Thinking outside the Slingbox

Having already achieved a level of brand recognition in the marketplace with its Slingbox product, which allows someone to watch their home television anywhere in the world via an Internet-connected laptop, Sling Media is looking to take the concept to the next step.

The Foster City, Calif.-based company has already developed SlingPlayer Mobile, which brings home television to Windows Mobile, Palm OS or Symbian-supported PDAs and phones, and its core product line also includes the flagship Slingbox AV, Slingbox Solo and Slingbox Pro, each with different levels of functionality.

The Slingbox sits near the television, connecting to either the digital cable box via different video outputs or directly into the coaxial cable, and also connects into your Internet router. Through a Web connection and a computer, either at home or on the road, someone can control and watch their television as if they were at home.

This fall, Sling Media will be launching two new offerings that drive the concept forward says Sling Media’s spokesperson, Brian Jaquet. Replacing the high-end Slingbox Pro will be the Slingbox Pro HD, which he says will bring true HD-quality video to the Slingbox experience.

“It’s a big step forward for the Sling Box family,” said Jaquet. “We’ve been able to support HD in the past…but it was (down converting) because the processing power and the broadband power required to send that content was prohibitive. With the Slingbox Pro HD we don’t down convert that source.”

The product will be able to stream content to “place-shift” HD content from an HD cable box to a computer within or outside the home. Bandwidth requirements will be important for good quality access, says Jaquet, including upload speed in the home of 1.5 to 2.0 Mbps. The new 802.11n wireless routers will also enhance the experience, he adds.

With laptops becoming more robust and cheaper, and with more of then becoming HD-compatible, Jaquet says he sees the Slingbox Pro HD being a popular fit in the market.

“You’ll definitely see a critical mass of notebooks and PCs,” said Jaquet. “The Pro HD is a high-end product; we make a range of products.”

Also launching in the fall will be the Slingcatcher. Jacquet says it’s the opposite of the Slingbox. While the Slingbox captures television content, the Slingcatcher, as the name suggests, is more of a receiver.

While customers enjoy being able to watch their television on their computers at home and elsewhere, Jaquet says they’d also like to be able to bring their home television experience to other televisions, be it another TV in the home, one at the cottage, or even a hotel.

The Slingcatcher connects to the television and to a broadband Internet connection, like the Slingbox. And if a customer also has a Slingbox connected to their home television, they can use the Slingcatcher to bring that home cable signal to the other television. It also comes with a remote control, allowing the user to control their home cable box over the Web.

“It gives you the ability to now have that great experience, that living room television experience, on another television,” said Jaquet.

While that scenario requires a user to also be a Slingbox customer, Jaquet says other capabilities of the Slingcatcher don’t require a Slingbox. The device can be used as a video extender, wirelessly streaming video content from your computer to a television, offering the capability to automatically scale content to fit the screen.

“There’s all this great content on the Internet now, from YouTube clips to feature-length movies, but it’s all on your computer,” said Jaquet. “Instead of huddling around your laptop showing a YouTube clip to your buddies, you could…project it on the TV.”

Chance for VARs to break into CE

In Canada, Slingmedia is represented by Keating Technologies and distributed through Ingram Micro. Both new products are expected to be available this fall and pricing has yet to be formalized, but Slingmedia expects the Slingbox Pro HD to go for around $349, and the Slingcatcher for $279.

Both products are expected to retail for less in the U.S. (US$299 and $249.99 respectively), despite the relative parity of the currency. Greg Bowes, Keating’s senior channel manager for Sling Media, says he’d like to be able to offer the products at parity but customs and other fees to bring the products into Canada prevent that.

“I’d love to be able to put it at $299, and we’re looking for ways to create parity in pricing, but we’ve not been able to do that yet,” said Bowes. “Checking with other products in retail I don’t think we’re there yet.”

The primary route to market in Canada has been retail, with retailers such as London Drugs, Best Buy, Future Shop and now Canada Computers accounting for 85 per cent of Canadian sales.

Bowes says though that there is a strong opportunity, particularly with the new offerings, for VARs to get involved and provide not only traditional solutions but also get into the CE side of the business.

“Many VARs are reaching out of traditional IP solutions to sell more products and provide more services to their install base of customers, whether its business or consumer,” said Bowes. “As the Slingbox continues to bring additional services to the home, I think you’ll see our family of products becoming more a part of the mainstream solutions for watching and sharing video.”

When it comes to the back of the TV and stereo customers tend to be skittish, says Bowes, so there’s also an opportunity for digital home integrators. Keating and Sling Media offer VAR set-up kits and training programs, and other support is available on a case by case basis.

While pricing is left to Ingram, Keating says it’s fair to say most VARs can expect 22 to 28 points of margin on Slingmedia products.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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