Sling Media seems to have woken up from their nap recently as they’ve started releasing new and updated products. Recently we’ve have SlingPlayer for Android Tablets, SlingPlayer for Facebook, and Chrome support added to watch.slingbox.com.
Things really seemed to slow down with Sling a couple of years ago. There hasn’t been a new Slingbox since the PRO-HD launched in late 2008. There was a flurry of mobile client development in 2008 and early 2009, but after the iPhone & iPad SlingPlayer released in May 2009 things really slowed down. All of the service provider products introduced at CES 2012 seem to have fallen flat. SlingPlayer Mobile for Android finally launched in June 2010 and versions for Windows Phone and an iPad optimized version shipped in November of that year. The Windows Phone version snuck out pretty much unnoticed, though that probably has something to do with the market share of Windows Phone being negligible, to put it kindly. There’s been some activity with Sling in India, and EchoStar launched a SlingLoaded Freesat DVR in the UK, but neither seems to have attracted much attention.
But now we have a flurry of new activity, and I hope it is a sign of what’s to come and not just another blip on the radar. The latest is SlingPlayer for Connected Devices, which is something of a redemption for the disastrous SlingCatcher. It can turn your Slingbox PRO-HD or SOLO (sorry, other models need not apply) into a ‘whole home’ solution by allowing you to access content from the living room on a TV in the bedroom. Or maybe the kids away at school can access the family DVR at home. It is what the SlingCatcher was supposed to provide, and much more since it is now part of a STB which offers other services.
Right now ‘Connected Devices’ means the D-Link Boxee Box and… that’s it. However, as Sling says:“More connected devices will be added soon. Watch this space for updates in the upcoming weeks.” We already know that Google TV is a planned platform for SlingPlayer, hopefully soon. Coming on top of the Google TV 2.0 update (still pending for the Revue, admittedly), it might be another reason to pick up a Logitech Revue Google TV box or bundle. The Boxee Box is $174.95 at Amazon while the Revue is only $99.99. Right now those are the only two ‘Connected Devices’ Sling has discussed for SlingPlayer.
Of course, the question a lot of people are asking is – Will this come to Roku? Roku is the 800 pound gorilla in the streaming STB market, and the new Roku 2 units are certainly more capable app platforms. They also clearly have the highest market penetration, and some of the lowest prices. I really have to think Sling would want to get SlingPlayer for Connected Devices on Roku, but we haven’t heard anything about it to date so don’t get your hopes up.
I wouldn’t bet on seeing it on AppleTV either, not unless/until Apple opens it up for 3rd party apps. Everyone expected them to do that after updating it to be based on iOS, but it still hasn’t happened. Maybe Sling can work with Apple to get the client on the box, like Netflix, but I’m not holding my breath. As for other streaming boxes – Popbox, Western Digital, etc. – no idea. None of the other devices really have much of a user base so it may not be worth the effort.
Sling’s released a video showing off SlingPlayer for Connected Devices on the Boxee Box:
I have to say I’m gratified to see this, and maybe even a bit vindicated. Back in 2008 when I worked at Sling Media the SlingCatcher was two years late and still unreleased. I argued that we should kill it and just not release it. While the design was leading edge when it was announced, the market had changed a great deal in the interim. The SlingCatcher’s inability to handle HD H.264 and limited WMV/VC-1 support, and general reliance on MPEG-2 for HD, was a major issue. Also, the PC software’s requirement that content be playing on the desktop to stream, while innovative when announced, had been surpassed by software like PlayOn and the ability to stream content directly from disk. I just felt that it was basically a two year old product at launch, and two year old consumer electronics products are no longer market leaders.
Instead I argued that Sling should take a different route. Roku was already hot and I suggested making deals with Roku and other companies to embed SlingPlayer in existing products. Put it on Roku, Media Center Extenders (which were more popular at the time), etc. Write a version in Blu-ray Java and distribute it on disc. That would turn any BD-Live Blu-ray deck into a SlingCatcher (I still think that’s a viable idea), and get it embedded into players when the vendor is willing. Netflix later used the exact same approach – using disc-based player software for platforms like the PS3 until they could get an official client embedded in the firmware. Speaking of the PS3, game consoles were another platform I argued Sling should pursue – and I still believe they should.
Of course, in the end I lost the argument, the SlingCatcher shipped and bombed, and I got fired for something else. It is three years later, but it is still good to see SlingPlayer finally hitting other platforms. I think place shifting companies like Sling Media and Monsoon Multimedia need to take a different approach. Stop charging, or at least charging so much, for client software, and get the clients on as many platforms as possible. Ideally, publish the APIs so 3rd parties can build in client support to their platforms, developers can create unique clients for niche platforms, etc. My idea is to get the clients out there, as much as possible.
You want ubiquity. Because once the clients are everywhere, people have a reason to buy your hardware to feed those clients. And that’s where you make your money. If the consumer already has devices with SlingPlayer functionality, it gives them more reason to buy a Slingbox. Create a demand – the player – that only you can supply – with the box – and then sell the supply side.
Maybe this is the start.