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The Slingbox enables you to watch the TV programmes at your house remotely via the Internet, turning virtually any Internet-connected PC into your personal television. It plugs into your TV, satellite receiver or set-top box and uses your broadband connection to pipe the TV signal over the Web, where it can be viewed using special software. It's designed for anyone who has ever found themselves away from home but desperate to watch their favourite soap, sporting event, etc.
For all its scary technical connotations, the Slingbox looks like a very user-friendly device. Physically it resembles a large chocolate bar and is approximately the same size as two giant Toblerones. The top of the unit is riddled with bullet-like holes that spell out words such as 'My Cable TV' and 'My DVR', while all the power and audio/video inputs and outputs reside at the rear.
Setting it up is very simple. Connection to your home network is only possible via a wired Ethernet connection (although it can be used in conjunction with a wireless router), and connection to your TV or set-top box comes via RCA composite, Scart to RCA adaptor or an S-Video cable. Channel skipping and other remote control functions are possible via the included infrared blaster, which is placed over the IR receiver on your TV or set-top box.
Interestingly, the Slingbox can be used without an existing TV or set-top box thanks to its integrated Freeview and analogue TV tuners. To make use of this, you'll need a standard coaxial antenna.
The Slingbox beams the television signal via the Internet, where it can be watched using the free SlingPlayer software from a Web-enabled PC. Unlike most streaming TV products, the configuration process is extremely straightforward and takes approximately ten minutes if you have some prior networking experience. The Slingbox comes with comprehensive but easy-to-follow instructions, so newcomers can expect to finish installation in around 30 minutes.
The Slingbox's possible uses are numerous, but we found it ideal for watching home TV while in the office, or on business trips where Wi-Fi Internet access is available. It was also a great way of watching TV in the garden on a laptop, and by connecting a video camera to the Slingbox, it also functions as a convenient means of remotely monitoring your home.
For all its virtues, the Slingbox isn't perfect. The unit feels decidedly plasticky despite its metallic sheen, and it lacks an integrated Scart socket. In order to connect it to a Scart-equipped TV or set-top box, you'll need to use the supplied adaptor.
The video quality produced through SlingPlayer is somewhat variable depending on the speed of your network. It needs a broadband connection with a minimum upload speed of 284Kbps, but at this speed the video looks blocky when running in full-screen mode. It's completely watchable though, and the quality improves markedly should you have a faster home Internet connection, or use it via wired LAN.
One other slight disappointment was the fact that the Slingbox only supports one-to-one connections. In other words, only one remote client can view the contents of the Slingbox at any one time. Sling Media says this is to prevent users abusing the system.
Ultimately, the Slingbox is a truly remarkable product and well worth every penny of its £180 price tag. Buy it now.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield