Monsoon Multimedia may be a lesser-known competitor to Sling Media, but the company continues to roll out products that are not only similar to, but in some cases even a little bit better than those offered by its rival. The recently announced SociableTV service, which will let users of the company’s HAVA set-top share the contents of their TVs, is just the latest Monsoon product to challenge an existing Sling offering, and offers more than Sling’s competitive product, Clip+Sling.
SociableTV is designed for owners of Monsoon’s HAVA set-top boxes, which are place-shifting devices, very similar to the various flavors of the Slingbox. Monsoon offers both wired and wireless HAVA boxes, as well as models that support HD viewing. The last time I reviewed a HAVA box was in 2006; at that time I was impressed with its video quality and its ease of use. Like the Slingbox, the HAVA allows you to view the contents of your TV on a web-connected computer or mobile phone — and, like Sling, Monsoon recently announced that they will soon be launching an iPhone client.
Right now, your HAVA viewing is basically a solitary experience. Sure, you can grab your spouse or your roommate and sit by the same computer to watch TV, but that’s about as social as it gets. SociableTV allows HAVA users to invite up to 10 friends to watch TV with them, via SociableTV.com.
You can invite friends to watch a brief clip, a single episode of a show, or all the episodes of a certain TV series. The content can be live TV or stored on a DVR, and they don’t need a HAVA box to watch — all they need is a web browser on a computer or a mobile phone to access SociableTV.com. Users can chat in real time as they watch the show, and the friends you invite have no control over your HAVA box; they’re only able to see what you show them.
Monsoon says it’s not offering users any way to record the content, and that setting a 10-person limit is one way the company is warding off any possible copyright concerns over the concept of TV sharing.
Clip+Sling, which was first announced two years ago but has not been officially released on the Sling.com portal, where users can view the contents of their Slingbox-connected TVs. And unlike SociableTV, Sling.com does not allow other viewers to log on and watch TV together. Instead, the Clip+Sling application adds the social aspect by allowing users to capture short segments of programming and share those clips with friends. Sling has not said when Clip+Sling will be available.
Monsoon says SociableTV will be free of charge when it’s released in the second quarter of this year. Right now, the site is only set up as a static page, so it’s hard to get a sense of how well it will work. But the interface is clean and well organized, and if video performance can match what I’ve seen from HAVA devices in the past, that will be a definite boon. The biggest problem with SociableTV might be finding a HAVA owner who can share his video content with you. Right now, the company’s market share is small enough to make that a real challenge.