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EchoStar unveils SlingModem, hints at future cable products

The EchoStar SlingModem combines a cable modem and Slingbox in one housing--and it won't be the last cable-centric product the former satellite-only hardware provider releases this year.

EchoStar SlingModem
The SlingModem: cable modem plus Slingbox Sling Media

EchoStar will be officially unveiling the SlingModem at next week's Cable Show trade event in New Orleans. As the name suggests, the product combines a standard DOCSIS cable modem and a Slingbox media placeshifter--which transmits live TV broadcasts to Windows PCs, Macs, and a variety of smartphones--in one compact housing. If it sounds familiar, it's because the product was soft-launched at January's Consumer Electronics Show (following several online appearances at various enthusiast sites). The SlingModem will be sold directly to cable providers, who will then sell or lease the product to their customers. Exact price and availability weren't disclosed.

Having the SlingModem in the AV rack would be potentially helpful for the increasing number of consumers using network-capable devices for home entertainment (TiVo, Apple TV, and all three game consoles, for instance). That said, if you've moved beyond basic analog cable, you're still going to have a sea of wires: the SlingModem needs a coax connection for data, plus a 3-5 AV cables (from the cable box/DVR), and an IR blaster. And that doesn't include the network cable that will go from the SlingModem to your router. Still, having all of that connectivity in one strategic location--plus a fully functioning Slingbox--could be a boon for some consumers. Especially if the cable guy is the one saddled with hookup and troubleshooting duties.

The SlingModem represents the first cable-centric product from EchoStar, which was spun off from satellite provider Dish Network in 2007. (EchoStar acquired Sling Media last year as well.) On deck for EchoStar later this summer is a DTV converter box called the DTVPal (formerly the TR40) and an HD DVR for over-the-air antenna viewers called the TR50 (which snagged CNET's Best of CES award in the home video category).

The SlingModem press release also states that "EchoStar is working on a variety of other products and services for cable operators to be introduced later this year." That statement is particularly enticing for Slingbox fans, for whom a cable DVR with built-in tuner-independent Slingbox functionality has long been something of a Holy Grail. Whether such a product is in the pipeline--or has been scuttled by TiVo's recent court victory against EchoStar--remains to be seen.

As for other previously announced Sling/EchoStar products: we haven't heard any recent news on the SlingPlayer 2.0 software, Clip+Sling feature, SlingCatcher, or Slingbox PRO-HD. But we'll let you know as soon as that changes.