Monday, August 25, 2008

Slingbox AV





http://www.slingmedia.com/go/slingbox-av
- I picked this up (refurb) for $75 shipped from woot a while back.
- Slingbox is great for location shifting your DVR/PVR content to maybe someplace else in the house or anywhere you've got an internet connection. It's more geared toward those who use closed box DVR's provided by your content provider (cable, satellite, uverse, fios, etc) or tivo. It even supports Vista Media Center. If you record most of your content using PC based pvr software like mythTV, sagetv, beyond, gbpvr, etc then the free software based ORB is probably a better fit. Someday I'll get back to messing with ORB now that I have a faster server to do the transcoding. That's the nice thing about slingbox is that one little box does it all. You don't need any kind of server, just the player software to watch the stream.
- Lots of different zoom/view/full screen modes to make the content fit your screen.

Setup
- When setting it up and you get to the network part I highly recommend you do NOT do automatic(upnp) but instead do it manually. Assign the slingbox a static IP, and on your router forward port 5001 (default is 5001 but you can change it to anything) to the slingbox IP. I had issues with upnp for some reason but once I went manual it's been working great.
- It comes with two IR blasters that should give good coverage over the front of your DVR STB, and I have say it worked very reliably with just a little bit of lag. Device support seems pretty broad. It worked fine with my SA 8300HDC. The little graphical representation of the remote control matched the real remote quite well, and made it really easy to control the STB remotely through the sling player. There are keyboard short cuts for almost everything (might have to wire this up to eventghost and usbuirt at some point).
- I can see slingbox used in another scenario. Say you don't want to have STB's connected to all your TV's in the house (say you need 4 or more!), and you don't want to pay all that money and additional fees for those STB's. You could have one STB and then sling that content to the other TV's if you have PC's hooked up to them. When slingbox PRO-HD is released you'll be able to sling around that content in true HD resolutions (current slingbox hd only does 640X480 max), 5.1 sound, and higher bitrates. If the quality is good enough I can see this as a money saving alternative. Add a usbuirt and eventghost and control it all from a remote control. The only other limitation is that you can't watch different channels at the same time. Also, DVR content is usually tied to a single box so this would allow you to watch that recorded content easily on other TV's. Again, those of us (like me!) who use HTPC's to record our tv can already share the recorded content easily across the network.

Performance
- Streaming SD content to my laptop (dell inspiron 8600) over 802.11g on my home network worked just fine. Quality was very acceptable. Sling Player 1.5:

- Quality over the internet is directly limited by your upstream connection speed. Most DSL speeds are 128kbps - 768kbps and cable is around 384kbps - 1mbps. More is obviously better giving you a higher bitrate but you also want a steady speed that doesn't fluctuate a lot. A good router with QoS on dd-wrt can help a bit here. My DSL is rated 768kbps up but only gets around 530kbps max real world. When I tested this over the internet at a friends house I was only getting around 480kbps or so with the bitrate dropping under 300 occasionally. It worked pretty well most of the time but I had it set to automatically optimize and when the upstream fluctuated there would be a hitch while it optimized for the new bitrate. You can also just set your own bitrate (say 300kbps) and that would even things out. At these low bitrates quality was kind of acceptable. Think average youtube video.

- I also gave sling player 2.0 beta a try which I liked even more.
This shot was taken while streaming over the DSL internet connection.

It adds a few nice features like a guide (data from zap2it!! same place tivo gets data) and live video buffer. Think of this last feature like timeshifting but done locally. Yeah you can do this on the STB side if it's a DVR but this lets you timeshift locally no matter what the video source is (say it's just a STB with no dvr). It's basically just saving a local buffer of whatever is streaming in (glitches and pauses in all). I was hoping it would act more like a progressive download buffer like in hulu or youtube. I thought if I just watched a few minutes behind live it would smooth out any bandwidth drop hitches but it doesn't seem like it. It's exactly what watching live video would be just buffered locally on your local hard drive. Still, it's a pretty nice feature. I highly recommend you give 2.0 beta a try. It seemed pretty stable to me.
- Finally I tried Sing Player Mobile on my HP IPAQ 4150 running windows PocketPC 2003. This is the only software that wasn't free. You've got 30 days to try it out and then it's $30 which seems kind of steep. This was streamed over my home network using wifi at around 30fps @ 500kbps. It wasn't too horrible. It's pretty neat but not sure how practical it is.

I also shot a little video of it in action:


I plan to install this on my wife's AT&T 8525 smart phone running windows mobile 6 sometime. It should be about the same over the 3G network.

All in all it's a great concept and a pretty neat device. For me I see the slingbox AV primarily used for over the internet location shifting. Shifting locally I would want something that could do true HD 5.1 like the hd-pro. Having said that, the quality of your experience is heavily dependent on your upload speed. Recommended for those with a good upstream internet connection. It was well worth the $75 I paid.

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