Visualize this: you’re on a business trip in San Francisco, while back home in Canada the Leafs are playing the Senators at the Rogers Centre.

Typically, you would have to wait until your got back from the trip and were able to catch a re-run. Not this time.

WATCH VIDEO OF SLINGBOX PRO-HD AND SLINGCATCHER DEMO

Back in your hotel in the Bay area you pull out a contraption from your bag, hook it up to the TV, and in minutes you’re watching the game– right on your hotel room TV!

The device you’ve pulled out is the SlingCatcher — that enables video streaming from your living room cable or satellite box over the Internet to be viewed on your hotel TV thousands of miles away.

To accomplish this, the SlingCatcher works with the Slingbox – a companion device connected to your living room cable box. Both devices are from Foster City, Calif.-based Sling Media Inc.

Canadians are familiar with the Slingbox that lets you – from a remote location – access, control and watch your home TV (cable, satellite, and DVR), as well as other electronic devices – through the Internet.

But with a standalone Slingbox you’re limited to viewing this video content on a laptop, desktop, or mobile phone – typically devices with a smaller form factor.

When SlingCatcher is brought into the equation it removes this restriction, enabling you watch video streaming real time from your living room on a TV screen that may be in another room in your house, or at a remote location thousands of kilometres away.

SlingCatcher was recently launched in Canada, and retails for $329.99 at several stores, including Best Buy, Future Shop, and Canada Computers.

Sling Media executives demoed the product to journalists at a hotel in Toronto last week.

The venue certainly helped Sling Media executive Brian Jaquet – who did the demo – make his point forcefully. Jaquet is director, public relations at Sling Media.

“We’re in a hotel room with a SlingCatcher connected to the TV,” Jaquet said. “If I connect to my Slingbox at my home [in Foster City, California] it streams my living room TV right to this TV in Toronto.”

The SlingCatcher, he said, can be used to stream live programming as well as recorded programs by accessing the TiVo Centre.

Media aggregator

While many will use Slingcatcher in conjunction with a Slingbox – Jaquet emphasized the two don’t necessarily have to be used as companion devices.

Slingcatcher, he said, can be used “standalone” to access Internet content from a PC on a TV – in a “lean back setting.”

It can also be used to access personal media stored on a hard drive. “You simply plug the drive into the back of your Slingcatcher via the USB port and you’ll be able to access the drive’s content on your TV as well.”

Slingcatcher apps that enable such access are: MyMedia and SlingProjector. Jaquet demoed both these at the Toronto event.

MyMedia, he said, installs a software utility on your computer dubbed SlingSync.

SlingSync scans the computer’s hard drive, identifying which files can be played back by SlingCatcher natively, which need to be transcoded, and which are encrypted and can only be played by proprietary applications, such as the CinemaNow player.

SlingProjector pushes video content from Web sites – through SlingCatcher on to your TV. Jaquet said his company is working to bring a greater range of video content that SlingCatcher/Slingbox customers would be able to access.

One initiative is Sling.com – that’s in private beta right now.
When completed, Jaquet said, the site will offer users a library of shows – from clips to TV programs, movies and Web videos – that they would be able to access via SlingCatcher and watch on TV.

Hi-def streaming

The other major product Jaquet demoed was the recently launched Slingbox Pro-HD, which he billed as the “first ever HD-streaming Slingbox.”

“This is the most powerful Slingbox device we’ve made, and the biggest improvement since we first introduced the Slingbox,” he said.

The Slingbox Pro-HD supports resolutions up to 1080i. It doesn’t currently work with 1080p so you cannot stream at the highest possible definition.

Also contrary to some reviews I’ve read, there isn’t an HDMI port on the Slingbox Pro-HD. You can do HD by connecting your high-definition device to your Slingbox with a component jack, which is included in the box.

Streamed video is viewed via an application called Slingplayer 2.0 – available free with the purchase of a Slingbox. “Today [Slingplayer] is only compatible with Windows Vista and XP,” noted Jaquet. But he said a Mac version is being developed that would be compatible with a Mac computers.

When I connected my cable’s co-axial jack to the Slingbox and ran the Setup Assistant – everything worked like a charm. I was able to access cable channels on my laptop at home – as well as remotely at my office.

My experience with other devices, however, was varied.

Right now, it seems Slingbox Pro-HD isn’t compatible with Blu-Ray. I connected by Samsung Blu-Ray BD-P1500 player using the component ports on both devices – but the signal from the Samsung player wasn’t picked up.

When I hooked up a Sony DVD player (DVP-NS325) to the Slingbox – again using the component jack – the SlingPlayer picked up the signal, but the player’s onscreen remote didn’t work – it could not control the DVD player.

However, when I used a Sony RDR-GX330 Digital Video Recorder – also connected with the component cable to the Pro-HD – the onscreen remote worked fine – and I could control the device.

The quality of the streamed video at home is typically very good.

But whether you actually get to enjoy high-def streaming would depend on:

  • The upload speed of your cable or DSL modem at home (it should be 1.5 megabits per second or higher)
  • The download speed used by the receiving device at the remote location to stream the content

Previous Slingboxes required 256 kilobits to stream standard definition video. “With the Pro-HD that has been bumped up – so it’s a processor/bandwidth intensive stream,” Jaquet noted.

If speed is too slow to support HD streaming, the Slingbox Pro-HD unit may down-convert the stream to VGA, HVGA or QVGA. (The stream resolution is listed at the bottom left of your SlingPlayer).

Taking care of business

While in the past, Sling Media products were directed almost exclusively at the consumer market, Slingbox or Sling Catcher are also being used by businesses in a variety of contexts, SlingMedia execs said.

“Broadcasters are using it to monitor traffic cameras in remote locations – using EVDO routers,” said Jaquet. He said feed from the traffic cameras is streamed to the broadcasters’ cell phones.

Some small businesses are also using it to man security cameras, said Gregg Wilkes, vice-president sales at Sling Media. They place cameras at various strategic locations and connect each of these to a Slingbox. “Then from a laptop they can check out the video from any of those different security cameras – and keep an eye on the register, on the backroom and so on.”

The Slingbox is being used in many non-conventional ways, said Jaquet.
He cited the example of Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson, who uses it on the road to check out NHL games from his hotel room.

“When Wilson was a Sharks coach he had a laptop with him on the bench connected to a network in the arena. The Slingbox helped him tap into a broadcast to check replays, player formations and more,” Jaquet said.

He said his company is responding to the business potential of Slingbox and SlingCatcher by providing incentives to companies using this technology.

Get a charge out of SlingLink

If you have a home office – a common phenomenon today with the growing popularity of telecommuting – typically you would put your home network router in that room, while your TV, cable box and other entertainment devices would likely be in your living room.

But the Slingbox needs to be connected – via an Ethernet cable – to your router, and to your cable box and other devices via various ports (component, S-Video, or composite). This is a problem if the router and your cable or satellite box are in two separate rooms.

Sling Media offers a product that helps you resolve this difficulty – SlingLink.

This powerline Ethernet product comes as a pair.

“[Each of the two units] the electricity in your home to create a connection between the Slingbox and the router,” Jaquet said.

He explained how it works: You plug one of the units in the wall where the Slingbox is located, and hook it with an Ethernet jack into the back of the Slingbox. Then plug the other one in the wall where the router is located. And hook up the other end with an Ethernet jack into one of the router’s four ports.

It uses the electricity in the electricity in your home to create the network connection between the two devices, the SlingMedia exec said.

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