Slingbox gets new siblings

Sling Media targets more than high-end tech wizards with three variations on its placeshifting technology. Photo: Three new Slingboxes Video: Slingbox's second generation

The original Slingbox just got a lot more company.

Sling Media, maker of the placeshifting Slingbox device, on Wednesday released three new gadgets for watching TV remotely: the Slingbox Pro, Slingbox AV and Slingbox Tuner. Each product targets a different segment of the TV-watching market--home-theater enthusiasts; DVR or cable set-top box owners; and basic-cable subscribers.

Three new Slingboxes

Though the products are new, the idea remains the same. The funky, trapezoid-shaped box can beam the channels or TV services you've paid for at home via a broadband connection to a PC, laptop, Windows-based mobile phone or portable PC while you're on the road.

The Slingbox Pro (click here for CNET review) is aimed at those who climbed aboard the high-definition bandwagon early. There's now an HD component input for those with HD set-top boxes, and content will be displayed in wide-screen format. It's also now possible to remotely access content from up to four audio or video sources--a DVR, satellite, cable box, DVD player (with a preloaded disc), multi-disc changer or video camera.

The Slingbox AV (click here for CNET review) is a step down from the Pro. It allows input from either a DVR, cable box or satellite receiver. Like the Pro, it also uses a wide-screen format.

The most basic Slingbox is the Tuner (click here for CNET review) , which the company says is "designed to appeal to the masses" aka basic-cable subscribers. Smaller than the original Slingbox at 9 inches by 4.5 inches, it acts like a wireless tuner card that connects with basic or digital cable. It can be placed anywhere, like in a closet, and plugged into a home router.

Besides multiplying the number of products it makes, Sling Media says the new members of the Slingbox family provide up to 300 percent better image resolution.

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Video: Sling CEO speaks about new units
As Sling Media's latest products go public, CNET's Rich DeMuro chats with Sling Media CEO Blake Krikorian at CNET's New York offices.

Rich Buchanan, vice president of marketing, said the company took the "faster, better, cheaper" approach this time. The AV and Tuner devices will sell for $179.99, while the Pro model will retail for $249.99, the same price as the original Slingbox when it was first released in 2005.

iSuppli analyst Mark Kirstein said that although companies should try to address as many different types of consumers as possible, he is "leery" of Sling Media's new triple-pronged strategy.

"Targeting the HD side is the more attractive segment," he said. "You're simultaneously targeting people who are more technologically advanced and have more money. They're also more likely to be accepting of new technology. The analog TV market is not only more economically challenged, but it's also the TV laggards, people who are not pushing the edge."

Not everyone sees it that way. "It makes sense to follow up a successful product with something that seeks to target different users more directly. And they're looking at something that's more on the simpler, basic end, completely for the least technical user they can accommodate and something that will fit in more with the videophile as well as refreshing the core product," said Ross Rubin of The NPD Group.

Rubin said the new releases are another good sign from the San Mateo, Calif.-based company, which has experienced exponential growth in the last year. "They're the market leader in a field that doesn't have many competitors," he said.

Sling Media really has only one major competitor--Sony--but in the consumer electronics world, a battle that's the equivalent of David versus Goliath. Although for many, Slingbox may be synonymous with placeshifting TV, Sony's name attached to anything can equal instant brand recognition. Sony's original LocationFree TV let users watch TV remotely from other locations within the home on a screen that undocked from a base, but the updated products set to be released in October should stream content to remote PCs and Macs. An attractive gimmick here is that it also enables content to be streamed from a TV to a Sony PlayStation Portable.

In another move to expand the device's audience, all three new Slingboxes will be Mac-compatible--that is, they can send video to an Apple Computer Mac. The Mac client is still in beta testing and should be available in 30 to 45 days, said Sling Media's Buchanan.

Rubin says that strategy will become more significant once Apple's recently announced iTV wireless router is rolled out. "This is going to be another video source coming into the living room. If the Slingbox is compatible with it, it will help extend that investment for Apple's user base."

He added that while none of the new Slingbox products is particularly expensive, they are still leisure products that require a broadband connection and home network. "You're talking about consumers with more disposable income," Rubin said.

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