SLINGBOX: Embracing broadband and digital media
PAGING through an old GQ the other day I came across a gadget that struck a new interest. The “Slingbox” (weird name) is a TV streaming device that allows you to remotely view your home cable, satellite, or personal video recorder (PVR) programming using a device with a broadband Internet connection.
It connects to the back of your TV and works by redirecting or “placeshifting” up to four live audio/video signals to your personal computer, laptop, or internet-enabled mobile device whether you’re touring China or are in London on a business trip. And there’s no anxiety of having yet another gadget to clutter up your home – once your Slingbox is installed you never have to see it again.
Sling Media has also released a Windows Mobile version of their player which allows users to stream their video over a Pocket PC or Windows Mobile Smartphones, or any web-enabled, Windows mobile-powered cellphone. This is useful for practical reasons as a cellphone is easier to stuff into your duffle bag when traveling to the most remote locations.
The Slingbox also allows you to program your home recording device remotely, which means that you can command your device to record programs from anywhere. So no more having to phone the kids at home to ask them to record Prison Break for you, or having to rely on an unreliable in-law.
Yet, like Manto Tshabalala, the Slingbox isn’t perfect. The system is not yet reliable or broadband enough to handle live remote broadcasts, and is not yet available for Linux or other opensource systems. It also requires a fair amount of techno savvy to set up, which can be a bit of a schlep, yet there is decent customer support available. SlingCommunity, for example, is an interactive online community dedicated solely to Sling Media’s Slingbox.
It is, however, important to bear in mind that the viewing quality is that of web video (i.e. 320x240pixels). Consequently you basically need to have twenty-twenty vision to be able to view everything properly on the small video-viewer screen. This renders on-screen text such as sports scores, news reels, and the fine-print print in bank adverts as unreadable.
The Slingbox is also only as good as its device support and relies on your primary video device being compatible. So just like upgrading a PC, you might have to buy more than you initially bargained for.
In terms of future developments, it was announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that Sling Media plans to release a future feature known as Clip+Sling. This will allow users to share clips of their favorite TV shows (or videos that they have produced themselves) with each other through a hosted web service.
The Slingbox is currently going for $200 (roughly R1400) and appears to be a useful gadget to add to ones collection. Let’s just hope that true broadband hits SA soon so we can play too.