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Home > Hardware Reviews > Mobiles

Monday, November 20, 2006
Slingbox Tuner Review

1. The Slingbox Tuner Review

I test a lot of gadgets. My house is filled with technical marvels as well as futuristic flubs. Most of the stuff I see is very cool, but it takes something very new and special to make me say "Wow." Well, I am saying "Wow" often these days and it is because I have been playing with....um I mean...seriously and studiously testing the new Slingbox Tuner.

I don't say this often, but this is a technology and a product that can truly change your life.

Who is Sling Media?

Founded in 2004, Sling Media, Inc. is a different kind of consumer electronics company working to demystify convergence technologies and to create empowering experiences for the digital media consumer. The focus of Sling Media solutions is to embrace - not replace - existing products and standards, enhancing them with hardware and software that will greatly improve the consumer experience.

Overview of the Slingbox:

The Slingbox™ allows individuals anywhere-anytime, access to their own living room television experience with no additional monthly service fees. Enabling consumers to watch their cable, satellite, or digital video recorder (DVR) programming from wherever they are, the Slingbox turns any Internet-connected laptop, desktop, PDA, or smartphone into a personal TV. The Slingbox redirects, or "placeshifts", a single live TV stream from a cable box, satellite receiver, or DVR to the viewer's PC or device located anywhere in the home. If the Slingbox is coupled with a broadband Internet connection, the viewer's live TV stream can be "placeshifted" via the Internet to a PC located anywhere in the world.

Sling Media makes three versions of the new Slingbox - the Slingbox Tuner (featured in this review) is designed for basic cable or even, dare I say....antenna users. The AV and Pro versions are designed for sending the signal from a cable box/satellite box or HD setup. If you have basic cable, you can still "Sling" up to 99 channels with the Slingbox Tuner.

The "Official line" from the Sling Media Web site says:

TURN ON, TUNE IN, AND STEP OUT

The Slingbox TUNER is the perfect companion for your basic cable subscription. With the ability to watch and control your cable TV, the Slingbox TUNER ensures that you can enjoy your live TV entertainment anywhere you go. Turn every computer you use into a portable TV without the need to connect a coax cable. Using an Internet connected computer or compatible mobile phone*, you can watch your basic cable TV anywhere around your home or around the globe. With a Slingbox TUNER you will never be separated from your favorite TV shows, sports broadcasts, or breaking news stories.

Slingbox TUNER

MINIMUM PC REQUIREMENTS:

  • Windows Vista, XP, or 2000 (SP4) Operating Systems  
  • Pentium IV 1GHz
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 100 MB Free Hard Disk Space
  • Graphics Card (24-bit color)
  • Sound Card (16-bit)
  • Ethernet Network Connectivity (wired, wireless, or power line)

MINIMUM MAC REQUIREMENTS:

  • PowerPC G3 600 MHz 
  • Pentium 1GHz 
  •  Mac OS X 10.4  - Click here for more information about Mac OS X 10.3
  •  256 MB RAM (1 GB   recommended) 
  •  1024 x 768, thousands of colors display (millions of colors recommended) 
  •  100 MB available disk space

MINIMUM NETWORK REQUIREMENTS: (WHERE THE SLINGBOX IS INSTALLED)

  • Cable or DSL Modem (for out-of-home viewing)
  • 256 Kbps Upstream Network Speed Recommended
      (higher upstream network speeds yield higher quality video)
  • Home Network Router wired or wireless (UPnP compatibility highly recommended)

VIDEO AND AUDIO SOURCES: (ANY OF THE FOLLOWING)

  • Analog Cable Input

BOX CONTENTS:

  • 1 Slingbox TUNER
  • 1 SlingPlayer CD ROM
  • 1 AC Adapter (100-240V 50-60Hz)
  • 1 Ethernet Cable
  • 1 Quick Start Guide
  • 2 Coaxial Cables
  • 1 Cable Splitter

Design:

The Slingbox is very simple, yet very sleek in design. It is a small, almost pyramid shaped box that you can place out in the open or hide behind books on a shelf. It features very simple input jacks on the back of the unit; a simple RF in and out jack, and Ethernet connector port and a power port. That's it. All configuration and setup is handled through software on the PC.

Setup:

There are three versions in the new Slingbox family. From what I have read, setup can be a bit more complicated with the fancier Av and Pro versions. As far as the "Tuner" version is concerned - setup was incredibly straightforward and easy.

One can use the Slingbox as a "passthrough" device - much like an old VCR - take your cable connection from the wall and plug that to the "in" jack and then have the "out" jack to to the TV. I found an even easier way of setting up the Slingbox Tuner. I put a splitter (included) onto the connection going to my Cable Modem. I then hooked up the cable (included) from the splitter back to the Slingbox.

Once that was done, I just plugged in the Ethernet cable (included) into the jack on the back and one end into my router. (it should be noted, that the easiest way to set up the Slingbox is to have a cable connection near your router.)

That's all there is to it. All the nuts and bolts of making it work are tackled through the software setup.

Software Setup:

The Slingbox comes bundled with a software setup CD that takes the user right to the Sling Media web site to download the latest version of the SlingPlayer software. Simply download the right version and the setup wizard does everything else.

The software finds the slingbox on the network, the user can give it a unique alias and it is assigned a finder ID - a number that lets the Slingbox be identified from other computers.

