Commentary

Video-On-The-Go--Or Placeshifting?

The coolest thing I have encountered this year is Slingmedia's Slingbox--a small, gray, innocuous-looking item that serves as an Internet streaming device for television content. When the Slingbox is connected to an in-home DVR or DirecTV/TiVo satellite receiver or to local cable service, you can forward "live" and recorded content to a laptop connected to an Internet service in a far-away state. If you're a techie like me, you can connect your ultra-light WWAN laptop or a Treo smartphone and receive decent quality television, on your terms. So in all my considerable travels and touch points with the consumer electronics industry, the Slingbox is perhaps the finest, most unconstrained new technology appliance that I have come across in a long, long while.

Frequently when I'm traveling, someone will ask "how can you be watching live TV in the airport on your laptop?" or "how can you receive DirecTV satellite signals and HBO?" Of course the real wow factor is when I demonstrate that I also have the TiVo DVR capability to literally record and play back shows on command. But the real killer application is the Treo smartphone connection that allows me to walk through the airport and catch up on CNN live, or check the stock market on CNBC.

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The official "category" term for the Slingbox-like technology is placeshifting, an abominable term that communicates nothing of what the technology really offers. Slingbox weighs less than a half pound, and is populated with ports and plug-ins for cable, power, infrared, and Ethernet. The average consumer would walk right past this item on the store shelf (99 times out of 100) and never notice it--it looks that unassuming and unsexy. The Slingbox can be purchased for $150-200 and simply allows plug-in connections for cable and/or satellite feeds, routes through a DVR and/or satellite receiver if you have one.

Finally, you must plug in Ethernet for Internet connections or go to 802.11 G wireless, which is what I did. Lastly, you install included software on your laptop (smartphone is a bit of an extra) which allows you to reach out via an Internet connect (while on the road) and interface with your Slingbox in the home. You are set. There are no subscription fees, no hidden agenda or gotchas, and you simply have an elegant device that works out of the box and ties all of your entertainment gear to the on-the-go video experience.

Psst ... The guy sitting next to me on the plane, who has the new Q smartphone, just looked over and saw me watching CNN live on my Treo 700W. He's wondering how I can be watching live TV. You can tell he wants the capability but is afraid to ask. Don't be afraid, my friends. This is real simple technology that works out of the box! Microsoft has also built its own version, which is the greatest form of flattery. Where will it go next?

The answer is that the actual technology costs no more than $40 to assemble all the right parts, ports, and particulars. Then layer in some quality software and compression technology and you have a system that can be built into set-top boxes or televisions and will link many additional handheld devices in the future. On the go!

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