When you travel, you can't take your big-screen TV on the road, and most of the time you can't drag your couch with you either. But that doesn’t mean you’ll have to miss all of your favorite programs. Even though you can’t take your TV, Sling Media's Slingbox lets you take your TV shows. With the Slingbox and a laptop, you can watch anything you'd watch on your TV at home. And you can do it anywhere in the world as long as you have a broadband Internet connection.
How Portable is This Thing?
There’s no need to drag it along; the Slingbox itself stays at your home. On the road, you take your laptop to a broadband hot spot (your hotel's wireless access should do nicely), connect to your Slingbox over the internet, and then stream your TV shows to your laptop.
If bringing your laptop sounds like too much trouble, you can even stream your TV programs to a compatible mobile phone or pocket PC. You'll need a software package called SlingPlayer Mobile. The newest gadget to be able to run SlingPlayer Mobile is the Treo 700p smartphone, which uses Palm OS. There are a few people who've managed to get it to run on the Treo 650, though Sling Media doesn't offer support for this.
Windows Smartphones and Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile have been able to run SlingPlayer for a while with SlingPlayer Mobile for PocketPC or Smartphone. Check out the SlingPlayer Mobile site for a list of compatible devices.
While most people use their Slingbox to stream TV from their TiVo or other DVR, there are plenty of other options. If you don't have a DVR, you can hook the Slingbox up to your cable outlet or satellite dish. Keep your DVDs in a multi-disk changer? Not a problem. Connect the Slingbox to that, and watch your movies from the road. You can even connect it to a CD jukebox to listen to your music.
What Are My Slingbox Options?
There are three Slingbox models available: the Tuner, the AV, and the Pro.
- The Slingbox Tuner (Review | Purchase) - (available for $130 retail) connects directly to your cable outlet and lets you watch whatever's coming in—however, you can't use it to watch from a DVR.
- The Slingbox AV (Review | Purchase) - ($180 retail) connects to your set-top box. It lets you watch TV through your TiVo and gives you the same control from the road that you'd have at home -- you can fast-forward, rewind, pause, etc. If you have any special subscriptions (such as sports packages) you'll be able to watch them from the road at no extra cost.
- The Slingbox Pro (Review | Purchase) - ($250 retail) can be connected to up to four devices, so you don't have to choose between your TiVo and your DVD library. It's also HD ready.
Can I Use it With a Mac?
For a long time, the Slingbox was exclusively a toy for the Windows-enabled. But the Macintosh version of the SlingPlayer software was released in beta last fall, and version 1.0 was officially rolled out on May 1st. The beta version worked pretty well, but had an interface reminiscent of the Windows version.
The first full release was redesigned by former Apple engineers to look the way Macintosh software should: it uses an interface much like the QuickTime Player. Slingbox users can now use it with Apple TV, but unfortunately the SlingPlayer software is still not available for Linux, or for the Blackberry.
Is it Just For Watching TV on the Road?
The inventor of the Slingbox came up with the idea for the gadget after missing most of the San Francisco Giant's 2002 games due to business travel. Most people still use it basically as its creator envisioned—to watch from the road what they'd be watching at home. But a few people have come up with more creative applications.
For example, you can connect your Slingbox to a digital video camera, and then use that camera from the road to see what's going on at home. If you're a parent, you could use the Slingbox/camera combination as a sort of nanny-cam to keep an eye on your children's caregiver. Or if your kids are old enough to get in trouble on their own, you could use it to keep an eye on them. It's a great way to ensure that your teenagers aren't throwing wild parties if they're home alone. You could even use it as a way to keep tabs on your empty house while you're away.
Some people have used it for long-term travel. Homesick Americans living overseas have arranged to stash a Slingbox at a friend's house so that they can watch their hometown news (and less homesick Americans use it to, say, watch Grey's Anatomy and Survivor while living in the Czech Republic). College students use it to bring their parents' cable into their dorm room. Military personnel on deployment in Iraq have even used the Slingbox, though not all who've tried this have been able to use it successfully. Most of the time this is due to network restrictions and bandwidth issues.
Are There Any Downsides to This Gadget?
If you’re thinking about buying a Slingbox as a gift for a spouse who's a frequent traveler, bear one thing in mind. The TiVo is designed to be used by only one person at a time. If your TiVo's connected to a Slingbox, both the person at home and the person the road have to be watching the same thing.
In an ideal world, this might give you the opportunity to bond as you watch the Red Sox beat the Yankees together even though one of you is in Seattle. In a less-than-ideal world, you might find yourselves squabbling over the remote control even when separated by thousands of miles.
Given all the advantages (and potential fun!) of a Slingbox, that might be the sort of risk you're willing to take.