You like to watch TV. There are times you'd like to watch your TV anywhere you happen to be, such as when you're on the road and the hotel TV has (other than the requisite adult offerings) a half dozen channels, none of which is showing anything you want to watch.
Up until now, the lone solution for remote TV watching has been a product called Slingbox. If you've never heard of it, Slingbox is a set-top box. You connect it in between your TV and cable or satellite box - your cable/satellite signal gets passed through the Slingbox. Slingbox then transmits your video via the Internet to portable devices running a Slingbox app.
Through the Slingbox app, you can watch and control your TV - change the channel, accessing programs you've DVR'd, channel surf, set the DVR to record a future show - as you would control via your remote control at home, from anywhere you have an Internet connection.
It's arguably the coolest most unique video gadgets extant.
I've been using a Slingbox for years, and have highly recommended it to anyone I know who travels or is just a gadget geek. As a frequent traveler (as you're reading this, I'm actually in St. Petersburg, Russia, on my way from Moscow and on my way to Berlin), having the comfort of watching what I'd watch at home (like baseball games or Jon Stewart) alleviates a lot of lonely road boredom and home sickness.
In spite of its vast utility and coolness, Slingbox surprisingly had been the only "TV anywhere" game in town - until now.
You can now buy the first Slingbox alternative, the Belkin @TV. Like Slingbox, @TV provides the same remote TV anywhere access and control functions, but does it far cheaper - $300 for the Slingbox PRO-HD, just $180 for the @TV.
But does Belkin do it better?
@TV is deceptively simple to set up, but you are immediately faced with a compromise.
Normally, you connect your cable or satellite box to your HDTV via an HDMI cable, which carries all the digital video and audio signals.
Unfortunately, this HDMI-carried digital A/V information is encoded - you can't record it or re-transmit it, and neither can Slingbox or @TV.
As a result, you can't use an HDMI connection with either @TV or Slingbox. With many cable boxes, you'll have to completely unplug the HDMI cable when you hook up the @TV, which is a bad thing.
Instead, you use component video cables (the red-green-blue connectors) and regular RCA/phono yellow composite video, red and white (audio) to connect your cable/satellite box to the @TV, then the same cables to connect the @TV to your HDTV.
Finally, you connect the included IR blaster so the @TV can "see" the infrared detector of your cable box, which lets you control your cable box remotely. You then connect the @TV to your home Internet network via an Ethernet cable.
I never even considered using @TV's Wi-Fi connection - with digital video, you want the heartiest connection possible to reduce buffering issues and reduce stress on your wireless network.
Connect it to a second TV
What's wrong with a component video set-up?
Component video isn't capable of transmitting full 1080p video. As a result, the quality of your regular home TV watching on a set larger than 42 inches will suffer with a component-connected Slingbox or @TV.
And, @TV's analog stereo audio connection means you lose surround sound.
As a result, I connected my Slingbox and now my @TV to a second cable box in another room where I have a smaller HDTV, on which the component quality drop-off is not as noticeable.
Installing @TV on a second cable box in another room also is handy for other at home remote viewing scenarios, such as:
- if you're watching via @TV while away from home, you won't disturb the TV viewing of those you've left behind
- you can sit in the living room with your family and watch what you want on a laptop or tablet - say, monitoring a ballgame - while the rest of the family watches something you're not as interested in
- you can watch TV while sitting outside or on the porch or in a room sans a TV, such as the kitchen or bathroom
@TV's set-up is really simpler than it sounds. @TV's six-page illustrated instruction manual comprises just four easy-to-follow steps across four spacious pages.
Once you have @TV physically connected, you download the @TV software on your primary home PC, Mac or Windows, available at belkin.com/mytveverywhere. You're stepped through a set-up sequence, which includes telling @TV what cable or satellite provider you subscribe to and which cable or satellite receiver you rent or own so @TV can provide you with the right remote control settings. You'll also name your @TV box and set your password.
Now, go to the device you plan on watching @TV on - your laptop, tablet or smartphone - and download the appropriate app. There are @TV apps for iPhone, iPad, Android tablets and Android smartphones, and the same @TV software noted above for Mac OS X and Windows laptops.
Not only is the @TV cheaper than Slingbox, so are the @TV apps are far cheaper. Slingbox's tablet and smartphone apps are both $30, while @TV's smartphone apps run just $13. @TV's tablet apps for iPad and Android apps are free.
These cheaper apps makes @TV the far more affordable TV anywhere alternative. But, as I posed above: is @TV a better TV anywhere solution?
Tune in to Part 2 to find out.