Travel Tech 101



January 4, 2007 -- I'm sitting at a gate at Chicago/O'Hare waiting for my flight back home to San Diego. But instead of the usual boredom, I'm watching my home television on my notebook computer.

Until now, there have been numerous products that let us select when we watch our favorite TV programs. But now there's a product, Slingbox, that lets us decide where we watch.

The Slingbox lets you watch your home television on your computer or your smartphone. You can use Slingbox to view your television from most anywhere in the world: an airport, a hotel room, your office--or even from another room in your home.

I've been trying out the newly released model, the Slingbox AV ($179). It's a small box that sits between your cable tuner or TiVo and your Internet connection. You pay just once for the box. There are no monthly fees since you're watching your own television signal.

How does it work? The Slingbox transmits the broadcast from your cable tuner or TiVo over the Internet to a PC or Mac. It also works with a Windows Mobile phone using optional software.

Of course, you need a broadband connection at both ends for Slingbox to work. That means cable, DSL or satellite service in the home and EVDO, Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection on the road. When you want to view your television from a remote location, simply connect your laptop computer or mobile phone to the Internet, open the Slingbox software application and watch your programs.

What makes the Slingbox even more useful is using it with a TiVo or other digital video recorder. This lets you view not only live TV, but also programs that you've previously recorded. This "time shift" viewing is especially useful if you're looking to screen a program that is being broadcast at an inconvenient time in the time zone where you're working. Working with the Slingbox software on your remote device, you use a screen image of the TiVo remote to select a program, record a new one, play one back, fast forward, etc. It works exactly the same way as a TiVo or other digital recorder does at home.

Being able to view and control your television on your remote computer is one of those experiences that's easily described, but hard to fathom until you actually see it and use it. Even in our blasť high-tech age, Slingbox is remarkable.

I've tried Slingbox in airports and from hotels in San Francisco and Chicago using a Sprint EVDO card. It worked flawlessly. You can view the image in a small window or on the full screen of your remote device. Slingbox adjusts the picture based on your connection speed, and, once it adjusts, it displays a very good image.

What's happening at home while you're watching from afar? Your home television monitor is off. You're actually watching the signals that are pulled in from your TiVo or tuner that are always on regardless of whether you've turned on your television.

I did run into a glitch with Slingbox recently when I tried watching a recorded program on my TiVo from a hotel room. Every time I tried selecting a recorded program, the television signal would go live. Was there a problem with the Slingbox? No, it was a case of "dueling remotes." My wife at home was trying to watch a live program at the same time that I was trying to watch the recorded one. Even from thousands of miles away, we can't agree on what to watch!

Unfortunately, because of copyright restrictions imposed by the television networks, you cannot save a live program sent via Slingbox on your remote computer or smartphone. That eliminates the possibility of watching the program later on an airplane or other Internet-deprived space.

Setting up Slingbox is simple, at least in most common applications. Connect the included Slingbox cables to the output connectors on the back of your tuner or TiVo and attach the IR sensor to the TiVo's IR window. That allows the Slingbox to receive the video signal coming out of the TiVo and to control the remote functions. Next, you connect the Slingbox to a router connected to your high-speed modem using an Ethernet cable.

If your modem isn't near the Slingbox, you can connect to the Net with optional SlingLink boxes ($100 a pair) that use your house wiring to bridge the distance. Lastly, install the Slingbox software on the computers and smartphones that you want to use to view the programs. You can view from any number of devices, but you can only use one at a time.

Obviously, Slingbox is ideal for business travelers who want to see their favorite programs or sporting events from anywhere in the world. Using Slingbox, you can watch your favorite sports channel, local news programming or cable channels not offered in your hotel. You're no longer confined to watching the limited local fare offered in your hotel room.

Bottom line: Slingbox is a great product that delivers what it promises.

This column originally appeared at

Copyright © 2007 by San Diego Transcript. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.