial - passed through to your usual set-top box and/or TV - you're ready to go. Sling Media thoughtfully includes a set of cables to get you started. Install SlingPlayer software on the first PC you'll be viewing stream content on and you're ready to configure the box.
Assuming you've got a network connection, SlingPlayer will locate your SlingBox and take you through the set-up process. The SlingBox has its own Freeview digital tuner so you can skip the more complicated aspects of the set-up process, designed to allow the unit to talk to something like a Sky+ box and get its input signal from there. I stuck with the Freeview receiver and allowed SlingPlayer to scan the airwaves for digital channels.
The initial review says 'more later' about overheating of the Slingbox.
Is there therefore a safety issue if you need to leave it on or on standby (which?)at home (whihc may be empty), as well as presumably the digital box and router/modem?
Same kinda thing, except free
If you already have a Media Center PC with a TV tuner card, pretty much the same features are available free using Orb. http://www.orb.com
I bought a Hauppage TV Tuner card, with an Infrared Transceiver (25 quid on ebay) which can change the channel of your set top box remotely, or tune using the app provided direct from an regular TV arial. The stream is MPEG 2 I think, and can be watched on any PC with one of the more recent versions of Media Player, and controlled fully using the Orb web site. Unfortunatley work still use NT4, so my only option for sagging off is via my PDA on works (or the office above's unsecured) wireless LAN.
All of this being free is still a little too good to be true, so no idea how long it will remain FOC, fill your boots.
laggy? yes, but
> The downside is that controlling another device is laggy,
You can easily switch on the "control mode" where picture quality is reduced but the latency is also reduced. This is great for when you want to do things like control a Sky+ box planner.
PS I bought my SlingBox based upon this review
Works well, remote control is brilliant
As a true gadget geek who also travels a lot, I bought one of these almost as soon as it came out.
I found it easy to set up, and the quality is good, much better than I was expecting. There is a noticeable lag, even on a LAN, of about 2 seconds but that's not really a problem. I have a 100MBit wired network, 11MBit WLAN and 256kBit ADSL uplink to the outside world. Quality is full screen on my laptop on wired, full screen with occasional stutters on wireless and quarter screen when travelling.
It does a surprisingly good job of adjusting for flunctuating network conditions, although you will get dropouts if you're watching from a bad connection (the East Coast GNER service for instance).
There really isn't any way of describing the freedom and ease of use its remote control options give you - this is what sets it apart from just streaming video across the net. It's well worth it for that alone.
I wouldn't try to watch anything with subtitles across a slow connection though - action movies and cartoons are definitely its compression algorthms strong points.
I haven't yet tried wiring it up to, say, a baby monitor system yet, but that should be a neat thing which is possible.
What I'd like is a way of getting it to throttle the amount of data transferred depending on the time of day - not sure it can go to that level of management yet though.
A nice review of the functionality and design but how well does it work:
What's the picture quality like - how degraded is it from broadcast by the additional encode/decode?
Assuming your uplink tops out at 256k a lot of compression is likely - does it look good on a 15" screen? 20" screen? bigger?
How stable is it - my experience of low bitrates on a webcam is pretty poor with the picture freezing regularly - does this manage to maintain a connection reliably to avoid interupting playback?