SlingCatcher review

The Slingbox lets you get your TV on your laptop, but what if you want to do it the other way - i.e., get your laptop on your TV? Sling Media the makers of the Slingbox believe it has the answer. But can the SlingCatcher do as it promises? We get streaming to find out.

A long time coming (it was originally announced at CES 2007), the SlingCatcher is simple. Three lights adorn the front of its black casing, the rear features a stack of connections.

HDMI port, Component, S-Video, and Composite video allow you to connect it to your TV while an Ethernet cable provides connection to your network. Everything is controlled via the included remote.

Once turned on you run through a simple and easy to follow tutorial that really only requires you to press yes where necessary. Get past the install - we were asked to download the latest software update (a mere 15 minutes) and you're up and running.

There are four choices in the menu system - SlingPlayer, My Media, SlingProjector, and Settings.

Lets start with Settings. As you might imagine this lets you set-up your SlingCatcher. You can set the TV resolution all the way up to 1080p for HD support while the TV Aspect Ratio options give you 4:3 or 16:9. There is even the chance to select the Video Zoom mode so you can make the most of your TV.

Sound offers Surround Sound 5.1 support and there are tests you can run to make sure you've got everything sorted correctly. To be honest it's not really an area you are going to be spending too much time in.

So to SlingPlayer. Here you can connect to your Slingbox via your SlingCatcher allowing you to stream content from your TV to another TV rather than to your laptop. It's an expensive way to get the source from one TV to another in the home, however it does mean that you could stream content from your house to your holiday home in another part of the country or world and only pay for the one connection.

The My Media option lets you play content directly from a USB drive onto your TV. As soon as the USB stick or bigger hard drive is connected you've got full access to it and content is broken down to folder, video and music areas. Content is delivered in a simple list format with little excitement although you can view information such as duration, resolution and file type. Exciting stuff folks.

Most formats are supported including the usual suspects, WMV, H.264, AVI, however disappointingly you can only access files for playback via a hard drive physically connected to the SlingCatcher. It may be connected to your network, but any drives you've got on the network are invisible to it. It's a shame because it means that the content needs to be physically stored nearby rather than on a massive hard drive tucked out of sight in the cupboard.

The final offering is the SlingProtector. Available only for Windows XP and Windows Vista users (there are no plans for a Mac or Vista 64-Bit version) the software allows you to project a window from your PC to your television.

It's a strange work around and one that you feel is so dubious merely by the way it works. Basically once connected it merely projects whichever window you've selected to be captured to the SlingCatcher. But here is why we think it's slightly dodgy: you have to have that window running on the desktop, it can't be obscured nor can it be minimised else it won't work.

The software does the rest - i.e., disable sound from your computer and stream it to your television via the SlingCatcher and it does in theory mean you can watch any videos (bar HD DVD or Blu-ray titles) that are showing on your PC on the TV. However, the connection at times was jittery, even on a wired network connection and it's such a faff that we wouldn't want to go through the process every time we wanted to watch a YouTube video on the TV. You've got the Wi-Fi connection, just grab your laptop.

Verdict

The SlingCatcher on the surface sounds like a great bit of kit, but it's really only useful if you've got a Slingbox and looking to stream your TV content to another TV rather than a laptop.

The lack of network support negates this from being a decent media streamer and the SlingProjector feature comes off as a workaround rather than a viable solution.

If you've got a SlingPlayer this might be worth looking into - for the rest of us it is best to give this £199 gadget a wide birth.