Sling.com: Almost Must-See TV

If you own a Slingbox, you’re going to love Sling.com. Sling Media’s site — now in private beta, but launching to the public on Nov. 24 — offers a new, web-based way to watch the content from your Slingbox-connected TV. But Sling.com does more than that: It also serves as a repository for a wide variety of Internet videos — short clips, full-length films and TV shows. If you don’t own one of Sling Media’s place-shifting devices, you may not be as enamored with Sling.com — not yet, anyway.

slingcom-screenA Slingbox connects to your TV and your home network, and lets you watch and control your TV on any Internet-connected computer. Previously, you needed the SlingPlayer app installed on any PC that you wanted to use to watch the TV, but not anymore. Sling.com offers many of the same features through its Live TV feature, and it does so without requiring the installation of any software beyond a small plug-in.

When you click the Live TV option on Sling.com, you can connect to your Slingbox and view your TV almost as if you were sitting in front of it. I tested it out by accessing four of Sling Media’s demo Slingboxes — all of which were on the opposite side of the country. Video quality was mixed: It occasionally stuttered and looked blurry, but overall it was very watchable. Last time I tested a Slingbox, I found that the video quality improved dramatically when I connected to a Slingbox on the same network, rather than a remote one. I can’t say if the same would be true when using Sling.com instead of SlingPlayer.

Sling is not eliminating the SlingPlayer app: You’ll still need it to setup your Slingbox and to view high-definition content (if you have the Slingbox PRO), as Sling.com can not playback HD content. What it can do, though, is offer some pretty cool tie-ins with web-based video content. If you’re watching a show on live TV that Sling Media has in its repository of content, you’ll see links to that content in the window below your video.

And Sling.com has a good amount of web-based content. The company says it has more than 90 providers, including Hulu, CBS, Sony Pictures and Joost. The site is very easy to browse: You can read through lists of titles organized by popularity or alphabetically. Once you click on a show, you can sort your view of the available content by clips or full episodes. You also have the ability to subscribe to a show, so you’ll be notified when new episodes are available.

You’ll find a variety of current TV shows — everything from 60 Minutes to 90210 — but not always in full episodes. That limitation is not Sling’s fault, though: They can only provide you with what the content owners make available. And, sadly, that’s still not all of the shows that you want to watch. Notably missing from Sling.com’s list of content partners is ABC. Sling says they are currently working on a deal with ABC and is confident that it will have that content in place soon.

Sling.com does have some nice features for non-Slingbox owners. I like having access to a wide variety of TV shows and movies in one location, and I appreciate being able to watch all of the shows without having to leave the Sling.com browser window. An application like ZViewer, for example, collects all of the Internet video content in one place, but then requires that you access that content from multiple sources.

Sling does make some compromises by taking this streamlined approach. For example, full episodes of 90210 are available on the CW’s web site; if you search for 90210 at Hulu.com, that site links you to the CW site so you can access these episodes. If you search for 90210 at Sling.com, all you can see are clips. Sling says the company is not opposed to sending users to external sites for content but has chosen not to do so yet.

Sling.com clearly holds the most appeal for Slingbox users. Other than its inability to play back HD content, there’s no reason for Slingbox owners not to use Sling.com. If you don’t own a Slingbox, Sling.com is still worth a visit. It won’t become your only stop for Internet video content, but it has the potential to become must-see Internet TV.

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