The Slingbox has only two status lights on the right, one for power and the other to indicate a network connection. The ‘n’ in the Sling logo is composed of a set of red LEDs which indicates whether or not streaming video is in progress. The box gets pretty hot so don’t put anything on top of it.
You plug in the cables at the rear of the Slingbox. There are ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ for co-ax aerial and S-Video/audio leads plus an ethernet port. It lacks Scart sockets, but there’s a Freeview as well as an analogue TV tuner. In my case I plugged my aerial downlead in to the righthand aerial socket and a fly-lead to the TV in the one next to it.
Next is the network connection. This has to be wired so, if your router is far from your TV, get PowerLine network adapters, such as these, to create a network using your home’s electrical circuits. Or buy a Wi-Fi bridge unit. The network status LED blinks if the Slingbox can’t pull an IP address from the router or your DHCP server.
With the hardware installed, it’s time to set up the SlingPlayer software on the PCs on which you want to be able to access home TV content. Although you get an installation disc, you may want to download the latest version from www.slingmedia.com or have the program check for updates during the installation process.
The UK version of the Slingbox is a PAL device (it can’t be used in France or the US) and you need to specify its physical location. You also need to choose the video input source: S-Video, composite or coaxial. A special composite video lead is supplied that crams the audio and video on to a single 3.5mm jack plug.
If you have a cable or satellite set-top box you need to specify that here. A special infrared cable link is provided to enable you to control your set-top box from afar if needs be. We’ve selected the internal tuner option. You can then choose between an analogue or DVB-T (Freeview) tuner. We chose the latter.
Next, the Slingbox scans for available channels. This can take a while for all the Freeview channels – scanning for analogue terrestrial channels, as shown here, is a far quicker process. A screen preview is provided, but don’t worry if nothing appears here – the TV pictures often spring to life a little later on.
You now have to enter two passwords, user and administrator. The former gives limited, and the latter complete, control over the Slingbox. You can install the SlingPlayer software on more than one PC, but it can be used by only one person at a time. Only the Administrator has the power to boot the other user off the system.
If you want to remotely access your Slingbox it has to be able to ‘traverse’ your NAT router. Its UPnP (Universal Plug ‘n’ Play) setup should automatically configure the router, opening the required port, 5001, then forwarding it to the IP address of the Slingbox. When we did this the wizard told us it had worked but, in fact, it hadn’t.
Now you need to tell your router to send inbound traffic using a specific port to a specific IP address. Such port forwarding will send data to the Slingbox. To enable this, we had to create a ‘service’ – we clicked Add rule and created a service called Slingbox - then pointed it at the default Slingbox IP address, 192.168.0.237.
A free ‘finder’ service set up by Slingmedia enables you to locate your own Slingbox across the internet. Enter the Finder ID number provided with your box on the remote PC and you’ll connect to your Slingbox back home. The 32-digit Finder ID is a trifle long to remember so you might want to record it somewhere.
You can use the rather arduous remote control panel to channel-surf but it’s faster to populate the blank buttons in the Favourite Buttons bar, below the SlingPlayer screen, with those you watch most often. You can assign them the proper channel logos or, if no appropriate logo is supplied, can custom-design one from an image file.
SlingPlayer is easy to customise. A choice of four skins is available, ranging from the Classic to the Bauhaus. Additional skins for the player and remote control can be downloaded. The designs of dozens of different remote controls have been emulated and you can browse by brand to choose one that matches your telly.
When you connect remotely for the first time, you’ll need to tune the video to optimise picture quality. Analogue streaming inside a network occupies no more than 2Mbps (megabits per second) of bandwidth; less if you’re using Freeview. Remote viewing, thanks to bandwidth asymmetry, uses as little as 250Kbps.