Developer: Sling Media
Price: $14.99 Download on the App Store
The long-awaited SlingPlayer Mobile for Sling Media’s SOLO, PRO and PRO-HD TV set-top boxes finally made its grand appearance in the App Store on Wednesday.
If you aren’t an owner of one of Sling Media’s set-top boxes, here’s what they do: Plug in your Sling Media black box into your cable or satellite box and you can “sling” your TV programming to your desktop or laptop from anywhere there’s an Internet connection.
With Slingmedia’s software installed on your desk or lap machine, you can control your cable or sat box — change channels, pause and do everything else your home remote can do. If you have a DVR, you can record and playback programs from anywhere. There’s no additional monthly fee either.
SlingPlayer Mobile came into the world with birthing pains for Slingbox and IPhone/iPod touch owners. The company showed off a beta running on the iPhone — it must have been some 6 months ago — and implied the app would debut soon. Then, Slingbox owners waited. Then, we wondered. And finally, we prayed.
First, Slingmedia said the iPhone mobile version would not work on models sold earlier than the current lineup. The company offered an “upgrade” option that had more coins in it than a pirate’s chest.
Then, rumor spinners whispered AT&T was holding up approval of the app in the App Store because of fears Sling Media Mobile consumers would suck the network’s 3G bandwidth dry. That part is true: SlingPlayer Mobile only works on Wi-Fi. For now, 3G is out, apparently because Apple wants it that way. Most recently, the quietly spoken word is that AT&T is developing its own mobile TV player and wants to stifle competition.
What’s for real is that the SlingPlayer Mobile is in the App Store and with the $29.99 price tag stuck in my craw, I downloaded the app. For me, it’s my iPhone’s killer app and that’s probably true for many Slingbox devotees.
Aside from wondering just how well it worked, I wanted to know just how Sling Media was able to come up with an interface that could handle all the options of a real-world cable or sat box remote.
First, let’s look at the “working” part. On my fast and wired home network, the app ran quite well, 90 percent of the time (more or less). After about 20 seconds to connect and optimize content between devices, I was looking at a smooth running and fairly crisp image.
Over several hours of viewing, the image on occasion stuttered, stopped entirely for a minute or more before resuming and pixilated. Overall, my viewing experience was respectable and about what I anticipated based on experience with my Slingbox SOLO. Some reviewers have experienced the same problems and some seem to have more trouble with picture quality than I do. I expect we’ll see the viewing experience to get progressively better.
What knocked me out was the interface and how well Sling Media was able to find room for nearly all the controls on my remote on the iPhone’s small screen. A tap pops up a transparent screen main menu with icons for the things you are mostly likely to use right off: remote, guide and DVR.
Tap the remote icon and you’ll get a lengthy menu that scrolls side to side with buttons for power, quick stop, instant replay and more. Tap the DVR icon and you’ll get a pad with arrows to trigger and navigate recordings. You’ll also get a button to access a number pad to go directly to a channel (no scrolling through the channel guide in other words).
There are other less-important options but there’s no need to go into greater detail—you get the point. This is a damn good interface. You can operate your Slingbox and TV box to a great degree and without much of a learning curve.
Some functions — such as switching between channels — are a bit slow but then again, those functions have never been what I would say are speedy on my desktop either.
I need more time in the cockpit but so far, I’m happily surprised how well Sling Media's SlingPlayer Mobile delivers. The price is hard to swallow on top of the cost of a Slingbox ($180 to $300) and only time will tell whether it's really worth it. So far, so good.