Appiphilia: SlingPlayer Mobile app finally available for iPhone
For about $30, you can sling your TV shows, DVR recordings or other at-home media to your iPhone and iPod Touch anywhere you want. But you can do it only if you're using a Wi-Fi connection -- not AT&T's 3G mobile network.
That's a bit of a letdown for Slingbox users who have been waiting for the functionality ever since the iPhone was introduced -- and for at least six weeks since the app was submitted for approval.
However, a clause in AT&T's terms of service, under the section detailing permissible and prohibited uses, outlines that activities such as redirection of television signals "cause extreme network capacity issues and interference with the network and are therefore prohibited."
Mark Siegel, a spokesman in Atlanta for AT&T's mobility business, said that redirecting a TV signal would consume very large amounts of bandwidth and could potentially impede other wireless phone users from accessing the network. "It is one thing to redirect an actual TV signal to a PC or a smartphone ... and another going to Hulu" to watch TV, he said. (Of course, Hulu uses a Flash player that is currently unavailable to iPhone/iPod users anyway.)
But he did point out that iPhone 3G customers have free access to AT&T's 20,000 U.S. hot spots and 80,000 outside the country.
Sling said it hoped to continue to work with Apple and AT&T on making 3G transmission a possibility.
Anyway, the app has finally arrived, and I gave it a spin using a Slingbox Pro-HD set up on a Scientific Atlanta digital cable box. After the jump, Appiphilia's take. ...
SlingPlayer Mobile ($29.99)
What sizzles: Here's an app you couldn't possibly expect to cost in the single-digit dollars range that most Appiphiliacs have come to see almost as a right. It's a robust utility that is worth a bit more for its convenience and sophistication.
You can log in to your Sling Account and access your Sling directory listing the boxes you have linked to your account. If you have a box linked to another e-mail address, you can also access it with little effort.
- Video: The video quality was pretty darn crisp and the audio pristine. You can actually see the difference between high-def and standard-def on the iPhone as well. Just like on the desktop version, you can adjust the input, such as cable, antenna or DVR. The app allows you to shift between standard and high quality and adjust between letterbox and standard.
- Customization: A nice addition is that you can set a "home channel." That means it will always launch that channel when you start up the iPhone app. Sports fans, that might be ESPN or your team's home channel. There's also a favorites setting. Just as with favorites on your TV remote, you can set them up on the app and put them in a chosen order. It will pick up on favorites set on the PC player. (Although that functionality isn't yet available for Mac, Sling said it's in the works.)
- Legacy boxes: Earlier in the app's journey from submission to availability, Sling announced that owners of older SlingBoxes (e.g. the Classic, AV and Tuner) would have to upgrade to Solo or Pro-HD boxes to use the iPhone app -- it even offered a $50 discount. (An outlay of another few hundred dollars was not a popular idea with that crowd.) But don't fret: The company says the app will work with what you've got, though it may not be "officially supported." So don't expect technical service if you have problems using these boxes, say, with software and firmware upgrades.
What fizzles: While it's great having the app at all, the Wi-Fi restriction does limit its use. (Clearly, Sling was hoping and expecting to be able to offer 3G access until the very last. The help menu suggests connecting to a 3G network whenever possible to optimize streaming.) If you're dependent on Wi-Fi, why would you need your iPhone or iPod to view it? Why not just whip out your laptop?
Anyway, so parents hoping to sneak in a glimpse at the Anthony Bourdain or "America's Next Top Model" marathon while spending all day at the soccer field, sorry.
- Screen control: While the remote overall is easy enough to use, touching the screen, even to sweep away some schmutz, can unintentionally change the channel. If you remember that the touchscreen shortcuts are active, they're actually pretty helpful. Sweep up to go to the next higher channel, sweep down to go the one before it. Sweep right to left for your favorites to launch in the order you have set up. A little dust on the screen helped me to accidentally shift from "Monk" (USA) to "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" (MSNBC). Swift, huh?
- Screen size: I don't know about you, but I say bigger is always better when it comes to TV images. The viewing area is currently 4:3, which is a bit small. Sling says one of its first updates, possibly this summer, will be to get near-widescreen display. There will be very small bars on the top and bottom since the iPhone/iPod screen itself is actually 3:2.
Bottom line: Even with Wi-Fi only, the app will probably have pretty decent reception. But many users will still want the option of another channel -- 3G.
Have you used the app? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
-- Michelle Maltais