Like the Roomba, the Slingbox is a one trick pony. It placeshifts video. That's a little more complex than vacuuming, but it is a very singularly functioning machine. It has proprietary software that performs several functions:
- It accepts an analog input from either your cable, your cable box or your Tivo.
- It converts that signal into a Windows Media stream
- It broadcasts that signal over your broadband connection
Okay, enough geek speak... here's the practicality. Say you're traveling to your great aunt's house and you want to watch something recorded on your Tivo at home. Fire up the Sling client, and it is (almost) just like being in front of your TV/Tivo. You can use all the buttons on a virtual remote on the screen to watch and control your Tivo. Or, say you're at work and you need to finish the last five minutes of "Lost" (although I don't know ANYONE who would need to do that.) You just fire up the Sling client and there it is.
The candy bar form factor is a little odd, but the good thing is that it doesn't take up a ton of space in an entertainment center. There's an IR repeater that sends the signals that you send when you click on the virtual remote.
Limitations: only one stream per box. You can't be running your client while you're in a hotel in Beijing and your wife is running a client at the local Starbucks. Also, there has to be a good connection on both ends. If someone's downloading a big file on either end, you get synchronization problems and stuttering. Nothing unwatchable, but not great either. On the plus side beyond its "use anywhere" ability, it's a no brainer to set up (provided that you don't have a weird network topology) and there's no monthly fee. Buy the box and that's it.
On a scale of rock to Tivo, this one's living about at a four for us. We're not out of the house enough to want to placeshift our way back. If you were traveling every week out of the year though, this would be a great solution.