Slingbox Tuner

April 16th, 2007

Here’s my SlingMedia Slingbox Tuner review. It’s TV on your mobile device!

Most new products are meant to replace your old ones. So it’s not often a company comes up with something that you never knew you needed. A year or so ago, SlingMedia came out with the SlingBox (SB) and made me realize I needed to make space for it in my home theater.

If you’re not aware of what the SB is, it lets you watch your TV remotely using your internet connection. The original SB could connect to any device that had audio (2 RCA jacks) and or video (S-Video or RCA) connectors. It could control the device using the included IR blasters (they can send remote control signals). It would take the AV signal, buffer it a little, encode it and stream it over the net to your device. Of course you need a fast enough internet connection (dial up users can stop reading here). Originally there was only a viewer for Windows users but Sling added support for Windows Mobile (Pocket PC and Smartphone), Palm OS, Mac OSX plus there’s a client coming soon for Symbian devices.

It’s great for watching TV when you’re not at home. If you’re thinking of a reason to quit work consider watching your SB when your boss is around. Watch it on your Pocket PC/Smartphone when your wife takes you shopping, at weddings, etc. As long as you have a fast enough internet connection and a compatible device you’re good to go.

The SB is also pretty useful around the house since it allows you to watch TV in places you couldn’t before plus your home network probably has a lot more bandwidth to play with. After all more bandwidth = higher quality.

Today I’m checking out the SB Tuner. It’s strictly for cable users so if you have Satellite consider the SB AV or if you have HD or multiple devices – check out the Slingbox Pro. Make sure you check out my pictures here.

Unlike the original SB, there isn’t much to the SB Tuner. You connect to your cable so you can watch it remotely.

Included in the packaging are a high quality Regal brand 2 way splitter (many cable companies use Regal splitters), network cable, power adapter and a RG59 coax cable. The power adapter is a wall wart so make sure you have room for it.

You can connect a 2 way splitter to your cable and have one go to the SB Tuner while the other goes to your TV/cable box. The SB Tuner also has cable passthrough so you can connect your cable to the SB Tuner and then connect another from your Tuner to your TV/cable box.

Setup is ridiculously easy. Assuming you’re using a home DSL/Cable router – just make sure you have DHCP turned on (it usually is by default), plug the SB Tuner into your router and then connect the power. If you don’t have an ethernet jack there’s an available SlingLink ethernet over power (not power or ethernet) adapter so you can have your router in one room and the SB in another.

Next pop in the setup CD (or download the Player from www.slingmedia.com) and run the install. The SlingPlayer software can automatically find your SB. If you want to watch your TV outside of your home network, the SB supports uPNP. If you want to configure your router yourself, there are step by step instructions on how to setup port forwarding.

Next the software will ask you how the Tuner is connected to your cable and then it will scan to see what channels you can receive. Remember the Tuner is for analog channels only so if you subscribe to digital or HDTV cable services you won’t be able to see those digital/HDTV channels.

The player software is pretty well thought out. You can change channels by pressing + or -. You can dock the player to the left or right side of the screen plus there’s a full screen mode. There are channel shortcuts you can create along the bottom. Their interface is also skinnable.

You can adjust the video quality and manually specify how much bandwidth the player consumes.

The SB now encodes video at 640×480 (as opposed to 640×240 with the original) plus the bit rate can go as high as 8mbps (previously it was 2mbps). Image quality is amazing; if you’re at home and have a fast enough network you don’t lose anything quality wise over using your TV – Incredible! See a screen shot comparison here.

Notice the extra resolution in the guy’s mustache and the edges of his suit. Take a step back and notice that the picture from the original Slingbox is slightly foggy. The colour on the Tuner seems a little more intense also (both players have the colour settings at default).

Of course, the image quality is dependant on how good your analog cable looks. If you live in an old house with RG59 cabling everywhere and are splitting your cable with 10 other TVs, chances are your quality isn’t going to be good. If that’s the case consider getting a digital box and hook up a SB AV to it instead. Digital cable has error correction which should result in better image quality.

When connected to your local network channel, changes take about a second so it can be pretty tedious if you’re channel surfing.

When you’re viewing your SB from outside your network on a computer, the quality really depends on how fast your ISP at home is. If you can keep the bit rate over 300kb/s, the quality will be watchable though some scenes with lots of fast movement will be blocky. 600kb/s and you’re doing pretty good.

So you’re probably wondering what happens when you’re connection quality drops. If your bit rate drops, the SB will dynamically throttle the bit rate so that the video quality gets worse – that way you can still hear what’s going on. If the connection is really bad then the video may skip. I’ve noticed the SB will sometimes speed up playback slightly so that it can catch up. You never get buffering messages (because it skips instead).

If you only have a limited amount of data transfer, you can tell the SB the maximum bit rate.

For the mobile device portion of my review, I tested the Tuner with my HTC TyTN. Does the new 640×480 resolution translate to better quality on mobile devices? Not really. When I was testing the SlingPlayer, the resolution was usually 220×176 which doesnt require that much bandwidth. As long as you got around 300kbs, the video looked okay enough though you’ll have trouble reading small text. You can manually choose bit rates of up to 600kb’s so my guess is the maximum support bitrate is that.

Like I said, quality is pretty good but the controls can be quite sluggish. It can take a few seconds if you’re switching between full screen and regular mode.

Remember that SlingPlayer Mobile is not included with the Tuner so after a 30 day trial period you’ll have to fork out 35 bucks Canadian (30 USD) for it. When you buy it, you’ll get a key that will activate your copy. So if you change devices often this might drive you crazy.

If you’re someone who uses their SB a lot at home and has a fast network with a strong, good cable signal, the Sling Tuner is a great upgrade. However, if you’re someone who uses the SB mostly with their Pocket PC/Smartphone, you won’t notice much of a difference.

If you don’t own a SB already, the Tuner is the least expensive SB you can buy. That said you’re probably better off getting a digital cable box or satellite and using it with a SB AV since analog TV days are numbered.

Pros:

  • Great picture quality
  • Very easy to setup and use

Cons:

  • For analog cable only
  • Player for mobile devices costs extra

See the gallery here
Written by Howard Chui 04.16.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Reviews

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