It seems that for every gizmo and gadget that is released these days a community of hackers and after-market vendors springs up to offer add-ons to power users and geeks to soup them up. Of course, most people are familiar with automotive after-market add-ons, but your tech gadgets aren’t left out of the picture. TiVo users have offerings from DVRupgrade, WeaKnees, and 9th Tee, as well as numerous community projects such as TiVo Decode and WinMFS/MFSLive. iPod & iPhone users have many add-on vendors as well as hacking and jailbreak sites. Many DVD players have 3rd party firmware loads, or hack sites with back door codes to disable region locks, etc. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that the Slingbox is no different.
At commercial option comes from Applian Technologies. Early on Applian Technologies released At-Large Recorder, which allowed users to record the streams from their Slingbox. However, Sling Media later made changes to their SlingStream which blocked recording from Slingboxes with newer firmware, so users could only use it with un-upgraded, older units. However, Applian eventually sorted out how to make their software with newer Slingboxes, and they released At-Large Recorder 2. At-Large Recorder 2 works with any Slingbox, and allows for scheduled recordings, turning your Slingbox into a remote tuner for recording on your PC. You can download At-Large Recorder 2 and try it out as a demo, which allows you to record 5 minutes per recording. Which is probably enough to grab clips if that’s all you need. If you like it, you can purchase the activation key for $49.95. The full version allows recording without limitation.
At the other end of the spectrum is the open-source Slingbox SDK developed by Alexandre Lefebvre. Completely free, but really for the geeks. The project includes an SDK for communicating with any model of Slingbox, a basic recording application, and a plug-in to access the Slingbox from within VLC.
There’s another free application, which is a bit more user friendly. Actually, a small suite of applications – Slinger, SLR Recorder, and VSLR Player. Much like Applian’s At-Large Recorder 2 these free applications allow for recording of the SlingStream, including schedule recordings. They’re a little rough around the edges, without the polish of the commercial At-Large Recorder, but that’s $50 and these are free. So take your pick.
And there is another player just entering the field. Reader Natasha Silverfoote tipped me off to them back on March 24th, which is what started the wheels of my brain turning to pull this post together. She let me know that mReplay had just opened up their mReplay Live product for public beta. This is a different kind of application, it is an ActiveX program that runs from within Internet Explorer to allow you to record from any Slingbox from within the browser. It also allows you to edit the recordings and product clips, much like Sling’s own forthcoming Clip+Sling. However, while Clip+Sling will upload the clips directly to Sling.com, mReplay Live allows you to share the clips on YouTube, via email or IM, etc.
Right now it is, frankly, fairly rough. I’ve played with it and it crashed IE a few times. But that’s not unusual for a first beta release. As a Firefox user, needing to run IE in the first place bugs me. But while it is rough around the edges, and is clearly an early beta, it does work. I was able to stream from my Slingbox SOLO and make recordings and clips. The good news is that mReplay intends to bring the same functionality to Firefox via a plug-in, and they also intend to bring mReplay Live support to the Mac and Linux in some fashion. They’re also working on support for the iPhone using the just-released SDK. As well as bringing the software to additional platforms, a planned feature addition is ‘DVR functionality’ to allow scheduled recordings. And to top it off, mReplay Live is a free application.
After I tracked down a contact, mReplay’s founder and CEO, Patrick Riley, was kind enough answer my questions via email. mReplay is based in Orinda, CA, just outside of San Francisco. mReplay started back in 2005 and grew out of Patrick’s Masters Thesis at the UC Berkeley School of Information, and it seems that the folks at mReplay are big fans of the Slingbox, but just felt limited by the capabilities of the official software. That’s generally how all of these things start, when someone thinks “This is great, but wouldn’t it be cool if it could do X?” The founders are sports fans who really wanted a way to use their Slingboxes to grab highlight clips.
