You know a device is ground-breaking when it doesn't fit into any particular category.
Slingbox might be called a personal video broadcast box. Or a cable TV-over-computer box. Or a junction box that lets you access your cable, satellite, DVD, or VCR from anywhere on the planet.
This very clever device works by letting you “broadcast” an audio/video signal — via your high-speed Internet connection — and watch the result on a PC or laptop. You can watch that feed on any computer running the Slingbox software, anywhere in the world.
Slingbox is pretty sophisticated and needs your PC and home computer network to be sophisticated as well. Aside from that high-speed Net connection, minimum requirements include a PC running Windows XP or 2000 SP4 and an Ethernet connection to your router. You can get the full list on the company's Web site.
At approximately 10.5 by 4 by 1.5 inches, the Slingbox is nice and compact. You can place it anywhere; in my case it rested perfectly on top of the cable TV control box.
First, you need to connect your Slingbox to your video source, which can be a cable TV box, a satellite service, a DVR such as TiVo, a DVD player or even a VCR. Slingbox has antenna (good), composite video (better) or S-video (best) inputs for the incoming signal.
Next, you hook Slingbox to your computer network via its Ethernet port. That can be tricky if, as in my case, your high-speed networking hub is nowhere near your living room TV setup. It would have meant more than 100 feet of Ethernet cable running through the living room. You try explaining that to the spouse.
Slingbox has thought of that, fortunately, and there is an easier way. You can purchase a separate Netgear 802.11 wireless game adapter and configure it to your home network’s wireless settings while it is attached to your computer. Then you unplug it from the PC and plug it into the Slingbox.
The last step is to install the Slingbox control software onto your computer and follow the step-by-step, on-screen instructions. During that process, the software assigns a 32-digit, alpha-numeric identification tag to your Slingbox. That ID allows any PC running the Slingbox software to search for — and find — that box via any Internet connection.
What that means is once you install and configure the software you can control and watch your Slingbox anywhere you can access a high-speed Internet connection. That's very cool. The system also allows you to use and choose from multiple Slingboxes installed in your home.
I particularly like the on-screen remote controller. As part of the set-up process, you tell the Slingbox software which cable or satellite service you’re using. When you’re finished, the Slingbox remote control window on your computer screen acts like the actual TV remote control — right down to button placement.
I have to admit that I was skeptical about Slingbox’s worth until I actually started using the system. Now it’s difficult to stop. I find myself keeping a Slingbox screen open on my computer desktop all the time — sometimes with the sound muted — and then taking advantage of the latest news bulletins, weather, traffic reports and the occasional football game or two. (You thought you weren't getting any work done as it was.)
One interesting note, regular TV channels produce a larger computer image than their high-definition equivalents. That’s because Slingbox lets you watch a 4:3 image on your computer, but the 16:9 HD images just look cut-off.
The bottom line is that Slingbox works exactly as described and is addictive. It allows you to watch and listen to TV wherever you are. Video quality is very good whether you watch inside or outside your home. I haven’t yet tried it overseas but I plan to in the very near future.
Slingbox is available online and retails for $249.99. They’re currently offering $50 online discounts as well. It’s a good deal.
Looking toward the future, it would be great if the Slingbox gurus could extend this remote control TV service to mobile phones. I know I would be near the front of the line for the software when they accomplish that.