SlingMedia SlingCatcher digital multimedia receiver review

3.5 out of 5
£199.99

For

Lets you watch your Slingbox on the TV, allows you to connect USB drives to watch movies, easy to set-up and install

Against

We struggled with the My Media element, HD streaming not supported,

Chances are if you are reading this, you've got a Slingbox that allows you to stream your TV from your home anywhere around the home or the world as long as you've got an internet connection.

SlingCatcher allows you to stream your Slingbox to another TV, rather than just accessing the feed on your computer. Now you can watch locationFree television in another room.

So what do you get? Well you get a rather uninspiring black box that connects to your television in a number of ways and then gives you access to your Slingbox, just like the software implementation you get on a computer.

Around the back of the SlingCatcher box are a number of connections to suit most TV owners including Composite, Component and S-Video. For those with an HD-Ready TV will be able to connect via a HDMI socket - nice and easy - although you won't be able to stream an HD signal.

Elsewhere on the back you'll get a digital audio socket, two USB sockets (we'll get to what they are for in a moment) and of course an Ethernet socket so you can connect it to your network - unfortunately it doesn't offer Wi-Fi.

With zero buttons on the unit everything is controlled via the accompanying remote control that tries to do its best to emulate the thousands of remote controls out there. That means you get buttons like Guide and Info as well as the usual array of red, green, blue and yellow to press.

Turn the SlingCatcher on and you'll run through a very simple set-up process that walks you through what you have to do. You'll need to have a Slingbox online account and then type all that information into the SlingCatcher via the remote which is boring and slow. Luckily you only have to do it once.

We connected to our Slingbox some 3500 miles away within a matter of minutes with zero hassle after which we were able to watch and control our Sky+ box in the UK from here in the US. You can control any Slingbox at the other end, we tested it with the Slingbox Solo, and that means you get to control any device just as you would with the desktop software on your PC or Mac.

Once on you get a menu system that gives you a number of features, access to your Slingbox as we've already mentioned, access to a USB drive connected via those USB slots around the back, access to a network drive, and finally access to something Slingmedia calls SlingProjector that allows you to stream whatever happens to be playing on your home PC.

In use and the Slingbox element works as you would expect, giving you full access to your Slingbox wherever it may be.

As for the USB drive support it means that you can turn your SlingCatcher into a media server under your television without the need to opt for a device like Apple TV. Files supported are the usual video formats - WMV, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, Xvid. We tried to playback a .m4v file we had stored on a thumb drive, however the SlingCatcher whilst recognised it, it failed to play it: a bit of a disappointment.

Still get it in the right format, PC users can do this via a software app from SlingMedia called SlingSync, and you'll be able to watch content from the USB stick on your television.

Managing yet another copy of your favourite movies/TV shows/clips is a bit of a bore so SlingMedia have now added support for network drives in a recent update. Rudimentary to say the least, while you are able to connect a network drive to the device, it will require some intelligence and a bit of routing around for the right drive path, as it's is not a one click wizard to connect, but it does mean that you can stream content from a PC or NAS drive on your network.

The final feature is the SlingProjector as it is called that allows you to stream any video - be it YouTube or Blip from your PC to your TV. It's called projector because that's what it does - projects what ever is on your screen to the TV. Yes it's a feature, no we won't bother using it.

So what's it like from a quality point of view? While it does depend on your internet connection both where the Slingbox and SlingCatcher are located (either on the same network or on the other side of the world). The results were good with the quality living up to your average SD quality picture. It's not DVD quality or Blu-ray, but still good enough to watch.

Admittedly, at times reading text is harder that if you were accessing the content at home on the original TV, as you don't get the crispness over the transmission, but it's not unreadable and certainly not unuseable.

Likewise control of the original box is as it is on the desktop software - slow but functional, but then when you consider what it is having to do you can't help be amazed - yes you really are controlling an electronic device possibly thousands of miles away.

Verdict

The Slingbox is a great piece of kit, but having to sit in front of your PC, while useful for work, is a bit geeky when it comes to home viewing. The SlingCatcher changes all this giving you that TV experience once again.

As for the extra features beyond accessing your Slingbox we are not so sure. The SlingProjector is a nice idea but one we doubt you will be using that often, while the My Media option isn't without its difficulties and frustrations, especially for Mac users.

So worth the effort? Well if you prefer to sit in your living room watching television rather than huddled around a laptop or desktop PC then certainly, just don't expect this to become your Media Centre under your TV without a little effort on your part. For that you could opt for the Acer Aspire Revo, that would allow you to do a lot more for your money and you'll already have the software that came free with the Slingbox in the first place.