Ever since the arrival of VHS we've been taking time-shifting of TV viewing for granted. We can record TV shows that we want and watch them later on when we want to see them. The arrival of DVRs in recent years has additionally simplified this process, but the basic idea behind it remains the same. Some of these DVRs allow you to transfer recorded shows to your computer and from there to almost any device that plays video. However, for the most part this process is rather cumbersome and time consuming. I for one have only done this on just a few occasions. Furthermore, this doesn't allow you to watch live TV from somewhere else. Slingbox, on the other hand, allows you to do exactly this. Once you set it up at home with your various video inputs (cable, antenna, DVD player, etc.) you are able to access any of those devices via broadband internet. This, at least, is the promise of Slingbox, and for the most part it delivers on that promise. I've been using it for several months now, and am extremely happy with it thus far. Here are some of my observations:
* The setup was fairly straightforward, but it did not go without a few glitches. As you may expect, having three different video inputs and that many outputs, not to mention several cables for each one of those inputs/outputs, plus all the audio inputs/outputs, can be a wee bit confusing. Sorting out which cable goes where is bound to lead to an error or two the first time you do it.
* Connecting to the home network was no problem at all. The Slingbox recognized the network settings, and later on when I was trying to access it from various computers on the network I was immediately able to find it.
* The software setup was also pretty straightforward, although you had to download it from the internet.
Overall I think this is a good idea: you are certain to always get the latest version of the software. You do have to register your Slingbox and create a user account on the company's website. This account is used for the purpose of connecting you to your Slingbox over the internet, and is indispensible when you are away from home.
* There are many different versions of Slingbox software depending on the device that you are watching your video content on. The software for PC and Mac is free, but there are some major differences between those two programs at the time of this writing. The biggest difference is that PC version of software allows you to pause live video stream for up to 60 minutes, while the Mac version does not let you do this. This is pretty annoying if you are a Mac user.
* The software for various mobile devices is even more limited, and for the most part it is not free. The iPhone version costs $30 for instance. However, being able to watch TV on your phone could in and of itself be the single best feature of Slingbox, especially now that you are allowed to stream over 3G networks. This means that now you can watch TV and movies pretty much anywhere you are. In fact, you can do something even better: if you have for instance connected a device to your Slingbox that can stream video content from the net, you can now watch that same content on your mobile device as well. For instance, I have TiVo and I can watch Netflix movies streamed to it. Now I can watch those same movies on my iPhone, thus going around the obstacle that there are no ways of streaming Netflix movies directly to iPhone. When I tried doing this there was a slight sound delay, but it was not bad enough that it would interfere with my viewing experience.
* The HD version of Slingbox definitely makes a difference when watching the HD content. This difference in quality is most noticeable when you are streaming video around your own home network, but even away from home you can see the difference between HD and regular video.
* One of the limitations of this system is that if someone else is currently watching the TV that Slingbox is connected to, you are bound to watch the same stuff that he or she is watching. One way around this is to have two different ways of connecting Slingbox to the TV content: over the regular coax and through a DVR for instance. This way you can choose a different source from the one that the person watching TV at home is using.
* The quality of the video stream will primarily depend on the speed of the internet connection that you have. In my experience, as expected, the best results have been from watching the video stream in another room of my house over the Ethernet connection. The worst have been over slow WiFi and 3G connections. That's also where most of the dropped signals would occur. This might be a bit of a problem if you are watching a movie, but for watching TV news you would probably not be bothered at all.
* Another annoyance has to do with the fact that only one Slingbox connection is allowed at any given time. This means that only one person can be watching video streaming at a time. This could be due to the bandwidth limitations, but I would not be surprised if some pseudo-legal restrictions might be at play as well.
* The physical production value of the Slingbox is also very high. Its metallic casing feels very solid. The physical appearance of the Slingbox is also very appealing, and it fits very well with the rest of my entertainment center devices.
* I had just very limited experience with the customer service (I called them to clarify something during the initial setup) and have found it to be prompt, responsive and knowledgeable. Fortunately I haven't had any more serious problems with my Slingbox thus far, so I don't know how good the customers service would be under those circumstances.
* I wish that, in addition to watching live TV and other streamed content, we could also record content on your computer or other device. This could potentially make Slingbox the definitive TV content viewing platform, but my guess is that there are many legal potholes that would need to be surmounted before something like this can happen.
There are many supposedly revolutionary new devices that don't live up to all the hype that surrounds them. Slingbox, however, is not one of them. This product is as good as advertised. If you are interested in watching TV and all your other video content while away from home, I would strongly recommend giving Slingbox a shot. I have and have been extremely happy with my experience.