The setup wizard asks if you are using a cable or antenna input and then scans for available channels. It very intuitively shows you two different versions of the feed and you suggest which looks better - kind of like going to the Eye Doctor. After the second round of optimization, the Slingbox is set up for viewing on your computer over the local network.

Once local network usage is setup, you are prompted to either continue with "remote access" setup or save it for later. I will say, that due to no fault of Sling Media, this is the tricky part for many computer novices - even for some advanced users.

The concept behind the remote access to a Slingbox is what is most amazing about this device. If you have your computer (or supported Mobile Device) configured correctly - you can access your cable TV setup in your home from anywhere in the world. That's right. Take your notebook to Starbuck's, turn on your computer and launch SlingPlayer and you are watching TV from your house.

Setting this up correctly is dependent on your router allowing you to "open" up access to your router from the Internet. Now, that sounds scarier than it is. Every Router as its unique IP address that you can plug into your Internet browser. When you do this, you are not giving the world access to your home computers - you are just opening up the port to which your Slingbox is connected.

This was something new for me and I found all the information I needed by just going to the support page on the Sling Media hope page. I found my particular router on the list and there was extensive documentation with graphics that showed me how to open up the Port forwarding feature on my Netgear router.

I just followed the directions step by step and tried to re-configure the Remote Access feature of the software and.....BINGO - no problems.

Ease of Use:

Herein lies the beauty of Slingbox - it is incredibly easy to use, once set up correctly. Simply launch the SlingPlayer software and it determines whether you are attached to your local network (and therefore the Slingbox) or whether you are connecting remotely. If you are on the network, a better resolution image 640 X 480 is streamed to your computer.

You can maximize the picture, make it full screen, widescreen or dock it left or right. Remember that the picture is less sharp when you blow it up - especially on a large screen monitor.

there is a very easy and intuitive "button setting up" process where you can choose icons and channel numbers for your favorite cable stations and have them displayed below the screen for easy access. There is also a "remote control" that you can hide that simply chooses the channel or selects up and down.

You can change the encoding parameters if the stream is too slow, adjust the quality of the stream, set the audio output even change the skin of the player with a simple click.

In short, it is so easy to use the SlingPlayer software. I now sit in my office and dock my SlingPlayer in the upper right of the screen and watch my favorite shows, check in on the news or catch the updates on ESPN while I am doing my other work on my screen. Amazing!

Remote Access:

Slingplayer is available for your Notebook, your Windows Mobile and soon your Symbian and Palm OS (so we think) device. I tried both remote access on my notebook and the Windows Mobile version of Slingplayer. As long as the "Finder Id" mentioned above is entered correctly, the SlingPlayer software connects to the Internet (through a WiFi or 3G or EDGE connection) and finds your Slingbox. Remote streaming is at a slightly lower resolution (320 X 240) but it was amazing to watch my TV through my Slingbox anywhere I had a WiFi connection.

Remote access costs nothing if you are using your Notebook. For mobile devices, there is a one time fee for the software - but it is well worth it. I was streaming TV on my Dell Axim x51v and it looked awesome in full screen (Widescreen) mode.

Pitfalls:

There aren't many to speak of. The one issue that I was frustrated with was that you can only "Sling" on one computer at a time. I am still not sure if this is an issue with the box itself and the ability to only be tuned into one station remotely - or if it is some sort of proprietary limitation to encourage users to acquire multiple Slingboxes. I asked a Slingbox employee about this and she responded: "Simply put - The 1:1 model is due to content distribution laws.  Even though one user at a time, you can load the SlingPlayer onto multiple devices so all have access at a given time."

That being said - there is nothing else remotely negative to say about this device.

Overall Conclusions:

Wow! - That about sums up the Slingbox Tuner. I hope to acquire the Slingbox AV or Pro and test the streaming capabilities of a higher def signal. For Basic cable subscribers or those who want the freedom to tune your computer to one channel while your kids or spouse tune the TV to another in another room - or even another house - the Slingbox Tuner could quite possibly be your most advanced and useful technological purchase this season.

I was set to buy a new TV for my Home Office - now there is no need - I just "Sling" what I want to my computer throughout the day. Frame rates are good, picture quality is very good even at 640 X 480 resolution. I would love for the Slingbox to take advantage of the higher resolution of the LCD screen on my Notebook - but it makes perfect sense that the more expensive versions with component video out or S video would be required.

The word that seems to be used to describe what the Slingbox does is "Placeshifting." There are competitors - Sony recently announced "Location Free TV" and Monsoon has released their Hava Wireless system. Both try to improve on what the Slingbox has established as the "benchmark" of this newfound industry.

What they may not be able to match is the ease of use, the excellent interface to the software, the almost idiot-proof installation and troubleshooting guide and the amazing detail in the advanced technical support issues a user might encounter with their router.

Pros:

  • Wonderfully simple to use
  • fabulous software and interface
  • great technical support
  • very high "coolness" factor

Cons:

  • US$180 can also buy you the fancier Slingbox AV
  • the Slingbox runs hot
  • router setup might be complicated

The Slingbox Tuner can be found at: http://us.slingmedia.com/page/slingboxtuner.html

The retail price for the Slingbox Tuner is US$179.99




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