Slingbox Review

June 6, 2007

Lots of hype, but not so much that anyone outside of geek-world has heard about it.

Much, anyway.

Sling Media have done a few high-profile deals with mobile phone operators I believe, and there is the possibility to stream video media to your smartphone or Windows Mobile Pocket PC, but this brief review comes as a result of a few tests I performed on an old IBM laptop.

I was going to buy a nice new one for the testing (yeah, dream on!) but I decided that running it on my PIII 900 MHz IBM T22 lappy was a more realistic test. If it works here, it will only look better on more recent hardware.

Having said that, the Slingbox site (from where you can download the latest client software for your viewing device) does state a minimum requirement of a P4 1GHz processor. Am I bovvered? I’ve learned to take these specifications with a pinch of salt.

Now, I should say that I don’t have a Slingbox. I’m connecting to Analoguesat’s device, and I know that the world has become a small place with the advent of t’Internet, but running a test the length of the UK should prove usability in the real world.

Just before we get started, I have to say that I’m amazed that this device hasn’t really exploded onto the IPTV scene, or even the high-street shops. Yes, I know they sell them but it’s not exactly in pride of place in the shop window is it?

Maybe the problem is that folks have heard it all before.

There is so much guff on the Internet about streaming media, free TV on your PC and whatnot, that maybe people who have tried it (and who, more likely than not, were disappointed) now simply dismiss it, like retail spam.

Fair enough – but things move on, technologically speaking. Jamming the large amount of data required to give top-notch video down an often crusty and corroded old phone line isn’t easy. There are physical limitations imposed here. Smart new techniques squeeze more and more out of what’s available, but with the Slingbox, there is a further restriction. Upload bandwidth.

The device doesn’t get its content from the Internet. It sends it over the Internet, for you (or someone else) to receive at a remote location. Maybe you’re away on business in a hotel, or (God forbid) stuck in a CrapDonalds on the M1. Wherever you’re viewing, you’ll need a reasonably fast broadband connection, as you will back at home.

I guess I’m trying to set the scene here. My expectations were low before I got started. I was hopeful, but ready for yet another disappointment. I’d heard and read promising reports, but there’s nothing like seeing these things with your own eyes.

And mine were really quite impressed!

It really is the weirdest thing to start with. Even more weird for Analoguesat sat watching me change channel on his satellite TV while he was no doubt relaxing with a glass of something nice in his hand instead of the remote.

Installing the software was painless. I did in fact perform a full hard disk backup before installing, because I’ve been caught out more than once before by shoddy software, but it sent out all the right signals in terms of ease of use and apparent quality. No glitches encountered whatsoever.

Fired up the software, and was told that no Slingbox was found on my network. I guess you would normally setup and try it all out on your own LAN before venturing off into the sunset. Would this cause me a problem? Let’s see. Hmm, add new Slingbox, punch in the Alias, ID, password etc. and connected!

You have to bear in mind that the following video clip was only taken with a handheld 2 megapixel Canon camera (not a camcorder), and you should use the blurred menu and statusbar as a bit of a yardstick, but here’s the initial result:

Slingbox test video (short 4Mb .avi clip only)

The video shows CCTV 9 on Hotbird, and is running full-screen on my under-powered laptop. Not bad at all in my opinion. Fairly low resolution, but no picture break-up/pixilation at all, and this was over a 54g wireless PCMCIA card too!

Really pushing my luck with full-screen methinks :)

Data transfer rates were reported by the client as somewhere between 325 and 400 kbps, and this should be viewed with respect to Analoguesat’s typical upload speed of 450 kbps.

I didn’t spend much time pressing buttons on the ‘virtual’ remote, but I did flick through a few different channels and pull up a few menus on the satellite receiver. It was just like being there!

You can switch video sources and generally do whatever you like.

At £150 typical retail price, you’ve got to want one - but it’s a lovely piece of kit and so simple to setup.

The alternative of building your own streaming media centre is a non-starter for me, but then I’m a bit thick.


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