SlingCatcher is a difficult device to explain, but when you have one properly hooked up for a while, you'll find it difficult to fathom that you could ever live without it.
SlingCatcher, made by SlingMedia (a wholly owned subsidiary of
), is kind of a reverse SlingBox, if that helps.
SlingBox is a clever device that attaches between a video source like your cable/satellite receiver box and a high-speed Internet connection (Ethernet or Wi-Fi) and lets you watch and control that video source on a laptop/desktop computer. It allows you to control and view that video from another room, another building, across the street, across the country or around the world.
'Catcher reverses the equation and adds a few twists that make life very interesting. SlingCatcher also connects to your high-speed Internet connection but then attaches to the inputs of your television set. It allows you to stream video from other video sources to your TV. It works with standard definition TVs and all of the new high-def monitors on the market today.
You can watch the output of your SlingBox through your SlingCatcher on your TV. You can also plug in a video source (such as a video disk player, computer or stand-alone hard drive). Or, what really makes SlingCatcher so special, you can access Internet video using a new software program called SlingProjector.
SlingProjector instructs your computer to begin streaming on-screen video through the SlingCatcher to your TV screen. It doesn't matter what Web site you go to (whether it's Sling's new video source Sling.com, or YouTube or even
) the Sling Projector/Catcher combo lets you instantly take video from the Internet and watch and control it from a big TV screen from across the room.
In theory and in practice, that's what SlingCatcher is supposed to do. But, as we know, practice makes perfect and SlingCatcher takes a load of patience to set up and get it going. This device is not plug-and-play by any means. You have to hook up the SlingCatcher to your home network and to your TV set. If those two items aren't physically near each other, you have to use Sling's wired or wireless solution to get the video from the SlingCatcher box to the TV. More about this in a minute.
It was easy to attach everything to the proper jacks and plugs but it took me two days -- along with the aid of the Sling help desk -- to figure out that my company's email software was interfering with getting the SlingCatcher up and running on my home network. Hopefully you won't have a similar problem, but it is a possibility.
Problems fixed. Sling Projector now "sees" and connects to the SlingCatcher. Because my wireless router and TV are on opposite sides of my living room, I decide to try Sling's wireless solution to connect my network to the SlingCatcher box. The "wired" solution involves a technology called Homeplug, which takes the audio/video signal and "transmits" it through your home AC electrical wiring system. Because I've spent lots of money to keep extraneous noise out of my home electrical system, the idea of installing Homeplug is ridiculous.
Once everything was up and running, it was easy to determine that wireless is not the best solution either. It works, but very, very slowly. Watching video via this wireless transmission system was like suffering through a slide show. Changing to a direct, Ethernet SlingCatcher-to-router connection made a huge difference. Now the video was simulating moving pictures. It's a hoot to be able to instantly watch Internet videos, including things like HD movie rentals, on your big-screen TV.
The best part about the device is the fact that it allows you to stream HD programming for free. SlingMedia CEO Blake Krikorian demonstrated for me how to use SlingCatcher to move an episode of "Lost" from a laptop to the big screen. He excitedly asked: "How dare you charge me on iTunes for something I can get for free on the Web." At that point I understood how this box might be a success: as more TV networks put full-length HD programming on the Web, Sling can move it to your TV screen.
In actual use, the SlingCatcher/Projector solution is very clever. It is able to handle both standard and high-definition videos over wired and wireless systems. For the record, I suggest using the fastest computers and the fastest networking connections you have for the best results.
Unlike similar new devices, including the second-generation
TV box, SlingCatcher can stream HD video from any Web site -- including Apple's.
The SlingCatcher sells for $299.99 and is currently available from SlingMedia.com and other retailers like Newegg,
. SlingBoxes range from $180 (standard definition) to $300 (high-definition). Next step for this device will be to drop the need for a computer and have it work directly with a cable/satellite/Internet box.
Currently, SlingCatcher and SlingProjector work only with PCs running
Windows. Hopefully that will be extended soon to Mac and Linux machines. And, while we're at it, watching a SlingCatcher's output on a smartphone would be very cool, too.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.