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Slingbox Review

by Jon Stonger on 14 September 2009

slingbox_solo

I’ve never felt that the internet was the greatest thing in the world.  It has its uses, to be sure, but it seems that much of the time it takes comfortable everyday things, like newspapers, magazines and videos, and puts them in cumbersome digital form.

That said, there is one such device that I’m extremely glad to have.  It’s called the Slingbox, and it is a must for expatriates and travelers of all kinds.

Overview

The Slingbox is a small device (16 in x 10 x 3) that connects to your television or DVR (Tivo) and then transmits that signal over the internet, allowing you to watch TV anytime, anywhere there is an internet connection.

Even better, you can control your TV or DVR remotely through the Slingbox.  This allows you to change channels and record and watch shows, all from your laptop or mobile phone.

There are two main kinds of box: the Slingbox Solo for $179, and the Slingbox Pro-HD for $299.  There are no monthly fees for any kind of service.  Once you buy it, you’re done paying.

The main difference between the two is that the Pro-HD can (you guessed it) transmit in High Definition, and allows you to view one channel remotely while watching a different channel at home.  I have the Slingbox Solo, so that is what I will be describing.

Installation

Other Slingbox reviewers talked about how simple and easy the set up was.  Of course, these are people who review gizmos for a living.  They like technology, and technology likes them back.

On the other hand, most forms of technology seem to hate me (it’s mutual).  If there’s a glitch or an obscure problem, it will occur when I’m using it.

The set up for the Slingbox seems straightforward.  All you do is connect the same red, white and yellow cables we’ve had for years to the back of your TV or DVR.  You connect the Slingbox to your router, install the software on your computer, run through the set up program, and voila!  Finished in 30 minutes.

Theoretically.

I’m sure it works this way for many people, but it didn’t for me.  Part of this is because I am a Luddite by both skill and inclination, and part of it was bad luck.  Since I don’t have a house, I installed the device at a friend’s place before moving overseas.  Unfortunately, he did not take my Slingbox installation needs into account when setting up his domicile, because his router was in a different room than the entertainment center.

So I bought a cool device called a Sling Link ($79).  It uses the electrical wiring of the house to send a signal from the Slingbox in one room to the router in another.  I had no idea this was even possible.  Everyone else probably does it everyday, but I thought it was impressive.

The next part was tricky, at least for me.  We had to access the router and change the settings to allow access.  There were good instructions online, once we found the right ones.

After an hours-long technological battle, the image from the television finally appeared on my laptop.  I was ready to leave the country, knowing I could watch football in the fall.

The Time of Trouble

When I arrived overseas, I could not connect to the Slingbox.  I was devastated.  The box had been unplugged somehow, and even after it was reconnected, I could not receive any signal whatsoever.

This is why it’s always a good idea to have someone at the box’s home location so they can help troubleshoot.

I let the problem slide for most of the summer (there’s nothing on anyway) but I started to get very worried as fall approached.  I tried a few solutions from my end, but to no avail. Eventually I used instant messenger to contact my friend and talk him through the set up.  We reinstalled the entire system, and he installed the viewing software on his computer.  As soon as the signal appeared on his, it appeared on mine as well.  I don’t know why, and I don’t care, as long as it works.

One of the difficulties with the Slingbox is the number of connections that stand between you and your television.  There can be a problem with the box, with the connection from the box to the internet, a problem with the internet settings at home, a problem with the internet settings at your remote location, or a problem with your computer on the receiving end.  With so many connections, I’m amazed it works at all.

But it does.  Usually.

Viewing

The picture quality is limited by the transmission rate of the internet connection at home and at your remote location.  For me, I get about 500 kb/s from the home network.  The picture is a little fuzzy, but clear enough for most shows.  It can be hard to follow the action on a kickoff during a football game, but most plays are ok.

The sound is fine.  There is a lag whenever you control the TV or DVR remotely, but I’m sending a signal halfway around the world, so that’s to be expected.  This only really shows up when you try to fast forward.  You have to be careful, because it won’t stop on a dime.

Conclusion

If you are the kind of person who is home most of the time, you don’t really need a Slingbox.  If you are a traveler, the ability to stream to laptops or mobile devices could come in quite handy.

If you are an American living overseas, a Slingbox is a must.  There have been times when I have quit my foreign job and flown home just to catch a few months of football.  With the Slingbox, I can record college games on Saturday and watch them Sunday, and record NFL games on Sunday and watch them during the week.

You can keep up on your favorite shows, and feel like you’re still connected to life at home.

So for you road warriors out there, consider getting a Slingbox.  It costs a few hundred bucks (which can be anywhere between a pittance and a pile, depending on how things are going) and it may take some time and effort to get working (although the tech types won’t have any trouble).

It’s worth it to be sitting in your room in Katmandu or Timbuktu, screaming like crazy for the home team, making the locals think you’re crazy.

Image Credit: Dvice

This article also appears on Heretical Ideas.


About Jon Stonger

Jon Stonger is a novelist and short story writer. His first book, The Adventures of the Delineator: The Slimy and the Sentient, is now available. He currently resides in Suwon City, Korea.

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