SlingCatcher Now Available

Dave Zatz —  October 9, 2008 — 33 Comments

Although the SlingCatcher (MSRP $300) has been prematurely trickling out of various retail locations these last few days, today marks the official launch date of Sling Media’s “universal media player for your TV.”

Given my former relationship with Sling, I’ve had early and continual access to the product. And the most visible change made since CES was blowing up the interface and starting from scratch. Something I fully support. The original UI was extremely unique, but we tried too hard to be clever at the cost of usability and performance. The new design is much cleaner, quicker, and will scale as the Catcher platform evolves.

A brief summary of SlingCatcher functionality:

SlingPlayer for TV Stream and control video from a local or remote Slingbox to the television without a computer in the mix. Caveat: The Catcher is not yet capable of receiving HD video resolutions from the PRO-HD, though it’s in the works.

SlingProjector Project (“screenscrape”) pretty much any audio and video from a Windows PC to the television, full screen or select windows/regions, using a home network. Unlike the two-way ZvBox remote, playback and control are initiated at the computer.

My Media Play a variety of audio and video files from a connected USB hard drive or thumb drive. Windows synchronization and video conversion software is in the works. Detailed file support can be found here (Word doc).

Sling.com While not yet available, the intent is to enable direct web video playback of Sling.com content.

As review units haven’t started shipping to my fellow press and bloggers, I’m keeping the coverage light… But will continue to answer questions in the comments.

33 responses to SlingCatcher Now Available

  1. I have been really interested to see this product come out. However, my main problem with it is the price. Normally, I think people who whine about price are just whiners….so…I guess I’m a hypocrite. However, how is this unit technologically different than the Roku Netflix player @100? It plays streams of video from a network location. $300 is more expensive than a DVD player, a Blu-ray player, game consoles, etc. I’m a little disappointed because I have the perfect application for this device, but I think it is priced a little high.

  2. Dave,

    I get a bit confused about the Sling stuff. Can you give me some advice on what I would need for the following:
    HDTV and HD TiVo in living room.
    HDTV just hooked to basic cable in bed room

    I would like to get the HD/TiVo in the living room onto the bed room TV.

    Thanks for any help. My brain is mush these days.

  3. Spark, for starters the Catcher displays higher resolutions (SlingProjector, media files) than the Roku box. Though it’s not really a technical comparison, more of a functional comparison – and the Catcher is currently capable of much more. To address your concern, WalMart is already offering the Catcher for a low $248. Perhaps that helps sweeten the deal. (At CES 2007 the Catcher was originally announced at $200, at CES 2008 it was revised to $250, and obviously it’s been increased again since I parted ways with Sling. I haven’t yet seen the conversion software which very well may justify the extra $50.)

    Rob, Ideally you’d want a Slingbox PRO-HD in the living room feeding a SlingCatcher in the bedroom. But as I mentioned above, the PRO-HD->Catcher isn’t streaming HD resolutions yet – it maxes out at 640×480. So I’d suggest waiting if true HD is what you’re after. How far is your bedroom from the living room? At my old place, I had my TiVo S3 feeding the living room TV via component and had a 35″ HDMI cable running through the wall to feed the bedroom HDTV. I used an RF->IR remote, but there are also ways to send that signal over coax as my pal Ben D (EngadgetHD) does.

  4. Hey Dave,

    On the FAQ, it mentions that sling will convert video/audio files to compatible formats. Do you have any more color on this, does it create a separate file, does it just convert on the fly, etc… Also, do you have a sense of how the interface will be, big concern would be playing back vob files, will Sling recognize the Video_TS folder and keep the dvd structure intact?

  5. I’m confused. Do I need a SlingBox and a SlingCatcher?

  6. Travis you dont need a slingbox to take advantage of the sling projector (playing videos from your pc on your tv ie hulu.com) or playing downloaded video from something like bittorrent by plugging a thumb drive into the sling catcher. However one of the other things you can do with the slingcatcher is have a slingbox in your living room and then access your living components (ie. Tivo, live tv, dvd, apple tv, ect.) on another tv with only an internet connection. One of the coolest parts is this tv could be in your bedroom upstairs or in a hotel room across the world.

  7. Damian, the conversion software isn’t out yet. The way it’ll work is that PC software will take a look at each file you want to synchronize over the LAN – if it’s not compatible, the software will transcode and drop a separate copy on the Catcher. DVD files are natively recognized. Files can be played as a folder and specific to DVDs, the ifo file is read so you get traditional DVD navigation as well.

    Travis, as mypape said only the SlingProjector feature requires a Slingbox. The DMA and screenscraping functionality are independent, as will be the Sling.com content streaming.

  8. Dave-

    If I’m reading correctly, the slingcatcher will only control files that are physically attached by usb. So one will be able to access ripped dvd vob’s that way (as mentioned above). Are you aware of whether there are plans to allow access to those same files across a home network? (I know you can use the projector to sling a window on a computer, but that really seems to require having the computer nearby to control playback).

    Also, can we assume that the remote is a standard IR remote that can be replaced with a universal remote? (I got burned on not being able to do that with a mac mini).

    Thanks

  9. Brian, right now media files are accessed via connected storage. Next up will be sync software to move (not play) them across the LAN from PC to Catcher. Streaming and/or NAS access is being looked at as a future option.. and I think they need this. Regarding the remote, yes it’s IR and Harmony should already have the codes under the PVR category I believe. (Your Mac Mini should also be able to be controlled by something like a Harmony – don’t know that a basic $10 universal remote would help in either case, though.)

  10. But will it work in a hotel?

  11. Big John, depends on the hotel. Blake caught a playoff game in his room at the Wynn during CES. Instead of watching locally, he watched remotely with full DVR controls. You can manually modify the port that Slingboxes broadcast on. 443 will work in most locations that only block by IP. My Roku box, by comparison, cannot be changed, and the only time I took it with me to a hotel Netflix streaming was blocked. For remote Slingbox access, you’d want decent bandwidth at home (at least 1Mbps up) to broadcast at least 640×480. Can’t wait until Catcher+PRO-HD is 720P or higher.

  12. I can’t wait for my box to arrive, sadly it’s being shipped FedEX home which means I won’t be seeing it until Tues. As for the price, as Dave mentioned there are deals around. I am a bit frustrated by some of the people finding all the things wrong with the box instead of seeing what’s so cutting edge about it. There is/always will be firmware updates as things change. Plus, even if it can’t do HD now, it is upscaling your video to better quality. I am looking forward to watching it on my 42″ during BBall season and see how the action is. The biggest issue I do see is the bandwidth on both sides, hopefully Comcast/ATT/TWC etc increase the upload speeds soon…..

  13. SlingBox, SlingBox HD, SlingBox Pro, SlingMobile, SlingPlayer for TV, SlingProjector, My SlingMedia Play, Sling.com and slingmedia.com

    …Consumer bewilderment I HAZ IT.

  14. How does the slingbox get access at a Hotel if the internet is not free? Do you have to pay for 24 hours of internet using a laptop then plug the sling catcher in? Or does the Wynn have free ethernet hook ups?

  15. If my connection needs to be at least 1000 mbps upload I guess I will have to wait (who knows how long) for FiOS. I agree with Todd.

  16. Oops 1000 kbps is what I was meaning to type.

  17. Ben, all sorts of ways. Many hotels offer free Internet and those that don’t, you’d want to hook up a laptop to register. Even some of the free ones require you to click-thru an authentication web page. Of course, I’m perhaps unusual in that I travel with my own router… Don’t recall how Blake had it set up in the Wynn, though I seem to remember a really long Ethernet cable.

    Travis, Yeah there’s a lot of “Sling” branded jargon being thrown about. The upload speeds I was referring to are specific for streaming at 640×480 or above to a Catcher in another building or state or country. Nearly all of my Catcher usage has been in the home, where broadband upload speed is irrelevant.

  18. Disappointing really, that this box doesn’t support UPnP streaming right now.

  19. It just seems using the catcher while traveling would be a royal pain. First bring the box/remote/ethernet cable…Then you also need a laptop to get the internet working in your hotel room and at that point you also need a router if you only have one hookup in a hotel that requires authentication or you cant use the computer and tv at the same time. So now I need three devices all with ethernet cables, power bricks etc. Seems like less then .00000000000000001% of the population would go to this kind of trouble…

  20. Well, I always travel with a laptop and travel router (plus 3G card too – can bypass hotel Internet altogether). But I agree with you and the hotel usage case is not a main marketing thrust. Setup the Catcher in your home or your vacation home. A more common use (of the SlingPlayer on TV function) is to create a ‘whole home DVR’ – for example my larger TiVo hard drive is in the bedroom and that unit also gets the movie channels, unlike the living room TiVo, where the Catcher is. Though, I’m really waiting on that HD streaming.

