If only there was a way to watch Freeview or Sky when you’re out, like, on your mobile phone or something. Enter SlingPlayer Mobile for Android. SlingPlayer works by connecting to a Slingbox at your home, which is connected to your Freeview box.
There are SlingPlayer apps for iPhone, BlackBerry and Symbian, and now it’s the green robot’s turn to shine on the box. We tested out a Slingbox Solo, which costs £130, to see how it worked with the recently released Android app.
The set top box we used to test our Slingbox on is a pretty old-school Sony RDR-GXD500 – you can’t even buy it in the shops any more – so we were frankly amazed that we managed to get it working with the Slingbox. A simple case of plugging in some SCART cables.
To change the channel on your Freeview or Sky box, you have to attach a pair of infra-red emitters to the front of your set-top box – where you’d point your remote control. It’s a bit fiddly but worth the effort, as it means you have proper control of your set-top box.
The Slingbox connects to your phone over the internet so you need to hook it up to a router: either by using the Ethernet cable provided or by a pair of SlingLinks, which are mains connectors thath use the wiring in your house or flat as an ad hoc network.
It’s worth noting that if you live in a house that has had a loft conversion or an extension, all the wiring on one floor, or in one part of the house, might not be on the same circuit. The SlingLinks solution only works if your plug sockets’ wiring is on the same circuit.
Once you’ve got your Slingbox hooked up to your set-top box and your router, it’s time to register an account and download the necessary software to your PC. To register an account you’ll need to provide an email address and password – remember these as you’ll need them for when you want to use the app on your phone.
You’ll also need to pick an IR profile that works with your set top box. This really isn’t as hard as it sounds – it’s a simple case of trying each of the on screen options until you can see a small window on your desktop showing what your TV is currently showing.
The next step is to configure your account for internet use. You’ll need to set up your broadband router in order for this to happen. This isn’t really that difficult to do. SlingMedia’s on screen set up guide will be able to take you through the process. Pretty much every major router under the sun is listed, complete with step-by-step guides for each one.
If you’ve ever set up Xbox Live or PlayStation Network for online play at home, the Slingbox process is very similar. If you’ve not done this before then don’t worry, everything will be clearly explained in the set up guide.
OK so you’ve set up your Slingbox, it’s transmitting your TV channels to your computer and your broadband router has been set up. Now for the final, easiest and most fun part – downloading the app.
The app is available to download from the Android Market now and costs $29.99 (£20). When you open the app for the first time you’ll be taken to a login screen – enter your email address and password. Within a matter of seconds you should be greeted with a scaled down version of what you’d see on your TV screen. Success!
To change channels simply tap anywhere on the screen; four buttons should scroll down from the top of the screen in the same manner that the video controls on the YouTube app do. As you can see from the pics these are semi-transparent and don’t really intrude much on the on-screen action.
The keypad button (second from right) brings up a numeric pad which allows you to search for channels as you would on your remote (e.g. tap 1, 3 and enter for Channel 4+1).
The D-pad control (second from left) allows you to manually skip back and forth through channels and adjust the volume, although we found it easier to simply use volume control of our Nexus One.
The icon on the left, which looks like a play symbol should give you access to anything you’ve recorded on your set top box’s hard drive – if it has this functionality. Our Freeview box records programmes to blank DVDs which apparently doesn’t work so sadly we weren’t able to check this out.
The Misc button brings up the miscellaneous controls of your Freeview box that should be able to control using your remote at home. So here there’s a list of Next Chapter/Previous Chapter and menu commands for the DVD-Rs – shame we couldn’t get that working.
It should probably go without saying but SlingPlayer Mobile for Android works best over Wi-Fi or 3G. During our testing we didn’t notice a massive difference between the two in terms of audio or sound quality.
Obviously there’s a time delay between the ‘live’ digital broadcast and the time it takes to get to your phone. Over Wi-Fi we counted about a 2 second delay, and 3 seconds over 3G. Like we said, there’s not much difference.
It does work over GPRS but we’d seriously advise against it as it’s slow, and there’s a big lag whenever you want to change a channel. It’ll also take a chunk out of your monthly data plan and could end up costing you a lot of money just to watch The Sweeney on ITV4 while riding the last train home.
SlingPlayer for Android is definitely an amazing bit of kit. We’ll admit we got a bit too excited the first time we opened up the app and found that we could watch Freeview or Sky on our phones.
Some parts of the set up require a small amount of technical skill but as we said before if you’re a regular Xbox Live player then configuring your router and getting this up and running won’t be a problem. Those who don’t possess the requisite number of geek points could get frustrated with their Slingbox.
Overall it’s expensive. £130 for a Slingbox Solo and roughly £20 for the app itself – that’s £150. Additional SlingLinks cost £70 each and are sold separately. So the app, plus the box plus two SlingLinks – if you need them – is going to cost you £290. It’s not crazy but it’s not cheap either.