Review One day, the world's broadcasters will make all their programming available across the internet. But at least it's possible to watch any show transmitted to your home from anywhere else on the planet without having to worry about whether your hotel has the right cable deal. Enter Sling Media's SlingBox, in which a TV tuner is connected directly to an internet video streaming engine. You can even use it for multi-room viewing in your own home...
Having seen piccies of the SlingBox, I'd always imagined a solid, machined-metal unit, so it's somewhat disappointing to find it fabricated from cheap-feeling lightweight plastic. I'm not a fan of the device's styling, but it has a certain high-end AV look about it that's spoiled only, as I say, by the materials it's made from.
The unit's slab-of-chocolate design makes for easy stacking if you decide you need more than one, though doing so will obstruct the top-surface air vents on the lower-stacked boxes. The vents have been cunningly disguised as text telling you some of the device you can hook up to the SlingBox and have beamed "anywhere". Stacking is an issue, as the box gets mighty hot during operation, but more of that later.
The SlingBox's front sports just three lights: one for power, one for network activity and the third, the 'n' of manufacturer Sling Media's logo, which indicates the box's state. The rear is the business end, with the power connector; Ethernet port; s-video and composite-video input and output ports; co-ax aerial input and pass-through; and the connector for the infrared controller, used to simulate the remote controls that come with your other AV devices.
Alas, there's no WLAN support, so you'll need a direct connection to your broadband box or a network link. I used a pair of Devolo MicroLink dLAN powerline Ethernet adaptors to bridge the gap between my router in the spare room and the SlingBox in my living room. The bottom line: if your broadband connection isn't near your TV - and why should it be - you'll need extra cabling or a wireless bridge to connect SlingBox.
Broadband, incidentally, is essential, not only at the SlingBox end, but also wherever the SlingPlayer's host PC is connected. Is 3G mobile phone connectivity up to scratch? I can't say, not having suitable playback software to hand, but this is something Reg Hardware hopes to return to in due course.
With the box connected to the network, the mains and your aerial - passed through to your usual set-top box and/or TV - you're ready to go. Sling Media thoughtfully includes a set of cables to get you started. Install SlingPlayer software on the first PC you'll be viewing stream content on and you're ready to configure the box.
Assuming you've got a network connection, SlingPlayer will locate your SlingBox and take you through the set-up process. The SlingBox has its own Freeview digital tuner so you can skip the more complicated aspects of the set-up process, designed to allow the unit to talk to something like a Sky+ box and get its input signal from there. I stuck with the Freeview receiver and allowed SlingPlayer to scan the airwaves for digital channels.