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    Slingbox allows you to take TV with you wherever you roam

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Business in Vancouver July 3-9, 2007; issue 923

    High Tech Office column; 

    Being able to record to videotape and more recently to DVD discs and hard drives has made it possible to make broadcast TV available when you want it. But maybe you don’t want to spend post-holiday time catching up on what you recorded. Or maybe a holiday away from your favourite broadcasts isn’t much of a holiday at all.

    Instead of time shifting, you might want location shifting, which is made possible by a series of products by Sling Media. Their Slingbox, which looks like an over-sized chocolate bar, comes in three varieties, each of which plugs into your TV connections and uses the Internet to let you watch what’s on at home anywhere you’ve got Internet access: on your Windows or Mac laptop or even on Windows Mobile, Palm or Symbian smart phones.

    For under $200, there’s the base model Slingbox Tuner. It connects to a standard coaxial cable connection. About $215 buys the AV model. Instead of connecting to a cable outlet, it connects to a digital cable or satellite box. The Pro model (about $310) connects to all of the above as well as HD devices (you may need to add a $55 HD Connect Cable) and allows connection to up to four AV sources. All include widescreen support and a clever, though fiddly, remote IR control cable that sends the same sort of signal as a standard remote control to your AV devices. (You’ve got to line up the little light on the end of the IT cable with the input on your video source and then with luck it will work with your hardware.)

    Hook it all up, plug it into an ethernet network cable, install the software on your computer or smart phone (or both) and you’re ready to watch whatever’s on wherever you happen to be.

    Hold on, you say, who’s got network outlets in the same room as their TV setup? Add a SlingLink powerline ethernet adapter (about $140). It lets you use your home powerline wiring to connect into your router. Alternatively, a bit of fiddling around should let you hook into a WiFi access point.

    You may have to fuss with both your computer’s firewall software and your router’s built-in firewall before your computer and the Slingbox can see one another. (Sling Media’s support page has some tips for being able to access it if it’s blocked by your company’s firewall.)

    Connecting with the SlingPlayer software, you’ll have to enter the Slingbox’s “name” and ID and a password. You’re not allowed to use the Internet to broadcast to the whole world. Only you should have access to your Slingbox. The licence agreement forbids you from logging into someone else’s Slingbox or taking your Slingbox and hooking it into another location.

    Only one person at a time has access to the Slingbox’s re-broadcasts, and while you’re accessing it remotely, users at home can’t control that video source. (Someone else could be watching another channel on another TV, but the one with the Slingbox hooked up will no longer be available.) And there will be time zone issues when you try to watch programs showing at home when you’re, say, eight hours away.

    When video tape recorders first became widely available, the TV networks were not amused. Ultimately the courts ruled that broadcast signals could be recorded for personal use. Major League Baseball appears to view Slingbox’s location shifting as a threat to its online MLB.TV service. The NHL, in contrast, is working with Sling Media to make hockey content available on an upcoming Clip + Sling service.

    I’m not sure if your employer will be happy if you start watching daytime TV instead of paying attention to work. But Slingbox makes it possible. •

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan