Sling Media SlingCatcher review
The SlingCatcher is the latest member of the Slingbox family.
Previous Slingbox devices have streamed TV or other video content from your living room to a PC. The PC could be elsewhere in your home or, with the Slingbox attached to a broadband internet connection, anywhere in the world. There have been a number of Slingbox models, the latest of which is the Slingbox Pro.
The SlingCatcher is designed to receive the video stream sent by a Slingbox, replacing the usual PC or laptop. It has a wide range of audio and video outputs, including HDMI with 1080i HD support. The device looks good and won't appear out of place next to even a stylish TV.
Setting it up to receive TV from our Slingbox was easy. We used a wired network to connect the two devices. The SlingCatcher doesn't have built-in wireless networking, as Sling Media doesn't recommend using WiFi for video streaming. Instead the company suggests using powerline adaptors if required. We found that it streamed standard-definition TV at around 2.5Mbit/s, so it should work fine over a wireless bridge. The SlingCatcher is also compatible with 8Mbit/s HD video from the Slingbox Pro.
A stylishly shaped remote is bundled. This works with the Slingbox's infrared emitters to control a wide range of devices. You can also program it to control your TV. The onscreen menu system looks good and is quick to react to your inputs. From here you can access other functions, including SlingProjector and media file playback.
SlingProjector lets you watch any video content that you can view on your PC's desktop. This works differently from most streaming media receivers, which simply play files stored on your network. Once you have installed the SlingProjector software on your PC, it captures video directly from the desktop, encodes it and streams it to your SlingCatcher. You can set the capture area as the entire screen, or resize a blue box on the desktop to fit the video window - up to a maximum resolution of 1,024x768.
The main advantage of this method is that it enables you to stream protected content, such as programmes from the BBC iPlayer, straight from the web to your TV. However, you'll ideally need to have the PC in the room with you, as you can't pause playback thorough the SlingCatcher. What's more, the real-time encoding is processor intensive, so you'll need a dual-core PC to stream even standard-definition content. Finally, the video quality isn't particularly impressive, as the device recompresses video that has already been compressed, which results in some nasty-looking artefacts.
Although the SlingCatcher can't access media files over a network, you can play them from a USB storage device. It has two USB ports on its rear for this purpose, but as it supports only FAT32-formatted drives, file sizes are limited to a maximum of 4GB. It supports all the audio and video file formats you'd expect, including H.264 and XviD. It also plays ISO files created from DVDs, but most of these are larger than the 4GB file size limit. There's no support for photo slideshows, however. The free-to-download SlingSync software will find and organise your PC's media files, making it easy to transfer those you need to a removable storage device.
If you're already a Slingbox user, the SlingCatcher is a great piece of kit. It's ideal for streaming TV from a set-top box (from Sky or Virgin) in your living room to your bedroom TV. If you're lucky enough to have a broadband-equipped holiday home, its certainly worth buying. However, if you're not a Slingbox user, the SlingProjector and media playback features are unlikely to tempt you to buy the SlingCatcher. After all, it's simple to connect a laptop's video output directly to a TV and watch internet TV and media files that way.