New Slingbox Adds HD Video, Keeps Some Old Issues
Sling Media's Slingbox -- a small, Internet-connected device that relays whatever's on your TV to any online computer running the company's SlingPlayer program -- is not what you'd call an obviously necessary gadget. Some people don't see its utility because they just don't watch that much TV. Some are happy with whatever video is already available on the Web or on the hard drive of their laptop.
You can hear my fellow podcast host Greg Schneider voice a little of that skepticism in today's episode (listen/subscribe/iTunes). And when I first tried out the Slingbox -- and suffered through a particularly irritating setup experience -- I was even more scathing in my evaluation.
But I've also heard from a lot of people who rely on the Slingbox to catch programs that they can't get any other easy way. The first among them might have been my old colleague Sam, who pointed out that if he could get a friend back in the Bay Area to set up a Slingbox, he'd never miss another Raiders game again. (Why he'd want to subject himself to such misery is beyond the scope of this blog post.)
Plus, I can't deny that it's legitimately impressive to see the contents of your TV redirected to a laptop or a smartphone -- reliably and in at least decent quality. So by the time I revised the Slingbox two years ago, I had nicer things to say.
The Pro-HD unit continues that evolution; between the upgraded software that lets you pause live TV and its support for high-definition video, it makes for a massive upgrade over earlier models. But at the same time, it's also gotten far easier to watch TV on the Web, between downloads off iTunes and other stores and the free, ad-supported video available at the networks' own sites and the likes of Hulu. Sling Media's gadget doesn't have the same competitive advantage it enjoyed when the networks acted as if nobody wanted to watch TV on anything but a TV.
That brings me to my final point -- for Sling to have a chance in the long run, it has to make this feature something that comes built into a cable or satellite receiver. Last year's purchase of the company by Dish Network parent company Echostar should help make that happen for Dish users soon enough. As for people using other TV services... well, although Echostar also plans to make cable boxes that will work with any cable system (PDF), the horrible track record of earlier attempts at open cable-box standards don't bode well for Echostar's attempts.
I'm sure that Slingbox owners will be happy to explain why they consider these devices worth the money, but I'd also like to hear from people who have held off on buying a Slingbox or anything like it. What would the ability to watch your TV (emphasize "your") from anywhere with a fast enough Internet connection be worth to you? $300 or $200 for a separate box? $50 extra for a cable or satellite box with this function? Nothing at all?
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