It's been several years since we've seen a new Slingbox model, a set-top box that lets you view your own TV content (from a cable box, DVR or satellite connection) over the Internet via a Web browser or mobile device app. The latest model, the Slingbox 500, adds up-to-date features that enhance an already excellent product.
The new model can connect to HD televisions via HDMI cables (and component, which can show TV channels that might be protected with HDCP). In addition, the 500 now supports Wi-Fi networks (I'd recommend having it connect via 802.11n for optimal bandwidth), but you can still connect directly to your router via Ethernet cable.
Setup is still relatively simple - the box sits between your TV source (cable box) and your TV, then you connect to your router or setup the Wi-Fi connection via the system's menu interface. After some quick configuration for your specific cable box, service provider and remote control, you're up and running.
Viewing the TV content via Web browser involves installing a plugin (at least for the Mac version I tested with), and creating a Sling login that tells the system to access your particular Slingbox. Picture quality over my Wi-Fi network was stellar, viewing both on the Mac and via an iOS app on my iPhone 4. The iOS apps (for iPhone and iPad) cost an additional $14.95 each, but are well worth it if you want to watch the TV content on an iPhone or iPad away from your home. Another big selling point is that there are no subscription fees - once you pay for the Slingbox upfront, that's all you need.
Viewing content over my phone's 3G network was a bit spotty - at times the system pauses due to system lag or latency - while you can adjust the stream quality from an HD stream down to SD, in spotty coverage areas you may still find some issues. Additionally, a stream of this sort could quickly use up any bandwidth caps on your phone's data plan, so use with caution and use sparingly if you can.
For a long time I figured the best use case was for travelers who wanted to watch a live sporting event for their favorite team while they were in a different part of the country, but I discovered an even better use for this. While out with my 3-year-old daughter waiting for a school event to begin, I was able to quickly entertain her by handing her my iPhone and letting her watch the Disney Junior channel without needing to dig for a special app or load up some other videos. Grumpy children issue solved - thanks Slingbox!
If you haven't considered getting a Slingbox up until now, the holidays are a perfect time to reconsider. The latest updates to the box keep up with the latest technologies on the audio/video quality and network speed fronts, making this a great gift for anyone who loves TV.
- Keith Shaw
The Obsess Nightstand is a pair of devices that let you stream video content wirelessly to a high-definition TV. It's aimed at the hotel/hospitality industry for them to put the devices into a guest's room, but you could certainly buy this for yourself and put it in your own bedroom, living room or even a guest room (boy, would people want to stay over at your house then!).
The receiver connects to the HDTV via an HDMI cable (fortunately, one is provided if you need it). The other unit is the nightstand, which includes an alarm clock and an Apple Universal Dock Connector (which also can recharge any iOS device connected to it). When an iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) is connected to the dock, any videos played from the unit is then wirelessly streamed to the receiver and TV. This includes any movies/TV shows purchased through the Apple Store, or a user's personal videos that they've loaded onto the unit.
The nightstand unit also includes an HDMI input for connecting devices like a laptop, Android tablet or video game console. This provides wireless streaming for those devices as well.
I would have preferred to see some kind of internal speakers on the nightstand unit that would let users listen to music through the base unit rather than requiring a wireless stream to the TV - while the inclusion of an alarm is nice for hotel guests, giving them the option to wake up to their own music would have been a cool idea as well.
Is this a holiday gift? It's hard to tell. Buying this unit requires contact with a G-Link sales staff member, you can't get this through Amazon or other online channels. But for the hospitality industry, it's a nice unit designed to give mobile device owners a chance to view their media content on a larger screen while in their hotel rooms.
- Keith Shaw
This 14.4 megapixel digital camera features 15x optical zoom, 3-inch LCD display, optical image stabilization, a wide-angle lens, HDR (high dynamic range imaging), HD video shooting, and a lithium-ion battery. It has eight shooting modes and allows for multiple exposures and panoramas. The camera can take up to 10 photos per second, perfect for photographing fast-paced scenes. It has a rubber grip that makes it easier to hold and an all-glass lens to prevent scratches. The camera is light and compact, yet has excellent shooting capabilities, making it a great gift for a photography enthusiast who wants a camera to carry around at all times.
I have an Olympus Pen Mini E-PM1, which goes for $400; the bodies of the two are roughly the same size, but the E-PM1 lacks a retractable lens, making it much bulkier (and prone to damage). However, the G100 has a longer delay between the press of the shutter button and the actual snap of the shutter. The G100 is a more cost-efficient alternative to the E-PM1, especially considering durability. I also have a Canon PowerShot SX130, about $125, which is much bulkier than the G100, and the buttons are more difficult to press. Although the G100 lacks some of the features of the E-PM1, it beats both other cameras in size, durability, and ease of use.
- Abigail Weinberg