Placeshifting technology is very useful.  Placeshifting allows us to be in one location while experiencing another location.  Or in the case of real technology we can use, placeshifting allows us to watch video which runs live in one location, in our current location.  This is different from Utube and other video services because these are not recordings but rather live video content feeds from a satellite or cable service.

  

Slingbox Pro-HD

 

Sling Box HD Pro

 

There are several placeshifting devices out there but I'm only going to talk about one. Sling Media.

Sling Media started out about five years ago with a simple device that allowed someone to placeshift a small resolution video signal from their home cable/satellite service and stream it over the internet to their handheld mobile phone, Blackberry, Palm, or other mobile device.  Think about it, you could be sitting on the train or in the waiting room of your doctor's office watching your favorite live football game on your personal mobile phone or internet enabled device.  How cool is that?

Living in Thailand as an expatriate I immediately saw other uses.  With a serious dearth of quality English speaking programming I knew I'd appreciate having access to the cable channels from my home country.  I looked on their site for the most appropriate device, placed my order, and had it shipped to my sons home in Illinois.  The device I felt most appropriate for current and future use was the Sling HD-Pro.

The Sling Pro-HD can stream from very low resolution formats suitable for mobile phones, to full HDTV programming.  More, it can stream data from a TiVo or other DVR device.  It was ideal.

  

Setting it Up

Two days later it arrives at my son's house and he rings me up wanting to know what I'd sent.  Not knowing how much work would be involved I remember telling him something like this "it's just some box so I can watch your cable, it should only take you five minutes to install." I hear a "sure Dad" and five minutes later he calls back up and tells me it's ready to go!  I asked him exactly what was involved. 

He unpacked it from the box, plugged it into a wall outlet, and then connected a cable from the Sling Pro-HD to the cable outlet on his wall, and a network cable to his router.  He then ran a setup disk that sets a couple ports in his router and that was it.  He reads the instructions a bit more and says if I want it connected to his TIVO or other DVR it would require hooking up another cable. 

 

Slingbox HD pro rear panel connectors

 

I asked him how big it was and if it took much room around his television.  He said it was very small and he didn't put it near his television.  He put it in the same room where he has his ADSL modem and wireless router.  It pulls about 5w.  

On my end in Bangkok I went to the Sling Media site and downloaded the "Sling Player" software and installed it.  It didn't take long.  I was required to set up a free account and enter some information like my Sling Box ID number, name, email address, and a password.  I started the program and a few minutes later was watching a channel from his cable service!

 

How Does it Work?

Its not as complicated as you might think.  The Sling Pro-HD has a built in tuner.  The cable that connects it to the host cable system is a cheap cable like the type that connects the cable systems modem to the TV.  A single BNC to BNC cable.  

 

Sling Pro-HD on your Iphone

 

It's important to note that installing this device in no way interferes with the host's use of their cable or watching their cable on their television.  It's akin to having different televisions in different rooms, each television having its own cable tuner box, in this case the Sling Pro-HD becomes the cable tuner box.  This works great for basic cable services.  Basic cable services are always available even when the main television at the hosts end is using a digital conversion box for HDTV, surround sound, and additional channels.  And if you like you can connect the Sling Pro-HD through an additional digital conversion box, but I figured with the bandwidth (internet speeds) available on my end it would all be for nothing 

Once the router is setup the device becomes accessible from outside the home network.  You (or anyone with the codes and password) can then access the device and watch the cable channels from anywhere in the world via the internet.

You can download "Slingplayer" for use on a computer, "Slingplayer Mobile" for use on a mobile device, or make use of their new Slingcatcher application.  

 

Sling on your Blackberry


The reason you set up the account with Sling Media is so when connecting remotely (from outside the home network) you'd have a place to go to find your Sling Pro-HD.  Almost all home internet accounts have dynamic IP addresses which means the address changes often.  This means you'll need a common meeting point on the internet to learn the devices most current IP address and "hook up."  As the home network dynamic IP changes the Sling Pro-HD continuously updates your account with the new address, and from your remote device (mobile phone, laptop, etc) you access this account.  The accounts are hosted on a Sling Media site.

 

Useful Features

Sling Media is always introducing new and useful features.  As an early adopter I've been able to watch Slingplayer grow from a basic interface, to the attractive full featured interface of the most current Version 2.0.  

 

Sling Media Software

 

 One of the most useful features is the built in programming guide.  When you set up your account it asks you for your zip code and cable provider, and using this information it then provides a TV guide service.  Very nice, especially when you remember you're using this product away from your home and often when on the run.

The main unit comes with a remote control for use in the hosts home.  And then it provides an electronic remote control you can click on with your mouse cursor.  You can also set up the panels to be there when you 'mouse over' and then disappear when you're done. 

 

Sling Pro software setup

 

Sometimes you'll find a hotel or other network blocks video streaming from the Slingplayer and other such devices.  Now Sling Media allows you to go to your personal account in a web browser and watch your programming.  If you can access the internet through your browser, you'll be able to access your programming through your browser.

 

Personal Application?

I use the Sling Pro-HD for several uses.  As a programming source in my home here in Bangkok, and as a programming source when I'm traveling and my hotel room provides a suitable internet connection.  

3g is starting to go mainstream in different areas of Thailand and 'unlimited' data packages are already available.  So it's entirely possible to view your Sling on your mobile device. 

 

Sling Pro, smart phones

 

 Where I live only 1mbps connections are possible.  During the best times of the day (when the net is at its peak speeds) I can get very nice standard definition streams.  I estimate you'd want 2-3mpbs to achieve the HDTV resolution streams. 

Keep in mind that with my setup I'm 12 hours out of sync with the programming source.  This means I'm sleeping during prime time.  Because of this I usually limit my Sling watching to 24 hour news channels, a few car shows, and the occasional old favorite show from long ago playing on late night television in the states.  Still, I find access to my local news invaluable.  

For my main viewing, such as televisions series and movies, I get great quality programming in SD or HD through torrents.

Summary

For the relatively low cost of the Sling box I find it a bargain.  Some of the older models are still available for under $100.  There is no monthly fee other than for the cable bill at your host location.  Essentially once you buy the device it's a free service.  

For 3 years now I've had access to the news channels I'm interested in watching, car and craft shows from back home, and delight in the occasional old show from years past.  It's a unique experience to sit here in a late night Bangkok evening watching Bonanza on the television!  

The system is absolutely reliable.  In three years there have been only 2-3 times I've had to call my son and ask him to reset the device, and two of those times there were firmware upgrades that needed to be downloaded which was the problem.  The local internet is 1000x less reliable than the device itself.  

You can watch the browser feed at work, watch TV on your laptop while traveling and staying at hotels, or hook up the main feed to your big HDTV at home.  There are some very slick and easy ways to get the video from your computer to your television, if enough people are interested I'll do a follow-up piece and cover this area as well. 

 

Itouch Sling Pro

 

The Slingbox is a must have addition to the expatriates entertainment/medial center.  It's cheap, it's easy, and it's a lot of fun.  Watch for the sales, these can be marked down quite a bit.