I NEED to watch TV …

Over the weekend, I purchased a device that leverages the combination of the strength of the Internet with traditional cable television.  I broke down and purchased a Slingbox.    What’s a Slingbox?  It’s a solution that allows one to watch their home TV (or Apple TV, Xbox, etc.) via the Internet.  And yet another device to place onto your home network.

source: slingbox.com

What is the value of this?  Well, I can think of several use-cases:

  • Global access to local TV — This is the reason I purchased it.  I have a son living in Europe and this provides him the ability to watch local TV, including US news and sports.
  • Global access to local sports teams — I’m a big Red Sox and Patriots fan.  When I’m traveling, I can watch local broadcast of games when traveling.
  • Global access to my home DVR — I have a few shows that I like to record and watch later.  When I’m away for several weeks, the DVR fills up and I’m remote looking to watch something.  Now I can watch my favorite shows and clean out the DVR.
  • Local access in my office — I can’t tell you how many times, there has been a game on or other show (like the presidential debates) and I want work on something in my office.  This allows me to have it playing in the background while working.

I’m sure there are other use-cases, but the key is remote access to your cable, Satellite or over-the-air television.  It will also allow access to game consoles also, but I’m not sure whether the latencies will get in the way.

I purchased the Slingbox Pro device.  There are newer devices available now, but this worked for my purposes.  Here are some of my experiences setting it up and running it.

The physical set up is very straightforward.  The Slingbox Pro doesn’t have HDMI connections, but it does have component video, which is the red/blue/green video components.  I also has other analog and digital connections.  The newer Slingbox 500 has HDMI and will support 1080p.    The Pro only has wired network connection, which is fine in my home, but if you want wireless, again the Slingbox 500 is a better choice.

So, to set it up:

  • Connect the video/sound out from your cable box to the Slingbox.  If you have a TV on the cable box, then connect from the “out” on the Slingbox to your TV.
  • Connect to your home network
  • Connect the IR control cable.  There is a cable with 4 IR controllers.  You find where the remote control Infra-Red (IR) sensor is on the front of your cable box, then position one of the IR controllers in front of the sensors.
  • Power it up.

Then from a computer, browse to http://www.slingbox.com and follow the directions for connecting with your Slingbox.  Have the set top box model available.  You’ll need to create an account and password protect access.  Again, the password needs to be strong enough so that others can’t access your set top box or account information.  Fortunately, there isn’t any additional cost, so Slingbox doesn’t need a credit card on file.

My experience so far has been good, but keep in mind that there are several potential limitations:

  • I’m finding that it streams at roughly 8 Mbps (or 1 MBps).
    • You’re home Internet service needs to able upload at least 10 Mbps.   To work properly, you might need to upgrade your service (I’d recommend an upload speed of at least 15 Mbps if your ISP offers it).
    • When watching remotely, you’ll also need at least 10 Mbps download speed.  I suspect it will be choppy at a public wi-fi site, but I’ve not tried it yet.
    • An hour of content will stream roughly 4 GB of content.  If you have a data limit, this will dictate how useful this is.
  • I connected my Slingbox to a set top box that currently isn’t being used to watch TV (long story :)), but you can watch TV locally or remotely.  If you have a situation like I have where someone else is being permitted to use it remotely, you might want to dedicate a set top box to the task.
  • You don’t need to have a TV connected to set it up.
  • I found that the on-line remote control was limited, but it did allow me access to content, the on-screen guide and DVR.   Also, some of the remote control mapping wasn’t exact.
  • There is some significant latency when controlling the set top box (> 1 sec).  For TV, this just requires some patience.  Though they allow video console use, I’m not sure that the latencies will permit a satisfying experience.
  • Also, there are iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry apps to allow access.  They cost money.  The iPhone app is $14.99.

If you have a Slingbox, let us know how you use it and what issues you have with it.  Happy Viewing!

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