SlingBox comes in a various flavours - from the original 'Classic' through the the 'Pro', which is the one currently sat underneath my TV.
What's a SlingBox?
The clue is in the name. In short it takes video and audio from where they are and slings them to where you want them - SlingBox. In a little more detail - the product 'streams' your existing video content across a network to a computer running Windows or Mac OS. That's usually across your home network although it could be across the Internet to a remote PC.
The different members of the SlingBox family primarily differ in the kinds and number of video sources that can be connected. The 'Pro', reviewed here, offers the most flexibility with support for both High Definition (HD) and for multiple sources. In addition the Pro variant includes an integrated DVB-T tuner allowing you to remotely watch TV without requiring another box to be powered - and without having to watch the same channel as the rest of the family!
Opening the SlingBox packaging reveals a somewhat daunting collection of cables, the only documentation being a quick-start guide. As well as the power supply you're also provided with : an audio cable; S-Video cable; Composite A/V cable, an aerial lead; an infra-red remote control cable (see later); a couple of adapters for SCART and HD connections and finally an Ethernet cable to connect the SlingBox into your home network.
Although short the quick guide is very easy to follow and has you up and running in no time. The rear of the device has both video inputs and outputs. Two inputs are available - one the usual composite video and stereo audio, the other an S-Video connector and again separate audio signals for left and right.
There is a separate HDMI input for a single High Definition stream if you have that available.
Despite the daunting array of wires, installation was remarkably straightforward and followed the easy start guide. In my case I connected a TopUp TV+ box into the SlingBox as a video source. this was connected via the supplied Scart to RCA adaptor. This works by sitting between the video's output SCART socket and the cable to your TV. My only criticism of this arrangement is the weight placed on the SCART socket can cause the connect to fall out occasionally.
Network connection is via wired Ethernet. This can pose some problems if your main home network is wireless and your TV is not near your Internet Router (as is my case). This is an ideal scenario for Homeplug technology - using your existing home wiring to connect devices to your network. SlingBox sell a product called 'Slinglink Turbo' that does this. In my case I used a couple of Zyxel Homeplug devices.
On your computer
Once you have the SlingBox configured you then need to install the "SlingPlayer Desktop" software on the computer(s) where you want your video. SlingBox do not include the software with the product, instead you download from their site. The download is a fairly hefty 50M bytes. Once downloaded installation is straightforward. Starting SlingPlayer automatically scans your local network for the SlingBox and then asks you to log in. You then go through a set-up process where you identify the video sources you have connected. This is crucial - the SlingBox not only 'slings' video to you - it can also 'sling back' IR remote control signals. Having identified your video source correctly, the SlingPlayer shows you a graphical representation of the remote control for that product (a wide range are supported). You can use your mouse to click on the remote and control the source device. Clever!
Performance and Limitations
I connected several computers to the SlingBox. One, a Windows Vista desktop and the other a Windows XP SP2 laptop. Both connected to the home network via WiFi, and in turn to the SlingBox via the Homeplug system. Both machines worked flawlessly. Note though that only one computer can be connected at a time - attempting to connect a second machine asks you whether you want the first to disconnect. I don't think that's too much of a limitation.
As already mentioned the SlingBox Pro has an integrated DVB-T digital television. This was the only weak point in the product. Although the receiver detected 42 stations when many of them were then selected the system reported no signal. We do have a fairly weak signal here, but I've not had this problem with other digital receivers.
The SlingBox has very many uses. Whether you just want to watch in bed - or want the main set reproduced in kitchen so you don't miss out on the action as you labour away over the stove, the SlingBox can help. There are a few things that could be added - my favourite missing feature is the ability to record from the Slingplayer. This would avoid me needing a video capture card to transfer video from my cam-corder to the computer. Countered against that though is simplicity. Rather than attempt to do too much and complicate the product, the SlingBox currently does one thing very well!
Sling Media should be congratulated on making a product that involves networks, video and computers (any one of which is usually a minefield of compexity) easy to set up and use.
The SlingBox Pro is available for £169 Amazon :
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