Slingbox Mobile keeps sports fans tuned in

Slingbox, the
consumer electronics device that lets a user watch content stored on
their DVR anywhere in the world via broadband connection is now
slinging content to mobile devices that run Windows Mobile Pocket PC
5.0 and 2003 Second Edition.

The new service, called SlingPlayer
Mobile, is free with a new Slingbox purchase or $29.99 for existing
users. Once the user installs the software they can dial into their DVR
and not only set up recording but also watch live TV streams that are
being sent to the DVR. They can also pause, fast-forward and rewind the
recording.

The original Slingbox is a small box about the size
of three Hershey bars that is hooked up to the DVR and the broadband
connection. Laptop users with a broadband connection on the road can
then tap into the broadband pipe and pull content from their DVR. The
mobile application completes the anytime, anywhere Sling Media
philosophy.

The technology behind the new mobile service is
surprisingly simple according to Jeremy Toeman, Slingbox VP of market
development. But it does have some complex advanced adaptive video
encoding technology that optimizes the content delivery for the
available bandwidth.

It shifts the video quality in realtime on
a frame-by-frame basis based on the current available bandwidth, he
says. Instead of getting a relatively low quality experience with 30
frames per second it will dial down to 15 frames per second and improve
the video quality.

Since its launch a year ago the Slingbox has
caused consternation among local broadcasters and networks that believe
place-shifting technologies will lead to headaches in the
network-affiliate model. For example, two Slingbox subscribers could
send each other content unavailable in their respective areas or get
around blackout restrictions.

Toeman says any concerns are
overblown. CBS Sportsline had more than seven million viewers and we
aren t anywhere near that, he says. And I honestly think this helps
stations because I can keep in touch with my local station from
anywhere.

For sports fans the new technology, particularly the
mobile application, is a blessing. With sports leagues and broadcasters
still not delivering live video signals of sporting events to
cellphones it provides an end-around that lets the sports fan always be
in touch with their favorite teams.

The current Slingbox system
is only available for the Microsoft operating system but Toeman says
and Apple version will be available next quarter. It will also be
available in Canada later this week and the company is working on other
platforms like the Treo 650 and Nokia phones.

And the company s
plans don t stop there. The technology currently requires its own box
that is attached to the digital video recorder. Why not strike a deal
with a set-top box maker like TiVo or Scientific-Atlanta and have the
technology built into the box? We re having those kind of discussions
right now, says Toeman.

Is Slingbox good or bad for the sports
industry? Executives are reluctant to comment on the technology but it
does present some potential problems. Later this year, for example,
Modeo and Qualcomm will introduce two mobile video subscription
services. Will Slingbox, which has no subscription component, make
those services redundant? Or will there be a place at the table
for all three (plus the cellular-based video services)? Time will tell.