Thursday, August 24, 2006

Slingbox Review

The Slingbox is an internet enabled device that allows you to stream video content from your Television to any other computer on the net. I recently set one up to allow me to watch American television shows while I am living abroad.

My review? Two thumbs up...way up. No, it's not perfect, but it fills a need that no other device even comes close to doing.

Who needs a Slingbox? I have compiled this list of people who could use one:
  • Expatriates who need to watch television shows not available in their host country (you must have a very understanding friend with broadband who will let you keep the Slingbox at their house!)
  • Business people who travel a lot and have extended stays in hotels
  • Commuters who want access to their TiVo via their mobile phone

Even though I think the Slingbox is great, it still has its shortcomings:
  • In order to stream the content reliably, the content needs to buffer for about one minute. The stream is not completely blank, instead, the content is streamed at a very slow rate (as low as 4 frames per second). The normal rate is 25 to 30 frames per second. The lag results in both stuttering and slowness. You can tell because when you start a TV show, the theme music will always sound really slow.
  • Since the content is buffered, the actual content being displayed on the TV is on a 10 second delay. When you press a button on the remote control, you can't wait for the content to catch up, or else you will have to wait 10 seconds between clicks. When you use the remote control, the player goes into "Control Mode", where the player trys to display the most up-to-date content. This also results in choppiness and slowness, and can become somewhat frustrtating as you try to anticipate the remote control prompts.
  • Since there is a bit of time-shift when using the remote control, it becomes very difficult to fast forward through commercials. If you have a TiVo, you should learn the "backdoor hack" that allows you to implement the 30 second commercial skip button. This is your best chance for skipping commercials, but even this becomes a bit of a game trying to hit the start of your programs perfectly.
  • The on-screen remote is also frustrating. For most navigation functions, you have to click on the graphic within the button you want to press. For example, if you want to press "Channel Up," you need to click on the triangle on the button, you can't just click the top half of the button. Since you often have to stay 2 or 3 clicks ahead of the player, this can add to the frustration when navigating through menus.

If you want to see the Slingbox in action, take a look at these video samples (from YouTube):
Slingbox over Windows Mobile
Watching Slinbox from China
Slingbox on a Motorola Q phone

I think most people will be happy with the Slingbox if they can use it in conjunction with a TiVo. Simply trying to watch live TV would just be too frustrating. You can't use the Slingbox if you like to channel surf, because the video choppiness would make you want to shoot yourself in the head. Using the Slingbox with a TiVo (or any other supported DVR) is great because when you press play, you can "set it and forget it" and you will experience very little performance issues.

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