Their original effort in 2005 was to develop mobile client software to allow accessing the Slingbox from mobile phones. However, that effort ended up taking a back seat to developing the PC client that has first surfaced as the free mReplay Live application. The next step is for a commercial application called GameDay Professional which will expand on the basic recording and clipping functionality of the Live application to include automatic sports highlight detection and recording and ‘VCR-like’ recording scheduling. While watching a sporting event the professional software while automatically compile a highlight reel of the game. It is still in private beta, but Patrick told me it will be available in June 2008 and pricing is planned to be $30 for PC and Mac.
The mReplay Mobi effort hasn’t been dropped either, it is still in the works for ‘Summer 2008′ with the aforementioned iPhone support as well as support for Google Android planned. The mobile client is planned to go beyond the standard SlingPlayer Mobile client software by supporting the same clipping and sharing features as the mReplay PC software.
mReplay received a Cease & Desist letter from Sling Media last year, relating to their early efforts, and this delayed their work and software releases a bit. But they’re now represented by the law firm Fenwick & West LLP and feel that all of their current products are 100% legal. mReplay hasn’t heard more from Sling Media about their current work, and when I contacted Sling Media about mReplay they officially had no comment at this time.
Patrick sees mReplay as a ‘value add’ for the Slingbox, and not really a competitor. As he put it in email:“We are only going to help Sling Media, by making their hardware more valuable by providing additional free and premium services.” He’d like to see Sling embrace third party vendors who can add features and functionality to the standard Sling products for the power users. He’d really like to see Sling Media release an official SDK for third party developers to use in extending Slingbox and SlingPlayer feature set. mReplay plans to release some of their code as open source to help fuel community development efforts around the Slingbox. When I asked about producing a client that isn’t tied to a browser Patrick said:“[I]t’s just a matter of making a PC and Mac Client that isn’t reliant on the limitations of a browser.”
I asked Patrick if he is concerned about Sling Media updating their products to block third party software such as mReplay, and he replied:
I think it would be a great disservice for Sling to technically or legally tweak user’s Slingbox (their firmware) as to prevent any other companies from making software for this piece of hardware.
I don’t really see the likes of mReplay, or Applian and the others, as competitors to Sling, so I hope they allow the third party vendors to establish a Slingbox ecosystem to support the power users and geeks who look for more than the average user. As we’ve repeatedly seen with other products, community hacking efforts really can’t be stopped, so it probably isn’t worth spending resources on trying.
While the third party applications may offer additional functionality, none of them really feel as user-friendly as SlingPlayer. mReplay Live is still in its first public beta release, so I do have to cut it a lot of slack, but I did have some trouble figuring out how to use it. I didn’t find it very intuitive. But hopefully those issues will be worked out during testing – that’s what betas are for after all.
Personally, I’m looking forward to the release of SlingPlayer 2.0 with Clip+Sling as well as SlingPlayer Mobile updates. I got a taste of SP 2.0 and C+S at CES in January and what Sling has done is really polished and easy to use. I really do wish Sling Media would add recording functionality, as I said back during CES they’re so very close already with SP 2.0:
SlingPlayer 2.0 is an evolution of todayâ€™s SlingPlayer software. The new software adds a 60 minute local playback buffer which allows you to pause, rewind, and fast-forward the program locally. The UI has been spruced up and there are a number of updates, including an Electronic Program Guide (EPG) source from Zap2it.com (which is run by TMS, the same company that provides TiVoâ€™s guide data). At this point a Slingbox with SlingPlayer 2.0 is a hairâ€™s breadth from forming a DVR. All they need to do is add recording capability to SlingPlayer and theyâ€™d have a functioning DVR. I asked Dave about that, but Sling has no plans currently to add recording. Maybe at some point in the future. While it wouldnâ€™t replace TiVo, I do think they should do it. And it is clear that not doing it is a deliberate choice, as everything is in place for it in 2.0 aside from allowing the buffer to be saved.
Perhaps once the ongoing lawsuit between TiVo and EchoStar (which now owns Sling Media) is settled Sling will be able to add DVR functionality.
In the meantime power users looking to record, and more, might want to check out one of these add-on products.