Slingboxes, streaming video way before it was cool, go dark tomorrow

The original Slingbox, on display at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. Key indicators of this being a long time ago include the Toshiba Satellite laptop used for the demonstration (and the giant glossy UI buttons).
Increase / The original Slingbox, on display at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show. Key indicators of this being a long time ago include the Toshiba Satellite laptop used for the demonstration (and the giant glossy UI buttons).

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Slingbox, the device and service that streamed digital TV long before the world was ready for it, will die the death of a cloud-based server on Wednesday, November 9th. The service was almost 17 years old.

Sling Media announced two years ago that the Slingbox would be discontinued, noting that “all Slingbox devices and services will be inoperable.” The reason given was a decrease in demand. When Sling started in 2005, today there is more content than you can watch in a lifetime, just watching the video that would normally be on your TV on a non-TV screen. available on devices that can be connected from almost anywhere, willingly offered by all major media companies and sports leagues.

Sling was born out of two rich fields: General Magic, the Apple spinoff company where founder Blake Krikorian worked in the early 1990s, and baseball’s San Francisco Giants in 2002. Krikorian and his brother, Jason, traveled back there often while building their own council. firm The Giants were headed to the World Series that year, and the Krikorian brothers wanted to watch, or at least listen. They found that they were blacked out by local broadcast agreements or asked to pay additional fees to broadcast the games on top of the cable and Internet they already paid for at home.

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TiVo existed back then, but it could only play back what you recorded on the same TV. The Slingbox, as the name implies, could project your home’s cable video over the Internet to wherever you could access it. It didn’t take long after the launch of the Slingbox for the companies that provide that video to take notice.

“Will Hollywood sue the SlingBox out of existence?” Ars headlined in April 2006. The rebroadcast agreements were the strongest content companies could play, which Sling didn’t sign. Sling CEO Blake Krikorian (who died in 2016) said in 2006 that displacement video “is one of the technologies that will help broadcasters stay relevant today.” Ars’ Nate Anderson wrote at the time that “if broadcasters were really interested in getting their product out to as many people as possible, the SlingBox wouldn’t even exist: networks would be streaming their content on the Internet already.”

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There was a lot of hemming, and a lot of fishing, including from sports leagues mad about traveling sports fans being able to see games that they could normally miss for being out of the market. Later, when 3G and the iPhone introduced devices that made it reasonable to watch TV on your phone, AT&T forced Sling to prevent 3G devices from accessing Sling devices on the carrier’s network.

The original Slingbox, with some tunes you may remember.
Increase / The original Slingbox, with some tunes you may remember.

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And yet, the Slingbox remained (sometimes as “SlingBox”, but officially just one compound word). “We’re big fans of the SlingBox here at Ars,” wrote Jeremy Reimer in early 2007, noting that “we’ve successfully tested it across the Atlantic Ocean.” Sling even second-guessed how people would view content one day. The SlingCatcher, a $300 box released in October 2008, would let you (get this) watch Internet content like Hulu, YouTube, or whatever you could put on a USB drive on your TV. It was a smart TV upgrade before smart TVs were a category.

​​​​Sling would later partner with satellite network Dish to upgrade its Hopper digital video recorder (DVR) set-top box to “Hopper with Sling,” giving people the ability to watch live and recorded shows on the web. That drew actual injunctions from content companies like Fox, perhaps because of Dish’s larger size. CBS, too, would show its disdain for Sling, albeit in a quieter way. The network reportedly banned its subsidiary CNET from reviewing the Dish Hopper service, which led to the resignation of CNET reporter Greg Sandoval.

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The legal challenges kept coming, and perhaps as a result, Dish and Sling were engaged in a more content-compliant streaming offering, Sling TV. The app was aimed at those who were skipping cable but might still want some live cable channels, such as ESPN, Food Network, and CNN. However, there were no local broadcast channels, and several notable shows were cancelled. Our review at launch noted that the age target for those channels was much older than viewers who might be comfortable with an app grid rather than just a cable remote. Sling TV lives on, however, and its offerings have expanded.

How Slingbox 2005 works in 2022, courtesy of LGR.

But Slingbox, the hardware product that sends your TV to your devices, won’t work after November 9. If you move quickly, however, you could recover your Slingbox device password, then use the free open source Slinger app to route your Sling traffic. around the company’s servers and directly to your apps and devices. At the end, like the beginning, Slingbox fans are working around existing technology to get access to the TV they want.


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