Review: SlingPlayer Mobile is almost how mobile TV should be ... almost

RCR Wireless News
Application: SlingPlayer Mobile

Running on: Nokia N95 and Samsung Blackjack II — both running on AT&T Mobility

Yay: I have seen the light; or rather thousands of teeny, tiny lights on a small screen. SlingPlayer Mobile is what I’ve always imagined mobile TV could be — an extension of the programming I already pay way too much for at home. And that’s exactly the point. Why pay for the same entertainment twice?

Nay: The picture quality really shined on my Wi-Fi network at home, but watching video over AT&T Mobility’s 3G network left quite a lot to be desired. It’s obvious that 3G networks have failed to deliver on their promise of a broadband-like experience. Maybe revision 20-something will bring things up to snuff, but time is a terrible thing to waste and I don’t feel like waiting anymore.

We say: SlingPlayer Mobile is the most compelling option currently available in the mobile TV space. Its broadcast- and network-reliant brethren have carved out some room to enter the fray, yet I don’t think any of the current providers have enough gravitas to reign supreme.

After hooking up the Slingbox Solo to my cable set-top box and Wi-Fi router, setup and installation was a breeze. I downloaded the software for my laptop and downloaded the SlingPlayer Mobile software on a Nokia N95. I knew what was coming, but I was still stunned to see my at-home TV setup crammed into a small screen. After playing with the menu a bit, I was able to change channels, pull up recorded shows on my DVR and check out some on-demand offerings. Changing channels takes some time and the device-to-device response wasn’t as quick as I would like it to be.

Video quality on the N95 is phenomenal at 30 frames per second. The picture quality and menu response was at its best when connected to a good Wi-Fi signal. On the 3G network it was off and on. For example, the damn network failed me when tailgating at an Oakland Raiders game last December underneath an overpass in Oakland, Calif. But it worked solidly in the waiting area at Long Beach Airport in Long Beach, Calif. There’s just no rhyme or reason as to why the 3G network is so inconsistent. Signal strength (at least that displayed on the device) was full both times.

Watching TV on the Blackjack II wasn’t as impressive. It appeared to suffer from a lower frame rate, but the device’s lack of Wi-Fi connectivity didn’t provide for an equal playing field. The N95’s performance pins it as the clear winner, however it too suffered some quality issues when operating on the cellular network.

I’ve used the SlingPlayer Mobile quite a bit over the past couple months. Recently, I caught some live election results while away from home and even watched my beloved San Francisco 49ers sink further into a pit of despair one week. I like the depth of possibilities that the mobile application and Slingbox offer, but dealing with a multi-layered menu system designed for a TV isn’t really ideal for mobile. It would be nice to have a simpler structure, but this is where collaboration comes into play. Someone needs to bring together all of the most compelling features available from each mobile TV provider. Each has something to offer. I’ve tapped into MediaFLO USA Inc., GoTV Networks Inc. and MobiTV Inc. for almost a year now. And while I always come away wanting something more, their menu structures play much better in the mobile environment. Menus aren’t Sling Media’s game and it shouldn’t be. It’s handsomely earning its keep by providing the entire at-home TV experience at no additional monthly fee.

SlingPlayer Mobile brings mobile television to another level. It’s amazing to see all the shows you love (and record) right there for your viewing pleasure on a mobile phone. Better yet is the fact it doesn’t cost a penny more, except for the Slingbox purchase and one-time fee for the mobile application. And it’s not just about the money. If I could get a mix of the consistent quality that MediaFLO’s broadcast network delivers with the full arsenal of programming I get at home, I would be among those first in line to pay a reasonable monthly fee for that service. But remember, it’s not me who needs the convincing. It’s the hundreds of millions of wireless subscribers in America who still only want their cellphone to make calls and send text messages.