Let's say we're going to Sling our digital cable signal to our computer. That means our video source is the digital cable box. Here's what our overall configuration is going to look like:
Step 1: A/V Connections
Setting up the Slingbox hardware is easy. Let's take the Classic Slingbox as an example. The first step is to connect the cable box to the Slingbox using an available video output on the cable box. We're going to use a Slingbox-supplied cable to connect the S-video, coaxial or composite video output on the cable box (S-video is the highest quality) to the corresponding input on the Slingbox. We can only make a composite audio connection, so that decision is simple.
If we had no available outputs on our cable box, we could use the Slingbox as a pass-through, connecting the cable jack to the Slingbox input and the Slingbox output to the cable box.
Step 2: Infrared (IR) Connections
Next, we position the Slingbox IR emitter in front of the cable box's IR receiver. This is how you control the cable box from your computer. When you click "channel up" on your virtual remote, the SlingPlayer software tells the Slingbox to emit the "cannel up" IR code for your cable box.
Sling Media has built the infrared codes for thousands of devices into the SlingPlayer software -- you can't easily input your own IR codes, but even if your specific device isn't listed in the software setup, you'll be able to select a comparable unit. (See Sling Community: How to Add New Remote Control Codes to Your Slingbox to learn how you can teach your Slingbox new codes, if you're up to it.)
Step 3: Ethernet Connection
If we happen to have an Ethernet jack or router in our living room, we're golden. We just use the supplied Ethernet cable to connect the Slingbox Ethernet port to the Ethernet jack on the wall or router. Otherwise, we'll buy a couple of powerline-to-Ethernet wall adapters and make the connection that way (Sling Media sells their own version, called SlingLinks). The wall adapters turn a regular power outlet into an Ethernet jack, using a home's powerlines to send data from one Ethernet-enabled device to another (see HomePlug 1.0 Technology White Paper to learn about powerline networking). We just put one on an outlet near the Slingbox and another on an outlet near our router.
Photo courtesy Sling Media
If you have a wireless router, you can either use a pair of SlingLinks or a WiFi-to-Ethernet bridge to make the network connection. Slingbox doesn't have WiFi built in.
Step 4: Power Up
The final step in hardware setup is to plug the Slingbox into a wall outlet.
Next, we move on to the software setup. Depending on the type of router you have and the video source you choose, you might run into a couple of snags.
Step 5: Configure the Software
The SlingPlayer software has a setup wizard that walks you through the whole process on your computer. We tell SlingPlayer what the Slingbox is connected to -- in this case, a digital cable box -- and the software spits out a list of makes and models. Hopefully, our digital cable box is on the list, in which case the software automatically configures Slingbox for our device. If it isn't, the software will guide us to a comparable device with similar settings and remote codes.
The place where some people run into trouble is the router configuration. If our router is Universal Plug 'n Play (UPnP), there's nothing to it but a couple of mouse clicks. If our router is not UPnP, there's going to be some effort involved in configuring it for the Slingbox. Again, the software will walk us through the process and tell us which settings to change. If manually configuring a router scares you, you may not be happy, but it's definitely doable.
We'll immediately know if we've configured everything correctly, because our digital cable programming will pop up on the computer screen. We may have to back up a couple of times to access the stream, or it may happen on the first shot. Once we've successfully accessed the stream from home, watching TV from a remote location should be a snap. The video quality from a WiFi hotspot may be choppier than it is at home, though, because network connection speeds vary. The greater the available bandwidth, the better the picture looks.
For complete setup instructions, see Sling Community: Installing Your Slingbox.
Slingbox is not your only option when it comes to watching your TV remotely. In the next section, we'll look at some other available technology and find out what Sling Media has in store for its flagship product.