Slingplayer Mobile iPhone App

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One of the most anticipated apps since the announcement of the iPhone has been the Slingplayer Mobile. The mobile version of the Slingplayer software has been available for the Palm, Windows Mobile and Blackberry platforms for quite some time. What differentiates the iPhone version apart from these other devices is the larger viewing screen on the iPhone, making it an optimal platform for this type of app.


However there is a big caveat with the iPhone version of the Slingplayer Mobile app – it only works with a Wi-Fi connection. Apparently AT&T in their infinite wisdom decided that this app would eat too much of their digital bandwidth and decided to ban Sling from accessing the 3G network. To most this will seem disingenuous since Blackberry, WinMo and Palm users can access their Slingboxes via their 3G enabled devices using the same AT&T network.

The Slingplayer Mobile lets the user view their Slingbox remotely over a Wi-Fi network. Sling Media has been demoing this app for quite some time and has been waiting for the Apple and AT&T approval process before making it available to the public. Well starting May 12th, the Slingplayer app for the iPhone will be out and we at technogog were given a chance to play around with it before its public release.

Initially Sling Media was not going to let the Slingplayer app for iPhone work with legacy Slingboxes such as the Classic, AV and Tuner models. However they seemed to have changed their stance as the app will work with these; however Sling Media will not provide any official support for the legacy Slingboxes. This is probably a concession by Sling as they know a Wi-Fi only app will not attract as many potential users as a 3G enable version, so they will need to get more Slingbox owners interested in getting the app.

Today we will talk about both the good and bad features of this app. The Slingplayer Mobile works similar to the Palm and Blackberry versions by logging into ones Sling account or directly to their Slingbox. SlingMedia does take advantage of the iPhone’s touch interface to provide a different interaction paradigm than their other mobile Slingplayer offerings.

The initial set up involves detecting your Slingbox and entering the appropriate Sling log in and password. All this information is stored by the app so you will only need to enter it once. After this initial setup, every time the Slingplayer app is started it will automatically try and connect to its base Slingbox.

If not connected to a Slingbox, the app will start with a menu bar with the options of changing settings, connecting to the current Slingbox, viewing a directory of available Sling Devices and a Help option.

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Once connected to the Slingbox, a menu appears on the lower part of the iPhone screen which disappears after a few seconds and returns when tapping the screen. This is the main control menu for the app. From here the user can call up Favorite channels, a virtual Remote, a channel guide, use the Slingbox DVR capabilities, the options for the app and the ability to disconnect from the Slingbox.

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OK, that is a brief run down on the menus, how does it work? Well Sling does a great job integrating the iPhone’s interface into the Slingplayer Mobile. Sling utilizes the swiping feature used commonly on the iPhone; swiping up and down on the screen changes the channels while swiping left and right will cycle through saved favorite channels. You will quickly notice there is a delay between inputting a command and its execution; since the signal must be transmitted from the iPhone to the Wi-Fi network and then to the Slingbox and back. This means swipes are not instantaneously like scrolling through photos on the iPhone. On screen button presses are also laggy as the screen needs to refresh from the Slingbox. This makes channel surfing unadvisable. These limitations are not due to the Slingplayer Mobile but have more to do with controlling a TV remotely over a network.

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The image quality varies with the viewing location. Watching the Slingplayer Mobile on my home network provided a picture quality that was fair to good. Remote network viewing provided a slightly lower quality picture but still quite viewable. Since the preview app I tested did have 3G viewing enabled I was able to watch over the 3G network and it was watchable although the picture sometimes bordered on low resolution YouTube quality. Watching sports or fast moving action was hindered by lots of motion blur and pixilation which was especially noticeable with fast moving sports such as hockey and basketball.

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The Slingplayer Mobile is a good application and has been crippled due to AT&T’s draconian network throttling. This is the statement they released after the initial reports of this app being Wi-Fi only:

AT&T’s full statement

"Slingbox, which would use large amounts of wireless network capacity, could create congestion and potentially prevent other customers from using the network. The application does not run on our 3G wireless network. Applications like this, which redirect a TV signal to a personal computer, are specifically prohibited under our terms of service. We consider smartphones like the iPhone to be personal computers in that they have the same hardware and software attributes as PCs.
That said, we don’t restrict users from going to a Web site that lets them view videos. But what our terms and conditions prohibit is the transferring, or slinging, of a TV signal to their personal computer or smartphone.
The Slingbox application for the iPhone runs on WiFi. That’s good news for AT&T’s iPhone 3G customers, who get free WiFi access at our 20,000 owned and operated hot spots in the U.S., including Starbucks, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, hotels, and airports. AT&T is the industry leader in WiFi."

This is puzzling because as I mentioned previously the Slingplayer Mobile already runs on the 3G network just on different platforms. A bit hypocritical don’t you think? Additionally how many people own Slingboxes and iPhones? Not an incredible amount in my opinion. So AT&T is basically telling us that their network is so fragile and unstable that an app that streams video could actually bring it to its knees. Wow, I am glad I am paying almost a $100 a month for this kind of service.

Now my other rant is directed at Sling for pricing this app at $30. Really? If it worked on the 3G network maybe I could justify spending the money. But it is Wi-Fi only and thus not worth buying in my opinion. If they knock down the price then I can see it being more worthwhile. This app should drive iPhone users to want to buy Slingboxes. Well at $30 for the app and only Wi-Fi capability, I do not foresee a stampede at Best Buy for Slingboxes.

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Conclusion:

Overall the Slingplayer Mobile app for the iPhone works as advertised. Unfortunately besides not working on the 3G network, the other main non-selling point is the price. Sling is selling this app for $30. That seems ludicrous since the app is limited to being within Wi-Fi range. If they priced it in the $5-10 range it would seem reasonable but for $30 I expect to watch my Slingbox anywhere at any time, not while I am sitting in Starbucks or off any random Wi-Fi network I encounter in my daily travels.

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Pros:
Watch Slingbox remotely
Best picture quality of portable Slingplayers
Works with Legacy Slingboxes

Cons:
Only works on Wi-Fi
No Legacy Slingbox support

Grades:  
Overall score-6-10
Design score-6-10
Performance score-7-10
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