  21. Out-of-market sporting events. That’s my dream state with this technology. Find enough “friends” in local markets with Sling HD and stream away.

  22. I usually travel with an Airport Express so anyone in my party can get online. Works magically.

  23. Can the SlingCatcher play ISO files of DVDs?

  24. Dave, thanks for your insights.

    For this to be a “must have” for me, I’d definitely want streaming playback across the LAN from my NAS. Tell ‘em to get on it, would you? ;-)

    A few questions:

    1) does it support HD output from a locally attached USB device? [I'm guessing 1080i, right?]

    2) is the catcher/remote pretty responsive when playing back media files from the USB device? I.e., fast-forward/skip/rewind?

    3) any timeframe guess for HD streaming from the PRO-HD [weeks/months/years]? I assume UPnP streaming would be farther out?

    Thanks again.

    Cheers,

    Bruce

  25. Dave, what do you think of the catcher’s weak h.264 support? It sounds like they put a junk decoder in it and their hands are tied on getting anything above 640×480 (and that’s broken anyway) Transcoding is a joke because it takes lots of time unless they can stream while the file is being converted.

  26. Bruce, yes it does up to 1080i – depends on the source, though. I linked the media formats above in the post and as you know higher res PRO-HD streaming is being worked on. Though I don’t know their timeline.

    Bunklung, as Megazone said on the forums Catcher hardware was spec-ed out some time ago which probably explains certain native file resolution and bitrate limitations. The HD files I come across are Xvid, so it doesn’t personally impact me. Trancoding software will be a nice perk whenever it shows – most media extenders have some limitations of one sort or another, but most don’t provide a workaround. However, you’re right – the lack of real-time streaming/playback is something that gets me down.

  27. Dave, thanks for the details. I just read the Sling Community review of the projector functionality, and I guess I’m still a little confused. Sounds like I have to initiate the selection of what to project (i.e. the rectangle) on the computer, and even click the play button?

    So, if I want to watch some Hulu video on my TV, I have to initiate playback on the PC, then run upstairs before it gets too far? And there’s no way to control the playback, even to pause and restart it using the remote?

    What I’d *like* would be to select at least certain sites using the remote, have it launch the browser on the PC, and allow me to select what part of the screen to blow up, as well as move the cursor around and click using the remote… any chance there’s a way to do any of this?

  28. I was really hoping that this would be the perfect solution for me – connect all my TVs to my SkyHD STB, and allow me to play ripped DVDs too.

    The DVD functionality is so nearly there – but falls at the last hurdle. Why oh why can’t I play ripped DVDs from NAS?? Seems like such an obvious requirement.

    I’m tempted to buy a couple of these anyway, in the hope that they add the ability to play media files from NAS – but given how long it took for the slingcatcher to appear, I’m nervous as how long this would take to arrive…

    Any thoughts?

  29. Glenn, your description of Projector is correct. However once Sling.com is integrated directly into Catcher, perhaps some of the same shows will be available. MZ also alluded to a more sophisticated remote control at some point, but who knows.

    KBlue, I’d buy if you can enjoy it as it is.

  30. Well, I just purchased the SlingCatcher from Best Buy today. It does not have WiFi so, I also had to purchase the SlingLink Turbo also because my router is to close to my TV.

    The main reason that I wanted this is to playback the many hours of video that I have on my PC which is located downstairs.

    Since I am have been waiting over 30 minutes (so far) for the SlingCatcher to update its software, I decided to check for some reviews. That is how I found this site. Now I am reading that I have to either transfer the video to a usb drive or control them from my PC.

    Let’s just say that I am glad that Best Buy is not going to charge me a restocking fee when I take this back first thing tomorrow morning.

  31. Yep, it is official. This is not at all what I expected it to be. I am now going to take it back and get the Linksys Media Extender 2200. It costs less too. (Sling Catcher = $299 + Sling Link = $79 > Linksys 2200 = $349).

  32. When this box can do WiFi and HD, I will buy it.

  33. Does a Harmony remote control switching between multiple devices on the slingcatcher? E.g., I switch from a cable box to a tivo. Will the Harmony be able to know I have switched on the slingcatcher and change the codes being sent out?

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