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SlingBox, Comes Out Slinging

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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!

57 Responses to “SlingBox, Comes Out Slinging”

  1. Hi there,

    Thanks for your article on the slingbox. I run apple powerbooks and would like to use this technology. Is there an alternative to the slingbox for the mac or is it necessary to wait for them to develop the mac version? If there is no alternative do you have a rough idea as to when the mac version will be available?

    Thanks in advance

    Justin Nicolson

  2. Hello i am thinking in purchasing Sling Box and i would like to get live preview if somebody would let me try to see the quality and things like that. And i also family in europe so i would like to see does it work over seas good. If somebody could let me connect just for couple minutes i would appreciate it. please contact me to this email. Thank you

  3. Josh:

    I don’t know why you think that Orb only broadcasts media files already on your PC… sure it does that TOO… but as long as you have a tuner card, you can also access (and record!) your live TV. Not trying to get into an Orb vs. Sling as they are fundamentally different kinds of products… BUT did want to set the record straight. Orb DOES stream live TV. To any device. Including the Mac. And yes you can hook an XP machine (with a tuner card) running Orb up to your TiVo box.


    Ted Shelton (Orb Networks)

  4. Bill Ford

    I was sold months ago, the trick is trying to get one. I placed an order with CompUSA the day it was released, and they’ve been giving me the run around ever since. They still don’t know when they will receive stock. Blake, I don’t suppose you’d sell me one of your Slingbox’s would you?

  5. Connected my Slingbox without issue – even gave a friend stationed in South Korea access and he’s having success with smaller window sizes. There’s still a bit of delay in moving about the Series 2 Tivo menus but he’s managing. This looks like a nice gift for overseas soldiers who have access to a broadband connection. Nice unit with lots of uses.

  6. I’m headed to Afghanistan in a few weeks to work on the reconstruction project there. While we have broadband internet there 24/7, TV is limited to shows in Arabic, Dari, French and Italian, none of which I speak. At home I have (1) broadband AOL, (2) cable TV, (3) a wireless network. If I install a Slingbox at home in the US, should I be able to watch TV on my laptop when I am over there?

    Many thanks

  7. Ephraim:

    The Orb software only broadcasts media files that already exist on your PC. The Slingbox on the other hand broadcasts video from an A/V component (cable box, DTV receiver, TiVo.) If your PC has a tuner and already acts as your PVR/Media Center, then I could see how Orb approximates the Slingbox’s utility. But many folks just want to watch live TV or their TiVo’ed shows at work, don’t have a Media Center PC, and the Slingbox allows them to do it.

    I have two DirecTiVo’s in my living room (each assigned to different remote codes) and so I am waiting to hear when the Slingbox’s ability to control them is fixed. I’m thinking any customer interested in Slingbox would be one of those early adopter types that has more than one TiVo, so hopefully this was just an oversight on Slingmedia’s part. That said, it would be nice if the unit could “learn” remote codes, or if new codes were downloadable on the web.

    Finally, I am a Mac consultant and user, so I’m waiting for the Mac client to come out. If Sling stays true to their word and it comes out soon, I’ll be buying at least 10 of these babies for myself, clients, family and friends.

  8. How come there is so little talk here of Orb vs. Slingbox. I’ve become a big Orb fan is it does what Slingbox does at zero cost (it’s software on my XP) plus it sends out all the music on my PC, pictures, home videos etc. The video even works on my gprs Smartphone. Given all this, I feel like I’m missing some core feature of Slingbox that Orb does not have. Anyone?

  9. Since my original post about a DOA unit, my replacement unit has been performing perfectly.

    After the holiday weekend, I showed off what the box
    could do at work and just about everyone in my office went back
    to their desks to look into the product more and contact their friends
    about it.

    I have staff that were coming up with all sorts of ideas on how they
    could use the product personally and professionally.

    Some want to buy one to let their relatives in other locations to be
    able to keep up with news from their hometown to watching vacation or
    other home videos with their extended families in remote locations.

    Others were thinking of how they could use the box to hold training
    sessions or play training videos over the network between 2
    locations to allow for staff who can’t travel away from their offices.

    The slingbox is so versatile and self contained that it lends itself to impromptu streaming applications especially since all it takes is to place it between the video/audio source and the local presentation device. Since it can also control the IR device at the remote location, it also allows for unattended or remote initiated streaming sessions of non-digitally encoded materials.

    Since the unit can be moved around easily and contains no moving parts, it can be brought along in case the need arises to stream audio/video from one point to another where you have a network connection.

  10. Hey Mike/Bill Ford:

    we are looking into the multiple Tivo IR codesets situation already. for the time being, i don’t believe we have a solution for you (unless one of the hundreds of codes we have in there just happen to work). I am pretty confident we will have a solution for you soon. maybe as early as next week.

    if you don’t mind, please send me an email directly (our email form for support is not yet up) and i will take care of you personally.

