It's déjà vu all over again.
It's been almost exactly a year since Sling Media announced the SlingCatcher and Clip+Sling functionality (at least year's Consumer Electronics Show), but thus far, beyond some private betas, there has been no public sign of life for either of the enticing new enhancements to the Sling platform. Well, according to Brian Jaquet, Sling Media's PR guy, both products are inching (my word, not his) closer to reality. The SlingCatcher is now being promised for Q2, while Clip+Sling will be included with the release of the new SlingPlayer software (SlingPlayer 2.0), rumored to be within a couple of months. At launch, the products will only be available for Windows, though Jaquet says Mac versions are in the works.
First, some Sling 101, since I continue to be amazed by the number of folks I encounter - including many in the tech business - who still haven't heard of the Slingbox. All the more amazing, since I believe the Slingbox is arguably one of the most impressive new pieces of technology I've seen over the past decade. In short, a Slingbox connects to your set-top box (and your home, broadband-connected network), enabling you to remotely view whatever is on your home TV - including shows stored on your PVR - from a PC, Mac, or smartphone. It is remarkably simple to setup, and more importantly, to use.
The SlingCatcher ($249.99) will address one of the biggest current drawbacks of the Slingbox - it will enable you to watch content from one TV on another one, either inside, or outside of your home. In other words, if you DVR a show on your living room set, but want to watch it in your bedroom, all you'll need to do is add a SlingCatcher to your bedroom set, and you'll have full access to anything on your primary set-top box.
In addition, using new SlingProjector software, the SlingCatcher can also stream any video file that your PC is capable of playing, meaning you won't face any onerous format restrictions. It will work with MP4, DivX, WMV, AVI, and anything else, including Web-based videos, and those purchased through online services, including iTunes. The SlingCatcher will be controlled by a remote control, which comes bundled with the device.
The SlingCatcher can also be connected to an external hard drive, and then using another new application, SlingSync, copy files from your PC to the hard disk, making the PC an unnecessary piece of the equation.
While I've been surprised by the delays with the SlingCatcher, the extended rollout for Clip+Sling is less suprising, given the obvious copyright issues the company could face once Slingbox owners are able to record segments of somewhere between a few seconds and a few minutes, and post them online. In fact, the company has still not announced exactly how much footage it will allow users to record, and what, if any, usage restrictions there may be. Once a user defines which part of a program they wish to clip, with a few clicks, that clip will be publicly available on Sling.com. The company hopes to make these clips embeddable, but they will not be at launch.
In addition to Clip+Sling, the new SlingPlayer 2.0 software (a free upgrade) will contain a couple of other additions. The first is a 60-minute buffer, enabling for far easier rewinding and fast forwarding than is available today. The player will also have its own program guide, so Slingers won't be required to navigate the on-screen guide on their set-top box, which can be a clunky process (though you'll still need to access the set-top box's guide if you want to schedule a recording).
Assuming the company can truly get these out the door soon, they add-ons will have the potential to dramatically expand the Slingbox's appeal. I just hope that I won't be writing this exact same post at CES 2009.