This column was originally published on RealMoney on Sept. 9 at 12:26 p.m. EDT. It's being republished as a bonus for TheStreet.com readers.
Having recently returned from a vacation in Asia, there is one thing I appreciate more than ever in the U.S. I'm a tech guy, but it's not broadband Internet. And it's not movies (many are actually released overseas a half-day earlier because of the time difference). Actually, what I most missed was television.
As a result, when I returned, the first thing I did was to purchase a Slingbox. The Slingbox is a candy-bar-shaped device that enables "place-shifting," which is the ability to watch your television wherever you want (as opposed to
which promotes "time-shifting", or watching television
Although developed by a privately held firm, the Slingbox could enhance the investment merits of several sectors. The primary beneficiaries include consumer powerline and MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output) networking-equipment providers;
offers both types of products.
Ancillary sectors that should also benefit include DVR companies such as TiVo, companies offering fiber-to-the-premises such as
, and in my case,
-- as I'll explain later.
Released in July, the Slingbox had initial demand that appears strong. When I first tried to search CompUSA's Web site several weeks ago for nearby stores that might carry the product, all were sold out. The only other retail store that currently offers the Slingbox is
, though they did not offer the product at the time of my search.
Next I tried to order the product online for mail delivery but received an email one week later saying it would be on back-order for two to three weeks. The Slingbox had even been selling on eBay initially for a premium to the retail price of $249.99. A week later, I finally managed to get hold of the last unit at the local store, which had received a new shipment.
The product has thus far worked very well, exceeding my expectations. The setup took only 30 minutes, since I was fortunate to have a universal plug-and-play (uPnP) router that the Slingbox was able to configure on its own.
Although many believe the demand for the Slingbox may be limited to tech geeks who have been waiting a year for the product to be released, I think it has a more widespread appeal than a few negative reviews would suggest. For expatriate sport fans, the Slingbox is especially invaluable. For traders overseas, the payback period can be quick. While many Asian cable television companies offer the American
broadcast live, they do not carry the "Mad Money" show or other valuable news programs.
Demand for the Slingbox should grow as new platforms and distributors are added. The future PAL (international video broadcast standard) version will make this a truly worldwide product. While Windows XP is the only operating system currently supported, a Mac version is being added. The company even plans to offer a version of its software that will enable you to watch television through your PDA!
Two Technologies Offer Derivative Plays
Although the developer, Sling Media, is a private company, making it difficult to invest in, several derivative plays are worth examining.
Powerline networking technology (also referred to as HomePlug) has been around for years as an alternative to messy wires, but it has been thus far eclipsed by wireless 802.11 Wi-Fi technologies. Powerline technology enables you to access your LAN through a regular power outlet using a special adapter instead of the usual method of using Ethernet cable. While Wi-Fi also obviates the need to wire cable throughout the house, setting up the Slingbox presents a different type of problem, which I believe can be better solved by using powerline.
The Slingbox requires both a nearby television and an Ethernet connection. However, in my home they are located far from one another. I considered the option of using a free-standing wireless adapter such as those used to connect video-game consoles to the Internet, but I was concerned that intermittent weak reception would affect the quality of the video being sent upstream from the Slingbox to the Internet. Alternatively, using typical Ethernet cables would involve drilling holes in the floors -- not a good option for those still hoping to sell their house someday.
I have finally decided to go with powerline. Conveniently, CompUSA placed its
powerline Ethernet adapters right beneath the store's Slingbox display. The Netgear adapter is also featured as an add-on to the Slingbox on CompUSA's Web site.
Other consumer technology companies that offer Powerline products include LinkSys, which is owned by
, and D-Link and SMC Networks, which are Taiwanese companies. Finally,
also offers powerline solutions, but these are primarily geared to the commercial and industrial markets.
MIMO networking technology is another alternative to powerline. MIMO wireless network systems use multiple radios and antennas to increase their wireless range and help eliminate dead spots. I haven't tried one yet, but reviews seem positive. However, I still feel greater peace of mind with powerline technology, knowing that there is an actual physical connection to the Internet (albeit via electrical vs. Ethernet wiring) when I am traveling.
Additional Ancillary Plays
Other industries can benefit from the recent release of the Slingbox. The only officially compatible DVR currently is TiVo. Slingbox's client software even displays a remote resembling the actual one, enabling near-full functionality such as scheduling future recordings. Additionally, the Slingbox uses digital signal processing technology from
High-speed Internet providers and infrastructure companies can also benefit, as consumers may want to upgrade to higher bandwidth services to enjoy a higher quality video stream. For example,
offers fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) for customers in certain geographic markets. FTTP (which Verizon brands as FiOS) uses fiber-optic cables instead of copper wire, increasing the bandwidth capacity available.
While a typical DSL package (maximum connection speed of 768 Kbps downstream/128 Kbps upstream) from Verizon costs $19.95 a month, the company charges $39.95 for a premium package that offers bandwidth of 5 Mbps downstream/2 Mbps upstream and $199.95 a month for 30 Mbps/5 Mbps. Note that the upstream bandwidth is typically the bottleneck in determining the quality of the video stream you will receive outside the home.
Before the Slingbox was released,
offered a similar solution called "location-free TV." However, the product required using dedicated portable flat panel displays and cost over $1,000. Sony recently announced it would begin to offer a PC-compatible version in Japan on Oct. 1 for around $300; in my opinion this move acknowledges the large market potential of the Slingbox.
So is Slingbox the next killer app? I believe it will take at least several quarters before the product will spread to the mass market, but one certainty is that a greater share of my entertainment wallet will definitely be spent at Panera Bread. Why? I went to my local Panera Bread cafe to test out my new Slingbox, using its free wireless Internet access. The picture and sound being streamed from my television at home to my laptop came across effortlessly. While the image was not perfect, it was the same as I would expect from any Internet video stream. I was even able to remotely schedule new shows to record on my TiVo.
P.S. from TheStreet.com Editor-in-Chief, Dave Morrow:
It's always been my opinion that it pays to have more -- not fewer -- expert market views and analyses when you're making investing or trading decisions. That's why I recommend you take advantage of our
premium Web site, where you'll get in-depth commentary
money-making strategies from over 50 Wall Street pros, including Jim Cramer. Take my advice --
Joseph Wana is founder and president of Naga Capital Management. At the time of publication, Wana had no positions in any of the securities mentioned in this column, although positions may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Wana appreciates your feedback;
to send him an email.