By now you may have heard the news. DISH, the parent company of Sling, is discontinuing the Slingbox line of products. The servers that run Slingbox services will continue to work until 2022, but as of this week, it’s really all over. There will be no more updates and if you have a Slingbox, it’s a dead gadget walking.
But let’s look back first
This is the original Slingbox. In its day it was a revolutionary machine. I still remember wanting one in 2005, despite its $250 price tag. Slingboxes had (and still have) one purpose in life. They take video and audio from your device at home and stream it over the internet. The process wasn’t easy and you needed a laptop at first. Apps were still years away back then. But it did work. Even more, it worked pretty well.
Why Slingboxes were important…
You have to remember in 2005, most of what we think of as the internet experience didn’t exist. There were precious few phones that could do any sort of data plan, and speeds were glacial. There were no apps, and a smartphone’s biggest trick was managing your appointments. There was not a single streaming video service. If you wanted a movie, you played a disc.
Slingbox provided your own personal video streaming service. People used them to watch local channels while on the road, or to play movies. Of course the Slingbox couldn’t remove one disc and replace it with another so unless you had a multi-disc player you were stuck watching the same movie over and over. Still, that wasn’t much of a problem for kids since that’s what they did anyway.
…and why Slingboxes didn’t start a revolution
Sling Media, the parent company, was bought by Echostar in 2007. This changed the direction of the company, of course. While the company continued to release standalone products, the real goal was to use Sling technology to integrate into DISH DVRs. It took several more years for this to happen, but the technology eventually morphed into DISH Anywhere, which lets you stream recorded programs to your phone or tablet.
As DISH Anywhere grew, standalone Slingboxes shrank. The pinnacle was probably 2012’s Slingbox 500, shown above. In addition to a sexy shape, it boasted direct HDMI connectivity (limited of course by HD content protection.) It also had an operating system that made it feel like a full-featured streamer. It was in many ways a transition between the old Slingbox and new devices like the AirTV which offer access to streaming apps.
Compared to today’s streaming boxes, the Slingbox experience wasn’t simple. It was also very expensive. While companies like Netflix and Hulu gave away their apps — we pretty much expect that now — the Slingbox apps were about $20 each on top of the purchase of a $200-$300 device. Slingboxes often required that you make changes to your router’s security settings, and most folks didn’t want to do that even if they knew how.
Slingboxes always had another problem too. They ran reliably once you set them up, but controlling them was frustrating. There was an onscreen remote and it could send commands back to your house. This worked well but had a 2-3 second delay. That meant fast-forwarding through commercials was practically impossible.
Why I care about Slingboxes
Here’s the little secret. Probably over 90% of the screen captures you find on this site were done with the help of a Slingbox. I’m on my third one here at Solid Signal. I upgrade technology and one of them was so old that the server stopped working for it. I have some other video capture technologies that I use, but most of these screencaps are done quickly and easily using a Slingbox. I use the web-based client to show what’s on my TV and then do a quick screen grab.
Or, at least I did until this week. I’m retiring that technology immediately due to security concerns. I haven’t used it for its original purpose — streaming outside the home — for years, of course. Streaming apps including DIRECTV’s own app do a better and more reliable job. I have other capture tech that gives better quality images, although of course it doesn’t stream outside the home. It’s not as quick and not as easy. But it is going to be more secure, starting this week.
What happens next
Echostar will continue to keep Sling’s servers online for about two more years. After that, every working Slingbox will just stop working. Period. By then there won’t be many of them left, I’m guessing.
There’s been no official word if this will affect Hopper with Sling or any of the other DISH products that use DISH Anywhere technology. I’m guessing it won’t. I’m guessing those products will continue, and they probably use different servers that have evolved from what Slingboxes still use.
And then, roughly 17 years after it started, the age of the Slingbox will be over.
Who else out there has fond memories of this device? Leave some comments below and we’ll have a proper wake for this old soldier of the web’s early days.