Marco D'Souza is the founder and CEO of SpotMyGadget.com—a new-generation web-based service that helps end-users intuitively select and buy technology products based on specific real-world needs. An engineer by education, he was always drawn toward the intersection of technology and content, and was the erstwhile Editor of CHIP—India's leading technology magazine. He also served as Director of Content with a technology and marketing company headquartered in Seattle. Photography is a significant passion, and he has authored numerous articles on digital photography and image processing. Being an inveterate foodie, he is regularly on the hunt for the next must-visit restaurant.
Have you ever wished you could catch your favorite TV shows, no matter where in the world your travels take you? If there's a TV addict lurking inside of you, here's an intriguing device that could just be the dealer to your daily television fix. The Slingbox is a device that sits between your cable TV provider's set top box and your broadband connection. Quite simply, it converts your cable box's signals into a digital video stream that is piped to the Internet, enabling you to access this stream just as you would view a YouTube video. Remotely watching your TV is as simple as logging into the Slingbox.com portal, where you can also take complete control of the set top box including changing channels, and even initiating scheduled recordings remotely (if your set top box has the capability.)
Resembling a part of Darth Vader's helmet, the Slingbox's design itself makes for a conversion starter. On the connectivity front it consists of several audio, video and networking ports that enable connection to a variety of video sources besides a television set top box--it could as well be used with any consumer audio/video device that has an infrared controller such as a Blu-ray player, media box or even a CCTV camera. However, only one video input can be used at a time. This is a downer; for example the ability to switch between watching TV and monitoring your home's CCTV camera from a remote location would have been excellent.
The rear of the Slingbox Pro-DF--the device I used--has four different audio/video connectors including component, composite, co-axial and S-video. This is the high definition version that delivers HD-quality video from your HD-capable set top box--Slingbox also offers a standard definition version of the box at a lower price. On the networking side, the box connects to your broadband provider's box using a standard wired LAN connection. For acceptably viewing HD video, Slingbox recommends a broadband connection speed of at least 1.5 Mbps, both at the point of installation and access. A special infrared transmitter connection is included to enable remote control of your set top box--one end plugs into the Slingbox and the other sits atop your set top box facing its infrared receiver. This enables you to flip channels and control all the functions of your set top box as if you were using its remote, but within a browser on a remote computer.
Next, you need to register on the Slingbox.com portal. The web browser you plan to use to access your Slingbox will need a plugin that is installed when you access the Slingbox portal for the first time. After configuring your email ID and password, the box updates its firmware to the latest version, and you're ready to log in.
Best of all, you needn't bother about any of these installation procedures--the Slingbox purchase includes installation by one of their technicians. So long as the technical requirements of your cable box and broadband are in place, the Slingbox takes about 20 minutes to install after which they walk you through using it.
And using it is actually a breeze--simply log into the Slingbox portal, click Watch and you have full access to your set top box from your browser. Most impressive was the fact that the video stream was clear and sharp at all times--no matter where I accessed the service from, I didn't experience any long buffering or jerky video. Slingbox apparently uses a proprietary video compression technique that automatically adjusts for your broadband speed and selects the appropriate video resolution so the video stream is appears as clear and smooth as possible. A faster broadband connection will enable sharper video while a slower connection will result in scaled-down video quality but without sacrificing smoothness. Also included is a realistic on-screen remote that resembles the real one you use with your set top box--clicking its buttons enable full control as if you were using it normally. Click the adjoining screenshot for a full-size view of an HD channel being streamed.
Slingbox also has iOS and Android apps, enabling you to take your TV viewing to your favorite smartphone or tablet. However, these mobile apps are paid and at $29.99 they aren't cheap. But the apps work well and do provide a very compelling TV viewing experience, although this is dependent on your mobile broadband speed. Also, only one Slingbox login session is allowed at a time, which is in line with the laws that govern television programming. The Slingbox HD version comes in at Rs 14,999, while their SD version--the Slingbox 120--is priced at Rs 7,999. These are one-time costs; no recurring rates are charged for using the service.
The Slingbox is a direct result of the creative possibilities that broadband proliferation and mobile devices have spurred. Besides enabling you to take your TV viewing experience on the road, this device also facilitates other creative usage scenarios such as an additional TV viewing station on your balcony or kitchen using a tablet or laptop, or providing a homesick family member in another country with their dose of Indian television programming. Sure, this device is not for the masses. But for the few that need anywhere access to their favorite television programming, this box does what it says really well.