    Blake Krikorian
    co-founder / CEO, Sling Media

  11. First unit was DOA out of the box. CompUSA store closest to me was sold out upon return. Drove 30 miles to next closest store and they had 5 in stock.

    Second unit works perfectly. If you are looking for the unit on the shelf I found that both stores had them hidden away in the back room.

    You had to ask around in the store to find the “kid” who knew what you were talking about.

    Streaming rate on LAN averages about 956K. Over Cable modem, rate dropped to 768K with little visible difference viewing Tivo feed.

  12. Bill Ford

    I just ordered a Slingbox, and am a multiple TiVo owner. One Tivo IR code is on “1” and the other is on “2”. Post a message if you guys find out if the IR code can be sent by the Slingplayer.

  13. Om,

    I share your excitement for the Slingbox, I grabbed one and reviewed it over at LIVEdigitally. I feel the same way when you talk about the sub-optimal video levels at full screen. When I watch a pre-recorded program it’s the same quality as live TV. I also felt the audio could be a tad better. Read my full review here:

    G’luck Slingin’!


  14. Victor Blake

    Set it up last night. Available through CompUSA in stores. Works pretty good in home network over a wireless bridge (802.11b). Same for upstream through cable and to work.

    Requires both a password and a pretty long (dozens of bytes) authentication key for security — but in reality to prevent more than the owner from using it.

    In home it can eat up about 500kbps max and decent quality at 1:1 — but perceptually lower if you zoom in to 3:1 or 4:1 or so (full screen at 1000 lines). It’s clearly limited by the upstream in cable to 358kbps where I think my upstream is actually at 384kbps. So it begs for upgrading the home cable internet access.

    Buffering is clearly not as good as Real player. Controls are reasonable for direct channel change — but a bit slow to use a cable guide. There is a “Control” mode that ostensibly makes this faster — but I didn’t observe a difference.

    I’d claim one bug/goofy setup problem with the box. That is that if you setup a reserved address for it (or allow it to DHCP) you go through the setup fine and everything works — but then when you go to configure it for off network (Internet access to the device) it asks for its own IP address (which is goofy because it already knows it) and it won’t let you enter the address it is already set to. If you click next it will not accept it. However, I canceled the “Wizard” and it just worked anyhow …

    I might try that soon and see how it goes.

    One great app — if my wife/kids put it on at home (and they are just little ones right now — but certainly a great app when then get older) I can see/monitor what they are watching and control the box …


  15. Well, in attempting to set up my sling box this evening, it appears as though the IR code set they’re using for ‘Other’ DirecTV with Tivo units (other than Hughes that is, such as Philips, Sony, etc.) is the default code set, which is 0 to those of you who know what I’m talking about. This concerns me as Tivo remotes can support up to nine additional IR code sets (to prevent multiple Tivos from responding to commands meant for one Tivo). This means that I won’t be able to use my main ‘hacked with 225 hours of recording time’ DirecTV with Tivo box with the Sling Box as all three Tivos will be confused by the 0 default IR code set. Sorry for going on about this, there’s probably only about 200 other guys in the country that care about this feature and if you count those that just bought sling boxes, probably only about 5 of us.

    To add insult to injury, my ISP just went down so now I can’t use SlingFinder to set up my remote access (not that it would’ve worked anyway since is getting hit by a lot of requests from people who bought units today. They even have a message up saying they’re trying to increase the ‘capacity of the Sling Finder service’. Oh well, I’ll try again tomorrow. Live to fight another day.

    I want my Sling TV! ;)

  16. Sy

    i am using an Airport Extreme for this – I cannot trust other products given the all apple environment i live in. i am not sure what your specific issue is but post it here, and i will try and help out.

  17. symalik

    what router did you use, because i just got mine and i cant set up remote viewing keeps giving me an error. i have a netgear router and every thing is there, the setup just wont work

  18. Damn, forget to ask a quick question….will the thing support all 10 of the Tivo remote code sets? Having multiple Tivos, I’ve had to set each one to a different set of IR codes.

  19. Of my 12 Tivos (9 SD and 3HD) I can certainly find one of the SD ones to hook this into. My frustration is that they’ve ‘released’ this thing but it’s nowhere to be found…c’mon I want my Sling TV ;) This is definitely my next toy purchase if I can find one, I’m already getting bored with the PSP.

  20. no only one user at a time. there is no way you can share this feed. that my friends would run slingbox into a lot of legal trouble. I think they can let maybe a couple of people log in but the thing is you can control live tv one person at a time. so no two people can be watching different channels at the same time

  21. Om,

    Do you know if it is possible to let other people view your SlingBox feed? Or if more than one user can log in (both husband and wife are away on business — both interested in watching different shows)?

    If, in fact, multiple users can have access to your SlingBox feed, it could have even bigger effects on the market.