SlingBox, Comes Out Slinging

Last October, I wrote about an emerging trend – place shifting – in Business 2.0. The concept of watching your television, anywhere, anytime is the next and the most obvious evolution of the time shifting technology popularized (if not completely monetized) by TiVo. Most of the companies included in that article, such as Orb Networks and Avvenu, have come out with their offerings, impressing most and garnering a lot of positive press. Except one company – Sling Media. They have talked about their product and their concepts for so long, that it is hard not to go for a snooze.

So this past week Slingers decided to stop by, have a few cups of coffee and oh drop off a SlingBox for me. They profusely apologized that I had to use a Windows XP machine to really enjoy their device, given I wear my affection for Mac on my backpack. (Mac support is coming, but if I was you, I would not count on it before the holiday season!) So I have some impressions – not a review – just impressions of their device, which is like a super-bar of Toblerone chocolate only Shaq can enjoy. About a foot long, and four inch wide, the silver-red Sling Personal Broadcaster doesn’t look much, and feels as if its been on Atkins for a few months. It is one of the first few devices that truly and absolutely leverages the broadband.

slingbox1The device has all the requisite connection ports – Ethernet, S-Video, RCA-jacks and so on. I unpacked the box, and connected the device to my Apple Extreme router, with an enclosed ethernet cable. I connected the Comcast digital set-top box to SlingBox using the S-Video connector and hooked up the IR-blaster from SlingBox to the set-top box. After futzing around with the IR-blaster for about 10 minutes, I finally got it working. I connected the Syntax LT32HVM LCD television using the regular coax, which well is the only change I had to make my A/V set-up.

I installed the software accompanying the box, on an Acer Ferrari Laptop running AMD64 and WindowsXP (shudder… but it does power up with a real Ferrari scream!) The installation was simple and went without a hitch. The software guided me through a set-up screen and looked for the SlingBox on my network. After some false starts, the video showed up. It was a hallelujah moment, except a few minutes later, I hit the first snag – channel switching. I could see ESPN without a problem, since I had left the set-top box on Channel 38. (I had planned to see the Yankees-v-Orioles game in bed, since it was likely to be broadcast on ESPN. Well, it rained on my parade. And instead I ended up watch a really long Braves-v-Marlins. The good thing, I got bored enough to switch between different channels.) I had to reset the IR blaster, move it around before things got working. Total set-up time about 35 minutes or so.

slingbox2Having used the product for about three hours, I am fairly impressed. Few things which did not go according to plan – the channel switching causes a little jitter in the video and the quality drops for a few seconds before we see the image become a little steady stream. Using the Windows Media Player, I went into the full screen mode, and well the image quality was sub-optimal. Mind you it is still far superior video compared to the MLB.TV streams I subscribe to. I don’t have a DVR at home for now, so I cannot speak how those devices will work, but from my perspective, I think this one gets a solid 8 out of ten ranking from me. I will update the review in a few weeks after I have had a chance to muck around with it in different location while on the road. It is available at CompUSA and also at Best Buy stores nationwide for $249. There are no service fees and for once I have no problems recommending a product. You will be pleasantly surprised!