The Good Works with Macs, Windows PCs and Windows Mobile handhelds and cell phones; simple, straightforward setup; no host PC or monthly charges required; decent video quality; easy-to-use viewing software.
The Bad No built-in wireless networking support; monopolizes the attached device.
The Bottom Line If you can't live without your favorite shows, the Sling Media Slingbox is the best way to beam them to any broadband-connected PC or Windows Mobile device in the world.
Sling Media Slingbox
Despite all the advances of the past couple of years, watching your favorite TV show can still be a challenge if you're constantly on the road. Digital video recorders and the iTunes video store--not to mention BitTorrent--have all helped transient couch potatoes keep up with the latest episodes, but it's the Slingbox that's really changed the game for media on the go. The $200 device--introduced in 2005 from start-up Sling Media--lets you access your cable or satellite box or any other video source from virtually any Windows PC with broadband Internet access, whether it's in your home or halfway around the world. But putting the boob tube on your PC wasn't good enough; Sling Media has added mobile software to its repertoire, letting users stream their home TV programming to any Web-enabled, Windows Mobile-powered handheld or cell phone.
The process all begins at home, where you set up the Slingbox hardware. The device itself is a modest-size, tapered silver brick, measuring 1.75 inches high by 10.75 wide by 3.75 deep. It actually looks a bit goofy, due mainly to the pointillist marketing inscriptions on the top: My Cable, My DVD, My Music Anywhere, and so forth. Fortunately, once you connect the Slingbox to your home A/V system, you never have to see it again; the always-on device can be tucked away in the depths of your TV stand where it will toil away indefinitely. The physical setup is quick and logical. Simply hook up the video source, be it cable box, satellite box, DVR, and the like, to the Slingbox's composite, S-Video, or RF cable inputs; place the IR blaster; and connect the device to your home network's router with an Ethernet cable--you're good to go. You can connect as many as three devices to each 'box, but the dual-headed IR blaster will control only two external devices. You can, however, change channels on the built-in analog tuner if an unscrambled RF source such as an analog cable feed or an antenna is connected. The Slingbox also has pass-through S-Video and composite-A/V outputs, and it provides the necessary cable interconnects, so it integrates seamlessly into your system without the need for any major rewiring.