As a happy Slingbox / Slingplayer owner for the last few years, one of the reasons why I continue to carry multiple devices (and not just the iPhone exclusively) is that I could never “Sling” my home TV signal to my iPhone. Well that has all changed with the release of Slingplayer Mobile for iPhone ($29.99) from Sling Media. Sort of.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Slingbox: You buy hardware (the “Slingbox”, currently starting at $179.99, no monthly fees) and it connects to almost any existing video source (Cable Box, Satellite Reciever, U-verse, FiOS, etc) in your home. It then is able to “Sling” that TV signal to any computer in the world with a broadband internet connection. The PC software (SlingPlayer) that allows you to receive the TV signal from the Slingbox is included with the hardware. Sling also offers Mobile players for Windows Mobile, Symbian (limited device support) , Palm (not webOS yet), and most recently BlackBerry. The Mobile players sell for an additional $29.99 (one time fee), and allow the user to watch TV on the device using the cellular data connection or WiFi, if the device support it. The iPhone Slingplayer currently ONLY supports using a WiFi data connection, and is the only mobile player from Sling that is not able to use a cellular network for a data connection. More on that later.
Set up and User Interface:
Setup is extremely easy. Just enter your Sling account ID and password and you are off to the races. The Sling account is now universal from the PC to the Mobile player which enables favorite channel lists to carry across multiple platforms. Sling has put a lot of work into incorporating the iPhone gestures into the UI. Simply touching the screen will bring up the controls. The “Favorites” icon will bring up a window with the channel logos, which you can “swipe” to see additional favorites. The “”Remote” will bring up a virtual transparent remote control on the lower half of the screen (swipe left or right to see additional commands) with multiple options (DVR controls, Menu, Directional Pad, etc), almost every button on the remote for the set top box at home will be represented here. I particularly like how the D-Pad is done: It is a tranparent 4 -way plus select classic directional pad with page up and page down to quickly navigate through the programming guide. The video can be seen behind the transparent D-Pad. Also on the D-Pad screen is a record button which comes in very handy. This is by far the best UI Sling has ever developed for a mobile player.
Video Quality / Sound Quality
I need to preface the Video Quality section by saying that I am definitely picky when it comes to video. I tend to notice almost all visible imperfections in any video signal. The Video Quality is good, but I have definitely seen higher quality video on the iPhone. It is smooth and definitely watchable, but a few video compression artifacts can be seen, even with the best of connections. Don’t expect the quality to come close to a TV show or movie that you download from iTunes, but it definitely does the job. It is smooth, and does not seem to have the audio / video syncing issues that I have seen with previous versions of Sling Player Mobile for other platforms. I tested this app using a Verizon FiOS connection to upload the signal from the Sling Box, so there is definitely no bottleneck there. I almost always use the Sling Player to stream live sports, and I enjoyed watching the programming on my iPhone very much. When compared to the Sling Player for the BlackBerry Bold, I would say the video quality is slightly better on the Bold’s sling player (over 3G or WiFi) than the iPhone (WiFi only). As far as sound quality, it is near perfect. The iPhone 3G’s speaker was plenty loud enough, and you can hear details that are often washed out on other mobile devices.
This is a HUGE issue with the piece of software. One of the main reasons to have the Slingplayer Mobile for any other device is the fact that it allows you to watch video ANYWHERE you want. Apple and AT&T have decided to limit streaming to WiFi only, thus blocking access to AT&T’s 3G network for streaming. AT&T claims that its Terms of Service specifically limit “Slinging” of a TV signal to devices such as the iPhone. This is a hard pill to swallow to Slingbox fans, because EVERY OTHER device compatible with Sling Player Mobile allows access to the cellular network for streaming, including many devices on AT&T’s network like the BlackBerry Bold. AT&T iPhone users do have access to over 20,000 WiFi Hotspots for free, which includes Starbucks, and many Hotels and Airports. So that makes things a little bit better, but not having 3G streaming is a deal breaker for many. AT&T has received a lot of bad PR for this from sites like Engadget, so time will tell if they hold this position.
Sling is asking $29.99 for this piece of software, which seems expensive since it is WiFi only. It is the same price they ask for the Windows Mobile and BlackBerry versions, which also allow 3G streaming. But being limited to WiFi only inherently gives the app less value since it limits the places where you can “Sling”. I understand a lot of development costs went into this app, and $29.99 is a small price to pay to get your home TV on your mobile device, but unless you are regularly in an area in range of WiFi in the places that you need to Sling it is, again, a hard pill to swallow.
The Sling Player Mobile application is an excellent app, with an outstanding user interface. The Video Quality, while not amazing, does the job and the app provides an overall enjoyable experience. It allows full control of your home TV - using WiFi. If you have a WiFi connection in the places where you need to Sling, I wholeheartedly recommend this app.