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My Story about My Slingbox

I decided to emigrate from the UK and move to Panama. The UK has many good and bad things about it, but I decided that as my business made quite a lot of money I'd like to keep the money rather than giving 40% of it to the government in tax. I looked at various tax havens and decided Panama was the place for me to move.

British TV is generally regarded to be the best in the world, and I thought it would be nice to continue to be able to watch British TV in Panama. Slingbox in useAs this was at an early time, the zero-zeros decade, before TV became online Internet TV with stream-media, the plan was to have a TV receiver in the UK and then to relay the signal to my house in Panama, via a data link through the Internet.

A Slingbox is this sort of thing. It takes a signal and relays it. It's as if the Slingbox is a machine that watches TV and sends the signal it sees down the line, across the Internet, and then you watch the result on your own TV or computer at the destination. So, British TV in Panama? Yes.

The same would apply, in theory, for any start location and destination. The Slingbox receives the signal in the home location, sends it to you in your new location, and you can watch TV there.

There is also the matter of how you change channels and do other "remote" things, remotely! I would have thought Sling Media would have simply included an audio-quality channel in the reverse direction that picks up infra-red remote control signals and relays them back to the TV. But no, instead, they have simulated remotes on the computer. This isn't perfect, because the simulated remotes don't have 100% functionality, and there are other problems.

I found that the Slingbox was unable to control the Freesat box which those kind people at "Digital Switchover" had installed. So, I bought a secondhand Technomate 1000D. That's a good hacker-friendly satellite receiver that has all kinds of high-tech features. Also, the Technomate's remote control actually had a simulated remote equivalent in the Slingbox repertoire, which worked to some extent.Slingbox in use

Sadly, at the time, the Sling Media virtual remote had no TV/radio button, which meant that although radio channels were picked up by the Technomate receiver, they were unobtainable because of a deficiency in the Slingbox interface, in that not all of the buttons on the remote are actually present.

This brings me to the point where I have to write a critique of Sling Media, as they have a few notable faults. This goes much further than a few pushbuttons not working. I'll try to detail these here in a style which is fair as well as truthful.

* Firstly, I found it's difficult to contact SlingMedia. Initially it seemed impossible to contact SlingMedia, and it was only when the situation became desperate that I started hunting the International phone number, and found a contact number which I could call. They seemed to have no phone number, no e-mail, and in effect no technical support. There was, it seemed, no way of even putting in helpful comments to address some of the severe faults. However, I have now found the phone number of SlingMedia UK, which is (020) 7294 0157.

* I bought a Slingbox to use, and yet I found that using it required signing a litigious contract. I had bought the device some months earlier and it was too late to ask for my money back. This is a deplorable problem, the Slingbox having what is in effect a Shrinkwrap Contract. I read the contract, and I can tell you it is mainly a protectionist thing involving a vain attempt to prohibit reverse-engineering of the device. Besides being futile (as hackers can easily find the obvious ways around this), it's also annoying and an insult to personal freedom. If you buy a device, you should be allowed to open it up. If You Buy It You Own It. Also, the contract appears to claim the device may be cut off by Slingmedia at any time. For this reason, I believe that we need to encourage people to reverse-engineer the device and/or find alternatives. If Sling Media attempt to cut off my use of the device, I will have a lot more to say about it!

* There's a transmit box but no receive box. Instead, the signal appears as a window on a computer, in a proprietary app. This is not necessarily good or bad, but it's something which is noted.Slingbox in use

* The fact that the Slingmedia application is a proprietary interface is a problem. There is no need for it to be. It could easily have been released as free software, an open-source system. Also, even if the software was proprietary and all-rights-reserved, there should still be no need to have a Shrinkwrap Contract, or any contract of any sort, for that matter. You don't have to sign a contract to be allowed to use most domestic appliances! I'm sure the Sling company feel they need to defend themselves against all kinds of piratical invasiveness, and that's understandable to some extent, but having an annoying contract is not the way to do it. It's poor form.

* The setting-up procedure for the software was, I found, especially awkward. The creators of it have made all kinds of assumptions about the sequence in which things will be done. Also, there are no controls and options to allow things to be changed. It is, I have concluded, a bad system. That's a shame, because the whole thing could have been done really well, if it had been designed properly in the first place. I honestly believe Sling Media did not intend the system to be so awkward. It may be that when they first tested it, it worked perfectly and easily on their test machine.

* There is nothing particularly "difficult" about making something that does what a Slingbox does. Most of it is so obvious it doesn't even need reverse-engineering. Yet, it has been made in a protectionist style in an attempt to lock-in the customers. You can see this by the automatic updates which you have to agree to. I'm not happy about any such things, whether it be by Microsoft, or by the Amazon Kindle, or Firefox, etc.

* Another rather sinister note about the Slingbox is that it has to connect via Sling Media's site. There is no need for this. The communication is between my TV and my computer, so having Sling Media's website as an intermediary is rather worrying.

* Even the Internet interface is made difficult by Sling Media and all their carryings-on, To relay TV signals via the Internet so you can watch your TV abroad, the Slingbox has to be "Internet Enabled". The thing is, the reason someone buys a Slingbox is to watch TV from abroad, from a long way away, so to find this is awkward is a bit like buying a car and then discovering it will only be usable for driving around the showroom and can't be used on the public roads. The Sling Media interface is a nightmare. It should work, and it tend to fail to, and for little or no reason. Errors such as "W202" come up, and there is no help in sight, apart from consolations on forums for other people to bemoan the appalling state of Slingbox and their woeful absence of support.

