June 4, 2006

sling slang slung

I had seen lots and lots of press about the SlingBox on various blogs and discussion boards for several months after it was released in June of 2005. The buzz about it started about a year earlier. If you know me, you know I'm pretty easily geeked out by cool new tech, and this was no exception. After comparison shopping until it hurt, I got about 20% off the retail price through some creative couponing. (Yes, FW was involved.)

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
When you run their client on any windows machine... and that's any Windows... including smart phones and Mobile... you can play back that stream that's being broadcast. Sorry Mac-heads, no client yet.

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.

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