With over a million people a day watching programmes on BBC iPlayer according to the latest stats, we’ve clearly got a big appetite for internet TV. The trouble is, most of us have to catch up on Match of the Day on a computer screen rather than our new plasma.
That’s where the SlingCatcher comes in. Having been delayed for most of 2008, it’s finally arrived with three useful talents: it can stream internet telly from your computer to a TV, ‘catch’ video sent from another Slingbox and play video files from a USB stick.
Getting the SlingCatcher talking to a PC is just a case of hooking the 'Catcher up to your router via Ethernet and downloading the SlingProjector software. There's a generous array of connections to connect it to your TV, with HDMI the best for quality.
Annoyingly, Wi-Fi is missing, so if your router happens to live in another room to your TV you'll have to trail an Ethernet cable around the house or shell out £50 for the SlingLink wireless bridge. Also, Mac fans need not apply (just yet), as the software is currently PC-only.
Switch on and you're presented with a step-by-step setup that optimises the SlingCatcher for your TV, which you can whip through using the incredibly well designed remote.
Project from your PC
Clearly, the SlingCatcher's biggest selling point is its ability to 'project' internet TV like iPlayer onto a television using the SlingProjector software, so you can enjoy programmes as nature intended.
Launching the software reveals a basic control panel to connect to the SlingCatcher. It then projects whatever is on your PC screen to the connected TV and is clever enough to select a single window so any gubbins like banner ads aren't shown.
The quality of the picture varies depending on your broadband speed and computer spec, but as it's replicating your computer screen you'll be able to judge the likely performance. There's also a noticeable time lag, but this is deliberate to allow for any sudden drops in connection speed.
Connect a hard drive
Dual USB ports allow you to plug in a portable hard drive – or even a pen drive – and watch movie files. Although compatibility extends to most file types, there's still the odd issue – which is where the SlingSync software (still in beta) comes in.
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Plug in the drive to your PC and SlingSync will scan it and identify which files need converting before doing the honours. You can then plug the drive back into the SlingCatcher and navigate through the files.
It's a bit long-winded, but the resulting pictures from high-resolution movies are so impressive you soon forget the faffing.
Tune into a Slingbox
Owners of the Slingbox will know all about its placeshifting capabilities, and with this latest addition to the Sling family you can tune in to any AV source your Slingbox is connected to and watch on a second TV. Put another way – you won't have to pay for a multi-room setup.
Within a home network where the bitrate holds steady, performance is pretty good. But if you're using the SlingCatcher as part of a remote setup the resolution lessens because of the extra compression, and jaggies are far more prevalent. That said, it's still watchable.
The SlingCatcher is likely to hold niche appeal, at least initially, thanks to the relatively limited numbers owning a Slingbox and its off-putting price tag. But with internet TV and broadband speeds both on an upward trajectory, its time will definitely come.