SlingMedia is bringing two HD (high-definition) versions of its Slingbox media-streaming device to the UK. The Slingbox is a set-top box that enables users to watch their own TV from elsewhere in the home or from anywhere else in the world.
The Slingbox Pro, a modified version of the Slingbox that's already onsale in the US, will be available in the UK from tomorrow via Amazon.co.uk and various retail outlets including PC World. The Slingbox Solo will follow next week.
The Slingbox Pro will sport HD compatibility and four AV (audio video) inputs. Unlike the US version, in Europe, the Slingbox Pro will have a built-in DVB-T TV tuner, so can be used to pick up digital terrestrial channels and then 'sling' them to wherever you want to view them.
Maker Sling Media sees the Slingbox Pro as a "step up product" from the original Slingbox launched in the UK last June. While it doesn't offer true HD streaming, the Slingbox is able to compress HD content and stream it over a Wi-Fi network at up to 8Mpbs (megabits per second). The Slingbox Pro will cost £200 including VAT.
The Slingbox Solo version of the Slingbox will go onsale from 5 October.
Costing £130 including VAT, the Slingbox Solo is designed to take content from a single external device such as a cable TV set-top or a PVR (personal video recorder) and stream or 'sling' it over broadband to a laptop or PC.
Unlike some TV over broadband products, a Slingbox can enable live TV viewing and can be accessed from more than one remote location or device. Users simply need suitable SlingPlayer software installed on their laptop or PC and to be able to hook up to their own Slingbox over a broadband connection.
The Slingbox Solo is the first Slingbox product to debut simultaneously in the US and other territories. In the past, the US has been the launch audience, with products being rolled out in other countries a year later.
Sling Media says the Slingbox Solo will replace the now entry-level Slingbox Classic, which will continue to be sold only until stocks run out.
When it launched in the UK, the Slingbox cost £179 including VAT and went head-to-head against Sony’s largely similar Sony LocationFree TV-over-broadband box. The retail price eventually dropped to £99 and Sling Media says it expects a similar pattern with the Slingbox Solo.
Next page: what IS a Slingbox?
What is a Slingbox?
The original Slingbox, launched two years ago, broke new ground. Originally pitched at sports fans who couldn't bear to miss a game wherever they may be and who craved the familiarity of their native commentators, as well as businessmen in foreign hotel rooms who wanted to watch home TV content or access prerecorded content on their digital PVRs, the Slingbox also allows users to view TV on their laptops or desktop PCs when they really ought to be doing other things.
The idea caught on: Sling Media says it sold 100,000 units in the first six months of being onsale in the US.
The Slingbox Solo and the UK version of the Slingbox Pro join a growing line-up of Slingbox products. Sling Media, which this week announced it was being bought out by one of its investors, pay TV company Echostar, sells a mobile version of the Slingbox known as the SlingPlayer foe Symbian and Windows Mobile devices. It also has a HomePlug known as the SlingLink and a SlingCatcher, which allows home users watching TV on one telly, to stream it to another, too.
The SlingCatcher needs no PC to operate, instead shunting TV content directly from TV to TV – a setup designed to appeal to non-techies who have cable or a digital set-top box in one room and who want to be able to view those same extra channels on another TV elsewhere in the home where an extra set-top box is either impractical or undesirable. Sling Media calls this setup a 'reverse Slingbox".
The SlingCatcher has an HDMI input and comes with a remote control so users can easily change channels from afar.
Another Sling product, Clip and Sling, allows users to pause and rewind a TV program or other video clip they like, add start and end markers and then email or text the link to a friend for them to view as embedded video on the web. Partnerships with CBS and the National Hockey League are cited as US examples, with UK partnerships with "everyone" at various stages of discussion. Clip and Sling will be coming to the UK in the first quarter of next year and is likely to include tie-ins with sports channels or programmes.
Next page: Slingbox to an iPhone?
Slingbox to an iPhone?
Sling Media's next big announcement is likely to be the ability to view TV on a BlackBerry handset. Until the latest 3G versions of the BlackBerry smartphone were launched, the handset lacked both the mobile connection speed and the video engine to support an application such as the SlingPlayer. Nonetheless, say Sling Media, "it was the most requested app for us".
The SlingPlayer application has just been updated and we’re told that the results on Nokia’s high-end N95, in particular, are stunning. Slingbox is going onsale via Carphone Warehouse and is likely to be available as a £20 download for media-centric handsets. Its makers are particularly keen to push the concept of 'slinging' TV on mobile phone handsets because the visibility of it – whereby users can show off to their mates – will help push recognition of the Slingbox concept as a whole in a way that a silver and red box tucked away at home cannot.
Sling Media is also hopeful that it will be able to offer a TV module for Apple’s iPhone, enabling viewers to enjoy streamed TV content on its 3.5in widescreen. While the iPhone is Wi-Fi-enabled, however, it does not yet support 3G and Apple CEO Steve Jobs said at last week’s European iPhone launch that he does not expect 3G chipsets to reach the stage where they can operate without impeding battery life to an unacceptably large extent for around a year.
Assuming Apple allows Sling Media to develop a TV application for the iPhone, this would imply a TV-capable 3G iPhone is around a year away. Even so, Sling Media claims to have yet more products in the pipeline for January’s all-important Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, so we wouldn’t be at all surprised to find such a device being demonstrated there.