Several years ago as I wandered through a late CompUSA store I found a new toy. Called Slingbox, it claimed to make video streaming of your personal devices such as cable TV, DVD, satellite, security camera, etc., easy to view through your computer. You could watch it from anywhere in the world that had an internet connection. Later they added smartphones to that mix although the app cost a crazy thirty bucks. (the complete absurdity of the pricing forced them to lower it to $14.95 per device) Not the first way to do this, but by far the easiest. Now they’ve released the newest version for HD viewing. Not surprisingly it’s notably a far better picture. The utter simplicity is gone, but can be done by a determined novice.

The older unit actually had an image of the device’s remote that functioned exactly as if you were sitting there holding it in your hand. The newer HD units lack that amazingly adept display that gave Slingbox some of it’s usefulness. Now the functions are delegated to standard menus that oddly don’t highlight the power button. So after the install you would keep getting the “no video found” warning ….. until you dig around in the menus and find the switch. The poor menu layout is the biggest problem with the whole unit. This need to be fixed!

The 500 model, as opposed to the cheaper 300, has built-in wifi, so a wired connection isn’t mandatory.  And frankly, it looks cooler … isn’t that worth a couple of bucks more? Oh and by the way, if you’re brave enough to use your 4G/LTE connection, this thing eats bandwidth … so be prepared to pay the price. Ten gig of data a month can be obliterated almost as fast as Takeru Kobayashi devours hot dogs.

If you have a protected content issue as with movie channels on satellite/cable, the new 500 series has a work-around … RBG cables to bypass the HDMI mess. You see the content companies are convinced you might steal their “stuff” with your fancy tablet or smartphone, so this allows you to watch the content you paid for on your tablet or smartphone. There may be a loss of resolution, but on a small screen you’d need better eyes than mine to see the difference.

You can access photos, videos and movies as well if you attach a USB hard drive to it.

They still charge for the app and EVERY device must have it own paid account. So if you have an iPhone and iPad, they force you to purchase it twice. However, despite the truly lousy menu layout, this is really the only game in town when it comes to quality images and (relatively) easy installation. If your have Dish Network, some of their receivers have this function built in and the app is free. You can always watch it for free on a regular computer as well.

Regardless of the issues with Slingbox, it’s an impressive piece … something that every geek should own. I’d go so far to say it’s one of the top ten devices any true geek must own to claim that moniker.

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