SlingCatcher: It’s Almost Here–Finally!–and Looks Neat

By  |  Wednesday, September 17, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Way back in January of last year, Sling Media–the inventors of the nifty SlingBox box, which can broadcast TV from your home across the Net to your laptop or phone–announced its second major project. The SlingCatcher, it said, was a new device that would flip around the Slingbox’s functionality, sending video in a multitude of formats from a PC across a home network to a TV. It got lots of attention.

And then…nothing happened. For a long time. But I met with Sling co-founder/CEO Blake Krikorian today, and am happy to report that the release of Slingcatcher, which Krikorian said turned out to be a more challenging engineering project than anyone expected, is imminent. It’s not exactly the box that Sling unveiled in 2007: It offers a wired Ethernet connection but not the Wi-Fi it was originally going to include, and costs $300 rather than the sub-$200 pricetag that Sling targeted. But it’s still an intrguing product, and one which–like the Slingbox–is unique.

The SlingCatcher is a small box which looks like a close relative of the Slingbox: You plug it into a high-def or standard-def TV via its HDMI, component, or composite video connectors, and hook it up to your home network via Ethernet. It includes no on-board storage, but a couple of USB ports let you add capacity via external hard drives or thumb drives.

The box lets you watch video from your PC–both stuff residing on its hard drive, and stuff you can stream across the Internet. And it does so in two ways:

SlingProjector. This is the SlingCatcher’s most inventive feature: the ability to watch any video you can watch on your PC on a TV, regardless of format or copy protection. It involves a piece of Windows software that lets you select a window or region on your PC’s display; the software then “projects” that selection, complete with audio, across your network to the SlingCatcher. The SlingCatcher plays it in full-screen mode, using the same video-processing technology seen in the Slingbox to maximize crispness and maintain smooth playback.

According to Blake Krikorian, SlingProjector will work with absolutely any video. (At the moment, that video needs to be in a windows that’s open on your desktop, but he said that the Windows Vista version of the software will soon let you minimize the window once the video’s playing, so you can watch Internet video on your TV while doing something else on your PC.) As a test, I asked Krikorian to project video from, which uses a proprietary player and doesn’t have a full-screen mode. It worked–and even though the video plays in a teensy window on the PC, it looked better than I expected in full-screen mode on an HDTV.

The bottom line with SlingProjector: Unlike other Internet-video-to-TV solutions such as Apple TV, it’s it’s designed to let you watch YouTube, Hulu, video from providers such as network sites, or anything…including video sources that don’t exist yet. And it looks like it should work.

SlingSync. This piece of Windows software finds video, audio, and photos on your system, converts them into formats that the SlingCatcher can deal with as necessary, and lets you copy them to a USB hard drive or thumb drive. You can then attach the drive to the SlingCatcher box and enjoy your media using the included remote control.  SlingCatcher supports tons of formats, including lots of obvious ones and some not-so-obvious ones, such as VOB files (which lets you watch ripped DVDs, though SlingSync won’t do the ripping itself), DiVX, and formats used by DV camcorders.


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What SlingCatcher can’t do right now is to stream or download video directly from Internet sources–unlike Apple TV and Vudu, among other devices, it requires a PC in the equation. (And both SlingProjector and SlingSync are Windows apps, although Sling is working on Mac versions.) But Krikorian told me that Sling intends to upgrade SlingCatcher later with “native” services–video programming it can grab across the Net without a PC as middleman.

Oh yeah, the SlingCatcher has a third major feature: It lets you sling video from a Slingbox to another TV, either across a home network or the Internet. (Until now, Slingboxes have only been able to transmit content to PCs, Macs, and phones.) That’s not necessarily a moneysaver, since the SlingCatcher costs the same as Sling’s top-of-the-line Slingbox. But if you’ve got a TV in the living room with cable or satellite and/or a DVR, it’ll let you send that programming across the house to a home office, or over the Net to a vacation home.

Krikorian also told me about another Sling product, also due shortly: the Slingbox PRO-HD. This $300 Slingbox variant, which replaces the Slingbox PRO, is the first one that can stream HD content and preserve its high definition on the other end. In the demo I saw, the improvement in picture quality was instantly obvious.

So what to make of the SlingCatcher? My impulse wass to compare it to the Apple TV, but they’re really more different than alike. Apple TV provides extremely simple access to a limited selection of content at a price ($229) that’s lower than that of the SlingCatcher, with a 40GB hard drive thrown into the equation. SlingCatcher is aimed at folks who want all the video the Web has to offer on their TV, and are willing to set up the “projecting” part on their PCs–and if they’re folks who also own Slingboxes, all the better.

Speaking of which, I asked Krikorian whether Sling would build a box that was both a Slingbox and a SlingCatcher. He called the idea “SlingKing” and said that Sling would like to do it when it can figure out how to do so at a price that makes sense.

I also asked him about the possibility of a SlingPlayer client for the iPhone: He said that the company’s working on one and hopes to have it ready for Macworld Expo next January.

More thoughts on SlingCatcher once I’ve had a chance to try it in the comfort of my own living room…soon, I hope.

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  1. Throwing in the Towel on ZvBox « NewTeeVee Says:

    […] I may say I’m done, but I know I’ll be back. I just read that the long-delayed SlingCatcher is finally on its way…maybe that one will be the device I’ve been waiting […]