“The Slingbox AV is the perfect companion for your DVR, digital cable, or satellite receiver. The Slingbox AV allows you to watch and control live TV, or any other TV entertainment you have, anywhere you go. Using an Internet connected computer or wireless mobile device, you can watch and control your home TV, DVR, digital cable box, or satellite receiver around town or around the globe. With a Slingbox AV you will never be separated from your favorite TV shows, sports broadcasts, breaking news stories, digital video recordings, or video on demand.”
Succinct and to the point, this description from Sling Media’s homepage tells you all you need to know about their amazing Slingbox line of products. All that is, except for the release of a new player for the Palm Operating System. The good people at Sling Media invited me to review the Beta version of the Palm SlingPlayer (on behalf of Palm Addict), and its been a lot of fun.
First of all, you need to own a Slingbox, broadband internet connection and a router (so you have some TV shows to broadcast to your Treo). You also have to have EvDO service for your Treo (currently, only the Treo 700p is supported). Next, you install the SlingPlayer .prc file onto your Treo via simple HotSync, and enter a few simple pieces of information, so your Treo will connect to your Slingbox.
For the purposes of this review, my Slingbox was connected to a DirecTV DVR; and broadband was provided by Verizon DSL (the Slingbox was connected to the router with Ethernet cable).
I used a Palm Treo 700p running on Sprint’s EvDO network; although some parts of the test took place in sub-broadband locations.
Take the first part of my test: I turned on my Palm SlingPlayer, and chose my Slingbox from the menu (you can have access to as many Slingboxes as you want). My wife was in our den (where the Slingbox is connected), and was watching a NY Yankees Spring Training broadcast.
Since the TV and Yankee game were already on, I was immediately watching that broadcast from the YES Network.
During the game, I can use the spacebar and D-pad on my Treo to access the SlingPlayer’s menus. In the bottom graphic, I have accessed the remote control; and, the controls appear as a bar across the bottom of my screen (you can click on the blue arrows to the extreme left/right for more control choices). The menu allows me to change volume, channels, turn the DVR on/off and view/choose from DirecTV’s program guide (and much more that we will discuss below).
If the DirecTV tuner/DVR wasn’t already on, I could turn it on from my Treo. If it was already on, and I didn’t like the program (and really wanted to annoy my family), I could change to another channel. It’s really that simple.
So, how is the experience of viewing TV on a screen the size of a Saltine? With SlingPlayer for Palm OS, it was very enjoyable…especially compared with the extreme limitations of MobiTV and other such services. Within the EvDO network, the picture was fluid, crisp and smooth. Outside of EvDO, there are occasional blips and pauses as the cache deals with the slower data input. However, it was still much better then I could have anticipated. SlingPlayer for Palm OS gives you a lot of control over your viewing experience, including Display Mode (Normal or Letterbox), Video Input, Player Mode (Audio-only, or Normal Play), etc.
Using the Palm SlingPlayer to access my Slingbox, I have 100% access to 100% of my DirecTV channels and 100% of the content recorded/stored in my DVR. I’m not limited to someone else’s concept of what channels I should have…or, reduced to buying endless downloads of ‘Lost’ from iTunes. The only caveat (and this is true with any SlingPlayer) is that if someone is already watching something on my Slingbox-enabled TV, then that is what I will have to watch, as well.
The next part of my test involved greater use of the SlingPlayer’s functionality, focusing on my DirecTV DVR. A very nice feature of the SlingPlayer for Palm OS is the ability to create up to 16 Custom Channels for your Remote Control. If you look at the first screenshot, you’ll see my Custom Channels across the bottom of the Treo’s screen. I selected BBC America, and watched a broadcast of Doctor Who (so sue me…I like SciFi!). During the broadcast, I decided that I wanted to record this episode, and moved the control bar, until the DVR controls appeared (via the little blue arrows to the extreme left/right). The SlingPlayer uses standard control icons, so there is no extra learning curve to deal with. All-in-all, a very efficient approach by Sling Media.
In the bottom graphic, you see me selecting the ‘record’ button, and executing that control. Now, my DVR will record the episode back to the moment that I first turned it on.
Later that night, I used my Treo and SlingPlayer to turn on my DirecTV DVR, and bring up the DVR menu (top graphic). I used the D-pad to scroll down to ‘Doctor Who’, clicked the D-pad main button, and the recorded show began to play. Using the DVR controls on my remote control, I was able to control play/pause/rewind/fast forward/etc…and, this is where SlingPlayer for Palm OS really shines:
It literally brings your ‘den’ TV experience into your Treo.
Since this product is in Beta, it doesn't qualify for consideration as a "Treo Editor's Choice;" but, if the production version is as worthy as this beta, that designation will be a forgone conclusion.
Now, is the service perfect? Of course not…but, what mobile wireless applications are? Using SlingPlayer will drain your battery faster then ‘normal’ Treo usage will; but, you are using a lot of radio, color screen and processing power. I have one of Proporta’s terrific Mobile Charging kits, and let that provide power to my Treo, while watching. This will also wallop people without unlimited data plans. As you can imagine, all those pixels wafting through the air represent a lot of data transfer. I have used the SlingPlayer on the train between my NJ home and NYC, with very good results. In fairness, I do have to stress that the route along the train lines (and most of the greater NYC-metro area) are strong with wireless broadband signal (or, is that ‘strong with the Force’? I can never remember). I have a very fast non-EvDO connection by my home, and the service was just tolerable; within EvDO it was brilliant. However, for those without either of those network options, the SlingPlayer will generate a lot of frustration…that is no fault of Sling Media, but of the wireless carriers who have yet to provide a modern infrastructure for America.
If you are looking for a mobile TV solution, and have an EvDO Treo connection, then the Slingbox/ SlingPlayer for Palm OS combo should be at the top of the list. True, you have to provide the entertainment source (cable or dish), and the broadband connection. However, the types of people looking for this kind of entertainment already tend to have those services in-place. The advantages over MobiTV are enormous: you have access to your shows; and if you have a DVR, your library of stored content.
If you have the itch, the network and the means, the SlingPlayer for Palm is one heluva lot of entertainment fun, in the Palm of your hand.
Slingbox comes in three versions:
Tuner: Gives you access to basic cable broadcasts
AV: For access to digital cable, DVR or dish broadcasts
Pro: Connect and control up to four A/V sources. This means you can access your entire home theater, including digital cable, DVD players, TiVo, or any other new-fangled contraption you may have. This includes HDTV broadcasts