Wednesday, February 17, 2010

SlingBox Solo

The SlingBox is a gizmo that allows you to access TV media from your own TV hardware across the internet. And why might you want to do that I hear you ask. Well, consider someone who has a second house in Spain and wants to watch Fair City live and not miss an episode of the Late Late Show while they are away. Or, indeed, if you are going on holidays to Italy for two weeks but can't bear not cheering your team on in the Sunday Game live then a SlingBox might be for you.

I was aware of the SlingBox from reading reviews of it in the past but had never been up close and personal to one until a customer recently asked if we could set one up with his Sky system. Yesterday I dropped over to the customer and picked up his SlingBox and brought it home to familiarize myself with it's setup.

We have a UPC HD cable box at home that has a SCART socket with composite video-out. I connected the supplied SCART to RCA adapter to the UPC box and connected this to the SlingBox with the supplied Composite A/V cable. Next step was to connect the supplied remote control IR cable to the SlingBox and position the LED to shine on the UPC box IR receiver. Before powering up the box all that remained was to connect the SlingBox to my Netgear router via the supplied ethernet cable. So, everything we needed to make the physical connections is supplied in the box.

Once the hardware is installed it is a case of logging onto Slingmedia's dowload site to download the most up to date version of their SlingPlayer software - this is the application that allows you to watch your TV remotely - I downloaded it onto a Dell netbook running XP on an Atom processor.

When the software is installed it's time to create a SlingBox account and configure your SlingBox to talk to your cable box and your router. This is handled through a step-by-step wizard and I had no problem finding my cable box and router in the configuration options. The only slightly technical step is setting port forwarding on the appropriate port on the router, but the step-by-step wizard holds your hand for this.

Once completed I was able to receive all my TV channels on the laptop and had access to a virtual remote control that mimicked the real one, even down to volume, on/off and programme guide. I tested the picture quality when streaming within my local network and via the internet and there was a significant difference in picture quality between the two, with internet streaming being significantly poorer. This may in part be due to the fact that my upload bit rate is max 256 kbit/s - a higher upload bit rate may provide a better picture. If the picture was viewed in a small window, as opposed to full screen a sharper smoother picture resulted.

During setup I had a couple of issues that held me up. Firstly, positioning the remote control LED was problematic and I finished up using both supplied control LEDs instead of a single one in order to get the virtual remote working properly. Secondly, the UPC cable box we use is connected to our tv with a HDMI cable and, for reasons I don't fully understand, you cannot have HDMI and SCART output simultaneously. This necessitated disconnecting the TV from the cable box while I was using the SlingBox - not SlingBox's fault but less than ideal nonetheless.

The SlingBox is currently available from for £105 and does what it says on the box. However, I feel that this is version 1.0 of this type of media extender and that in a few years we will probably have the type of features offered by the Slingbox built into our TVs and or routers. Until then, Coronation Street on the Costas anyone?

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