Sling Media Slingbox (2nd generation) review: Sling Media Slingbox (2nd generation)

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The Good Streams home A/V sources to any broadband-connected Mac, Windows PC, Windows Mobile, or Palm Treo 700p device in the world; no host PC or monthly charges required; simple, straightforward setup; excellent, easy-to-use software; doesn't need a host video device, just an analog cable source; good video quality over LAN, decent video quality via the Internet.

The Bad Receives only analog cable TV signals; cell phone/PDA viewing software costs extra; no built-in wireless networking support; Palm viewing software works only on Treo 700p.

The Bottom Line The Slingbox Tuner lets you watch your home TV anywhere, but it's useful only for those who have a good basic cable lineup.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 6

Editors' note: The Slingbox Tuner is no longer produced. It has been replaced by the Slingbox Pro-HD, which includes a built-in analog and digital tuner.

The Slingbox lets you watch your TV anywhere--anywhere, that is, that you can access a broadband Internet connection with a device that runs the company's SlingPlayer software. When it first hit the market in 2005, the SlingPlayer software could run only one platform: Windows XP computers. Windows 2000 compatibility was added soon after, and Windows Mobile devices--handhelds and smart phones--followed later. A long-promised Mac client debuted in the fall of 2006, and now Palm OS devotees can finally join the Sling party--if they have a Treo 700p smart phone. The Palm software provides yet another venue for users all of three Slingbox models--the Slingbox Tuner, the Slingbox A/V, and the Slingbox Pro--to watch their home TV programming. But only the high-end Slingbox Pro model supports multiple device inputs and the ability to accept HD video.

Slingbox and SlingPlayer: several choices

The original Slingbox (model SB100-100) may not have been the first placeshifting device to hit the market, but it quickly became a favorite way for gadget fans to watch their favorite TV shows, regardless of their location. The company followed up in the fall of 2006 with a trio of second-generation models: the Slingbox Tuner ($180), the Slingbox A/V ($180), and the Slingbox Pro ($250). Each of the three models is targeted at TV viewers with different needs. The Slingbox Tuner accepts only analog cable TV signals and has just a single screw-type RF input. The Slingbox A/V, like the original model, can control any cable or satellite box and gets its video signals via composite or S-Video. And the Slingbox Pro does it all: It can accept as many as four A/V sources, including (with an adapter) HD video.

Before we look at the Slingbox Tuner in detail, however, it's worth focusing on the basic concept of the device. The Slingbox enables you to watch your home TV programming anywhere so long as you have access to a broadband Internet connection. It takes your home TV source, digitizes it, streams it onto your home network, and--if you'd like--onto the outside Internet as well. You receive the resulting video stream on a computer, a handheld, or a cell phone that's equipped with the SlingPlayer software. Both the Slingbox--the source--and the device running the SlingPlayer software--the receiver--need to be connected to high-speed broadband networks (a cable or DSL line or a 3G wireless network), but the distance between the two isn't a factor. As long as you're getting normal broadband access speeds, you can watch your Slingbox playback anywhere--be it in another room of the house or halfway around the world--literally.

SlingPlayer software for Windows PCs (2000, XP, or Vista) is included on a CD that comes with the products, but you're always better off getting the latest build from Sling Media's Web site. A beta version of the long-awaited Mac OS X version is available for download as well. Windows or Mac, laptop or desktop, just be sure the computer has access to a high-speed connection (Ethernet or Wi-Fi)--dial-up won't cut it.

If you'd prefer to watch your TV on a smaller device, Sling has you covered. SlingPlayer Mobile software is available for Pocket PC (touch-screen devices running Windows Mobile 2003 or 5.0, such as recent Dell Axim and HP iPaq handhelds, as well as phones such as the Palm Treo 700w, the Audiovox 6700, and the Samsung i730), Windows Smartphone (non-touch screen phones running Windows Mobile 5.0, such as the Motorola Q, the Samsung BlackJack, and the T-Mobile SDA), and the Palm Treo 700p. Each mobile software package needs to be purchased on Sling's Web site for a one-time fee of $30, but you can try before you buy--just download the 30-day trial software. Just like the PCs, the mobile devices need to have access to a broadband connection, be it Wi-Fi or a 3G high-speed cellular network--EVDO on Verizon or Sprint, or UMTS/HSDPA on Cingular, for instance.

Don't have a Windows Mobile device or Treo 700p? Sling's Web site mentions that the company is evaluating the feasibility of creating SlingPlayer software for other platforms, such as RIM BlackBerry, J2ME, and BREW, but such plans remain entirely theoretical. (A Symbian version is preinstalled on some phones sold through British wireless provider 3, but it's unclear when or if it'll be made available for purchase to existing Symbian phone owners and those elsewhere in the world.

Handhelds and computers are great, but what about getting your Slingbox to send images to another TV? Sling has announced a product that will do just that: the SlingCatcher. Due in the second half of 2007, the SlingCatcher will be able to stream content from any Slingbox, so you can access your living room DVR recordings in the bedroom, for instance. It will also offer a function called "SlingProjector" that will mirror what appears on the screen of any networked PC.

Slingbox Pro: Design and setup

Before you can watch your TV shows from 2,000 miles away, of course, you have to get your Slingbox up and running. The Slingbox Tuner is about two-thirds the size of the original 2005 model: 1.5 inches high by 7.5 wide by 4.5 deep. It's grayish black, so--despite the white accents--it'll more or less disappear into your home entertainment system. In fact, the Slingbox Tuner doesn't even need to be placed near your TV. Because it accepts only a screw-type RF coaxial connection (to your incoming cable TV signal) and an Ethernet link (to your home network), it can be placed wherever those two connections are in close proximity. For cable-modem users, for instance, it'll be a quick install.

The trade-off on the quick-and-easy setup, of course, is a loss of functionality: unlike all other Slingbox models, the Slingbox Tuner can't control an external cable or satellite set-top box or DVR. You're limited to only the channels that the built-in analog (NTSC) tuner can see--the exact same "channel 2-99" you'd get if you screwed the RF connector into any old analog TV--not the channels that you need your digital cable box to receive. For many cable customers, that can still be in excess of 80 channels. The bottom line here is that you should only consider the Slingbox Tuner if the shows and the channels you watch are available; otherwise, you'll want to opt for the Slingbox A/V or Pro models.

Like all other Slingbox models, the Tuner lacks a wireless component and requires an Ethernet connection to access your home network. If you don't have a network connection nearby, you'll need to opt for a bridging solution: power-line Ethernet extenders or a wireless-to-Ethernet bridge. Sling offers its own set of power-line adapters, the SlingLink Turbo, available in single and multiport versions (the latter for connecting other networked entertainment devices, such as a game console, Apple TV, or TiVo). We used a pair of older, significantly less expensive Netgear XE102 adapters with no problem.

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