Slingbox Media Server Reviewed

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"On the go" video has a long way to catch up with the lightweight ease of iPods and other music devices. But even when they do, there's still the fact that you have to fill them up first. So if there was something watchable on the TV once you slammed the front door, too bad.

The Slingbox changes that through "place-shifting."- It takes video/audio off of a cable box, satellite receiver, TiVo, etc., while connected to your home network through the same router interfacing as your cable/DSL modem. Turn on your PC and watch whatever is feeding the Slingbox, or grab a laptop and hang out on the porch. You can even remotely control your device to change channels, etc. -It gets even better when you're not at home, since you can command Slingbox over the Internet. 

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It Ain't Heavy, It's Installation
Place the Slingbox close enough to the router to run an ethernet cable to it (or use a wall-to-plug bridge), then hook up the video (antenna/unscrambled cable in, RCA or S-Video) along with the dual audio inputs for stereo sound (pass-throughs insure no connections get lost). Power it up, and wait for the two front lights to go firm: one indicating it has power, one indicating that it has found and automatically joined the network.

Now run the software on your Windows-based PC so it can locate the Slingbox on the network. Menus help configure and set up the device being used (providing you remembered to plug in the IR blaster). You also decide at this point whether the Slingbox can be accessed remotely. The process uses UPnP (a plug-and-play automating process) and goes quickly and smoothly, since our router was supported. There's plenty of help included if the router requires entering settings manually.-A problem developed when Windows blocked use through a software Firewall, but we deactivated it, and the rest of the installation was uneventful.

Let's Watch Something
The Slingbox video player can now be brought up and docked to the side of the screen. While networked, the quality is good - not high definition, but watchable. And that includes wireless reception as well (802.11g to allow quick streaming). There's some business going on that optimizes the signal, and there's no long wait for buffering (i.e., storing up video and then playing it delayed), as a fast-start function gets things moving quickly. This was true even when we went over to a friend's house to use his PC through the Internet. We got a good picture, and the response to our commands didn't take long enough to cause annoyance. These results were repeated out of town when staying in a hotel with broadband access.- (If someone had been watching from home at the time, they would have thought the DVR was possessed as it was seemingly changing channels and playing on its own.)

One word of caution: the quality of the video when viewing from another location is greatly affected by the upload speed of the home modem. A 256 kps or greater speed is "recommended," but it's really more like a requirement. Those with a slow upload will find the video suffering hideously when viewing remotely. This can only be corrected by increasing the upload speed, and that usually means paying more for the Internet service.

It's a Video World
Sling Media says there will soon be software for use with Mac-based computers and, according to Jeremy Toeman, VP of Product Management, the intent is to support a wide variety of devices, like mobile phones and certain PDAs.

Considering that no advance planning has to be made, the Slingbox quickly pays for itself in passing over a few hotel pay-per-views, having a disc ready to go in a DVD player or stopping little Johnny's temper tantrum by running his prerecorded cartoons. And who can set a price on watching a show "live" while at a deadly family affair or in a different time zone? So while it used to be that no matter where you went, there you were, now your TV is always there, too.

MSRP: $249

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