The SlingCatcher is an add-on for Sling Media's Slingbox that gives you more flexibility over how and where you watch your TV. A Slingbox on its own lets you watch your TV on virtually any laptop or desktop in the world, but, with the SlingCatcher set-top box, you can dispense with the laptop and turn any television into a mirror image of the one you have at home.
The SlingCatcher is available now for around £200 from all good retailers.
First and foremost, the SlingCatcher is an attractive piece of kit. It's not as stylish as the Slingbox Solo, but Sling Media has certainly learned a few design lessons since the original Slingbox launched in 2006. The front is very minimalist, with just a Sling Media logo in the centre, plus network-activity and power lights off to the right. Neither of these lights is distracting in the slightest, even if you're using the product in a dimly lit room.
The rear is the business end of the device. Here, you'll find video outputs, including composite, component, S-Video and HDMI, giving you plenty of choice about how you connect the SlingCatcher to a television. You'll also find two USB ports that allow you to play media directly off a compatible USB storage device. It supports H.264, MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and Xvid, and AAC, AC3, MP3, WAV and WMA formats.
The remote control is one of the best things about the SlingCatcher. It's well laid out, in a logical fashion, with power buttons for the TV and SlingCatcher at the top, playback controls grouped just below and cursor-style navigation buttons in the centre, where we'd expect them to be. Below these are four programmable buttons that you can assign to any set-top box functions missing from the SlingCatcher remote -- a useful touch.
The SlingCatcher works well. Image quality is generally okay, although it's very dependent on the upstream speed of your broadband. We tested the system with a Slingbox Solo connected to a UK-based Tiscali TV broadband package with an upstream speed of 512Kbps, and with the SlingCatcher connected to a US-based Verizon broadband package with a downstream speed of 8Mbps. In this configuration, video playback was relatively satisfying. Picture quality was approximately on a par with that of VHS cassettes. That's not ideal, but we don't care -- it's impressive considering you're watching your own TV live over the Internet.
Better video quality can be achieved by those who use the SlingCatcher and Slingbox together in the same building. Over a wired Ethernet connection, picture quality is greatly improved, as is the responsiveness from the remote control, meaning the SlingCatcher makes a good, if not quite perfect, alternative to ordering a second set-top box or ordering a multi-room subscription to Sky+.
The first question you'll have to ask yourself is whether there's any point whatsoever in owning a SlingCatcher. If you own a Slingbox, you can just as easily connect your laptop or PC to a television via the laptop's video output port. It's a less power-efficient way of doing things, but it could save you money, as well as the backache incurred by carrying a laptop plus a SlingCatcher wherever you go.
Those who use the SlingCatcher as a multi-room set-top box may be disappointed with it. It lets you easily view whatever's showing via your Sky TV, or similar, box, on a second TV, but you can't watch two separate channels at once. Whatever's showing on your main set-top box or television will be duplicated on the SlingCatcher, and vice versa -- so expect some remote-control wars to erupt between you and your housemates.
Changing channels or interacting with menus is fairly stressful on the Slingbox, and it's just as bad, if not worse, on the SlingCatcher. The system takes an age to react to remote-control inputs, due to latency caused by operating over a network. Sling Media has got around this, to some extent, by introducing a 'control mode' feature that improves responsiveness at the expense of picture quality, but this option is missing from the SlingCatcher.
Our last gripe is the price. The SlingCatcher retails for around £200, which is a significant sum considering that an additional Sky+ box retails for the same price, and has more features and superior picture quality. You can't carry a Sky+ box around, but you really won't want to carry a SlingCatcher around much either.
Sling Media's SlingCatcher is a good product in most respects, but it's hardly an essential purchase. We'd recommend it only to people who live alone and want to enjoy TV content on two television sets in different rooms.
Edited by Charles Kloet