In the last few years, as the price of memory cards has dropped even as their capacity has climbed, an increasing number of people have gone through the somewhat time-consuming task of converting movies or CDs so that they can be played on handhelds and smartphones.
I’m here to ask… why bother?
Sling Media is offering a device that lets you stream just about any kind of video or audio directly to your Windows Mobile device. All you have to do is buy a simple gadget that can convert your audio or video into a digital format in real time and broadcast it over the Internet to your handheld or smartphone.
And, before you ask, no, you don’t have to subscribe to a monthly service. Just buy the Slingbox and the software and you are good to go. You can watch your TV or a DVD wherever you are in the world, all you need is some kind of high-speed connection to the Internet.
What Do You Mean, “High Speed”?
I’ve been using the SlingPlayer Mobile software for several weeks now, under a wide variety of conditions and with several different devices, and, I have to say, I’ve been really impressed by its performance.
Much of the time I’ve been using it on a Dell Axim X51v. This means I’ve been watching my home TV over a Wi-Fi connection, and shows are actually quite good. The picture is sometimes a bit pixelated, especially when things are changing rapidly, but it’s better than you probably think.
And it works pretty well over cellular-wireless networks, too. A friend of mine has a Treo 700w with EV-DO support and I got her to trying out this application. The screen is small and low resolution, but the picture was definitely viewable.
Back to the Real World
As I’ve said, the quality of the video provided by SlingPlayer Mobile is surprisingly good… but that’s mostly because my expectations were really low.
Don’t get me wrong, the video quality is decent, but it’s not going to suddenly turn your iPAQ into a hi-def TV. Nothing in the world can do that.
So, if you’re in a place with a real TV, you’ll be happier watching that. But there are plenty of places without real TVs, or ones you can’t control. Airports, hospital waiting rooms, and trains come to mind.
SlingPlayer Mobile can keep you from losing your mind out of boredom in these situations.
Here’s an example.
A few weeks ago, a friend and I were on a trip. As often happens, there was some kind of snafu with the airline and we were stranded for several hours. I talked my friend into downloading SlingPlayer Mobile and we were able to watch a movie on her Treo.
Was it the best movie-watching experience of our lives? Of course not. But it kept us from staring blankly into space for several hours.
And that’s the real power of this application; it lets you watch your TV wherever you are, or even a DVD. It isn’t the best video experience in the world, but there are many situations where it’s better than nothing. And, if you do a great deal of traveling, I think you’ll see the advantages of that.
OK, in the hopes that I’ve already convinced all of you to run out and get a Slingbox, let me talk a bit about the nuts and bolts.
You can hook a Slingbox up to just about any kind of audio/visual device you can think of. It even includes little infrared broadcasters so you can remotely control your DVD player from, say, Hong Kong.
Controlling the TV channels is a snap. There’s an on-screen remote that looks much like any physical one, plus you can put little icons on the screen for your favorite channels.
SlingPlayer Mobile also supports both portrait and landscape modes on most Pocket PCs.
And you aren’t just limited to Pocket PCs. There’s a beta version of the software for Windows Mobile Smartphones that works quite well.
The biggest problem you might run into is the absolute necessity of connecting the Slingbox up to an Ethernet connection. I don’t know about you, but I don ‘t have one of these in my living room. And you people with dial-up connections are totally out of luck.
So you have two options: you can pay someone to run Ethernet cable around your house, or you can get a gizmo offered by Sling Media that wirelessly connect the Slingbox to all that equipment in your living room.
And, still, you people with dial-up connections are totally out of luck. If you want to use a Slingbox, you’re going to have to give in and get some kind of high-speed Internet access. Sorry, but that’s the way it is.
Pricing and Availability
The Slingbox itself is $200, while the software for Windows Mobile Pocket PCs is $30. The wireless networking do-hickey I mentioned is $100.
The beta version for WM Smartphones is available on the Sling Media web site. It is currently free, but I suspect the final version will eventually cost the same as the Pocket PC one.
Not surprisingly, the primary version of this application is for Windows PCs, and there’s no charge for this.
Sorry Palm OS and and Mac OS X users, at this point there’s no good way for you to use a Slingbox. While there’s been talk from Sling Media of a version for both these platforms, there has been no commitment on any kind of timetable for these.