Few things bring us into our comfort zone quite like an episode of our favorite TV show. But what happens when you are thousands of miles from your TV, or stuck in an airport late at night missing all the action? USB or card based TV Tuners exist, but they aren’t much use when either the antenna doesn’t work or you are in an area where the TV show isn’t aired.
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This is where the Slingbox comes in, allowing you to stream media from your home, over a 3G or Wi-Fi/wired Internet connection. You can watch shows from Slingbox on your notebook or smartphone on the road, at work, or even while driving (not recommended).
This review will cover the Slingbox Solo ($179.99) connected to a TiVo since it has no onboard TV-tuner.
Reasons for Wanting a Slingbox
My sister recently moved to Belgium, and has been having difficulties watching her favorite TV shows through the European networks. Many of her American friends in the area have Sling equipment stationed back at home for this purpose, and needless to say my sister would not stop bugging me until she could watch House, Heroes, and Grey’s Anatomy from her current location.
Pairing it with my TiVo helped out for both the lacking Solo TV tuner, as well as reducing time barriers from the massive time zone difference.
The key factor when using the Slingbox in any location not inside your home is upload bandwidth. At my home my upload connection maxes out at ~500 Kbps, meaning that even if my other connection could download at 10,000 Kbps, it will still be limited by the ~500 Kbps connection on the other end. For remote viewing that speed doesn’t produce the best video quality, but more than enough to enjoy shows. Below are both video and screenshot examples showing real life results of watching the Slingbox from over 400 miles away (WI to OH).
Video of a laptop connecting to a remote Slingbox via Wi-Fi:
Video of a smartphone connecting to a remote Slingbox via EV-DO:
As you can see the video quality is more than enough you enjoy your favorite shows. The smartphone connection was spotty in my office, causing some hiccups with the video quality. In areas with better cellphone coverage the video quality is very nice.
One item I did not pick up on until after a few days of use was a slight audio problem where the pace was just slightly slower than normal. I first noticed it when listening to a particular Guitar Hero 3 commercial, and then the Family Guy intro song. The audio was a fraction of a second slower than normal, but synced up perfectly with the video. This even happened inside my home where the stream speed was 3-4 Mbps over my internal network. The only thing I could think of why that would be happening is if the video framerate was off, and it was syncing to a slower pace.
UPDATE (12/10/2007): Recently after talking with Sling Media tech support, I found out that the audio problem I had was nothing more than an optimization side effect. The audio goes back into sync 1-15 minutes after a connection has been initiated.
Another annoyance which really isn’t a Slingbox problem is the latency issue that comes up with streaming video over a great distance. Changing channels has a 2-3 second delay, and some multi-step TiVo functions take forever to complete. If you have plenty of patience, or your desire to watch your favorite show is strong enough, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue if it is your only option.
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If you can make coffee at home, you can connect a Slingbox to a media source.
For a connection with my TiVo I used the included composite video and analog audio cable. This step was mostly reading which were "inputs" or "outputs," then matching the cable color to the correct port color (yellow to yellow, etc).
Then, for controlling the TiVo, you plug the IR emitters into the back of the Solo, and point the emitter at the TiVo. Next was giving the Solo a network connection and AC power, and it was ready to roll.
On the computer side you install the latest SlingPlayer, and run the setup wizard while on the same internal network. You find the Slingbox, and then follow the steps on screen to control the TiVo remotely. This is a matter of selecting the video source as a DVR, and then selecting "TiVo Series 2." This pulls in the correct IR controlling information for the TiVo.
After your video source is set up, you proceed on to the network configuration section. Depending on how your network is set up this will vary, but you can have it auto configure the network through uPnP, or manually forward ports to the Slingbox.
The last step is initiating a test of the system, where the Sling servers attempt to connect to your Slingbox to verify everything is in working order.
The Slinglink Turbo ($79.99) is an accessory to the Slingbox that I was sent to review which extends network devices through your home’s electrical system. This lets you connect the Slingbox in spots where it may not be easy to wire a network cable to in your home. It’s necessary because many people don’t normally route network lines to their home entertainment systems unless they have a computer set up in that area.
The really great thing about this product is it just works… no setup. You attach a network cable and power to each Slinglink, and within seconds you have a fully working network extension.
Tested range inside our office before I saw any slowdown was about 150 feet, four rooms over in a utility closet in our basement to my notebook upstairs.
For those of us who can’t miss a single TV episode while we are out of the house, no matter the location, the Slingbox is a great option. Video quality piped out of a standard cable broadband connection was more than adequate for watching 400 miles away. As long as you have a fast enough internet connection at your remote location you are set for using your Slingbox on almost any device.
- TV almost anywhere
- Slingplayers for many devices, including most handhelds
- Compatible with many video sources
- Requires decent broadband at both locations
- Audio plays at a slightly slower rate than normal (during optimization phase)