The W202 error has some seemingly jocular title like "Your Slingbox has been disconnected because of a poor Internet connection. Try connecting again. Do you want to retry? [Code:W202]". That is a lie, because the Internet connection can be perfectly good, able to look at websites, download stuff, do live Skype videophone calls, and other stuff, at both ends, so for Sling Media to try to pass the buck and blame the Internet connection is a poor attempt to blame people's ISPs and hope they are too ignorant to realise the folly of such a ludicrous claim.Slingbox in use

By now the situation had reached a dangerous level and I was considering that it might be impossible to make the Slingbox work, and I might have to give up British TV, and that I had bought a device that was just no good. I considered smashing the Slingbox with a sledgehammer in the street and putting photos of it online. However, this is not what happened, and you'll be relieved to know, the story has a happy ending! Read on...

The next part of the story involves a crucial subtlety which you need to be aware of, and it's so important that I have created an additional page about it. You must make sure your Slingbox is new. I mean, really new. It has to be "a virgin". This is because the actual technical support which Sling Media provide (oh yes, they actually do provide technical support! (if you can find it)) is available for three months from the date your Slingbox is first plugged into the Internet. Not when you bought it, not when you first got it home, but from the moment that particular Slingbox was first plugged into the Internet. The Slingbox will remember that day, and the folks on the technical support desks at SlingMedia will know, as they will ask the box!

What happened to me was that I bought my Slingbox from a well-known but not well-liked shop of the type that flogs computers and really has no techie insight even though it pretends it does. I bought that Slingbox because it was half price, and as it looked new and was still in the box, I presumed it was actually still untouched, unused, etc. However, little did I know, it was not! (Hence the warning, Make Sure Your Slingbox is new!).

I bought my Slingbox on 4th January 2009, but it had first been used on 12th Oct 2007, ie long before I bought it. Not good!

Anyway, leaving that cautionary tale behind us, let's move forward to 5th January 2012. For the sake of the story, let's imagine I got a new Slingbox. This then fits with the sort of situation you could be in if you were to go to Sling Media and order a Slingbox online!

Sling Media technical support used a program to log into my computer and then they logged into the router. The router had a firewall for obvious reasons, and with a firewall it's Slingbox in usea matter of making special exceptions for things that are in use. Using the options within the router, the technical expert made a special exception for my Slingbox, and then suddenly, Sling-over-Internet started working! Whe-hey! Problem solved!

So now, the purpose for which I bought a Slingbox, watching British TV abroad, is now possible! I can pack my bags and book my flight, and when I arrive in Panama I should be able to watch British TV. I don't mind paying for a TV licence. I'm moving to a tax haven, and I'm a tax-exile. Tax Avoidance, not tax evasion!

Bearing all this in mind, if you would like to get yourself a Slingbox, you are welcome to visit Sling Media and sign up, if that's what you'd like to do. The nice thing about buying a Slingbox from Sling Media is that you know for certain it's new and hasn't been meddled with!

I look forward to someone producing an Open Source Slingbox or similar, where you buy the device and do what you want to do, and you are not constrained to sign a protectionist contract! Sling Media have apparently at this time (2012/01) a bizarre policy of boycotting the up-and-coming Linux operating system. Not good. Still, there is hope. A while ago they didn't even support the Apple, and now they do. Plus, there are now (2012) more Linuxes than Apples!

This story has a happy ending, and we have success. Also, I am promoting Sling Media and the Slingbox on a dedicated page here: See Sling Media (Slingbox).Landline phone, Vonage box, wi-fi travel-router, and laptop

Technomate (who made my satellite receiver) are a really good company, and I'd be happy to promote them on an affiliate program! If Technomate built cars, they'd probably include a Haynes manual.

If you think it's pretty good moving abroad and still having British TV in Panama, also see How I emigrated my Landline Phone. Yes, a British land-line telephone, moved from the UK to Panama, while keeping the phone number the same.

Update: After working OK for several months, the Slingbox decided it needed to have an "update". It decided this just when I wanted to watch TV, which was rather annoying. It then wasted the next ten minutes installing an update, and this could have waited until another day. Also, it insisted in various litigious rubbish, which I don't agree with. After going through all that, it crashed.

I suggest Slingbox is replaced! I think it is time to build an entirely restriction-free open-source variant, where it's an A-D (analogue to digital) converter at one end, a D-A (digital to analogue) converter at the other end, a simple Infra-red/audio link in the opposite direction, and NO proprietary software, no absurd legal contracts, no unnecessary updates.

Photos: My Slingbox in use. This is a previous year's model. If you buy a modern Slingbox from Sling Media it will be a more recent version of the Slingbox. It'll be a modern, swish, sleek device that looks a bit like a high speed train. I'd advise getting one now while you can, because they're always updating these things, and after a while the new one will probably be naff and look like an after dinner mint.

The design of the old style Slingbox is interesting as it looks a bit like a stylised precious metal ingot, and is inscribed with the words as follows: My Cable TV, My DVD, My Radio, Anywhere. My DVR, My Satellite, My Music, Anywhere. My Videos, My Shows, My Movies, Anywhere. This is a poetic manifesto of the spirit of the Slingbox.

In the photo with the rear view and the cables, you can see the Slingbox plugs into video sources including aerial, composite video, s-video, etc, for input, and for output... an RJ45 Ethernet connection to plug into a wi-fi router from where your TV signals are forwarded on to you wherever you are in the world.