As an unabashed fan of the Kindle Fire, anything that adds to its usefulness I’m instantly interested in.
Already available for iOS, Android, and other devices, the $30 SlingPlayer app for Fire is the second part of the Slingbox system.
How well does it work? I was as interested as you. . .
As I’ve mentioned before, the key to any tablet is its access to content. In the case of the iPad and Fire, this is unmatched thanks (relatively) to iTunes and Amazon. On either device, you can download TV shows and movies, and watch them wherever. Netflix and Hulu Plus are excellent additions, but they're only useful when you have Internet access. The SlingPlayer app functions more along these lines, but has the added benefit of giving you access to all of your own content.
It’s a two-part system. At home, you install one of the Slingbox boxes (Solo, $180 or Pro-HD, $300), then connect your DVR/Cable box, media center, etc. — really any source that has analog video outputs and an IR remote.
The other half is the app itself. There’s been some consternation expressed on the web by customers who’ve already purchased the app for a different device and have to buy it again, but that is what it is. There’s no subscription cost to “location shift” your content, so there’s that benefit.
The app loads quickly, and gives you on-screen controls via which you can operate the physical box, which then blasts IR towards your gear via an external emitter. With the app you can do just about whatever you could do in person with a real remote: navigate menus, set shows to record, and so on.
As you’d expect, there’s a slight lag between a button press on screen and the resulting action, but it’s minimal and understandable given the technology.
The picture quality (though dependent on the source, of course) is actually quite good. On-the-fly digital encoding sent over the Internet in real time seems like a recipe for macroblocking and other artifacts, but that wasn’t the case in practice. I wasn’t able to test what the signal would look like on a slower Internet connection, but my assumption is you’d lose some quality.
And what is that quality? In the HQ mode, picture resolution was 640x240, while in the SQ mode it was 320x240. This is certainly lower than the Kindle’s 1024x600 native resolution, but all video looks soft on the Fire, so in that way it was no better but no worse that what you'd get from other video apps. It’s also running at a full 30 fps, so there’s no choppy motion. Some Amazon Instant Video programs look a little sharper, with smoother gradations, but it’s a small difference.
I actually hadn’t used Slingbox before; having heard about it for years I'd never tried it. If I traveled more, I’d buy it in a heartbeat. Being able to watch your own cable/satellite channels (including HBO, Showtime, etc) plus everything on your DVR from anywhere there’s Wi-Fi is awesome. The picture quality was better than I expected, with minimal artifacts. All told, pretty cool, and an excellent addition to the Fire app world.
Brent Butterworth and Geoff Morrison combine their years of gear testing and knowledge in one überblog of irreverence and techiness.
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