Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Slinging
Jan 26, 2012 5:00 AM PT
Slingbox lets you watch your television remotely. The Slingbox hardware device captures the source image and audio at your home and squirts it into the Internet.
Proprietary software is used to replicate a television-like experience on laptops or other devices like smartphones. Hardware-based infrared transmitters create remote control commands and viewing can take place within the home's network, or globally across the Internet, including mobile data networks.
Any video signal that outputs through composite cables -- the common red, white and yellow ones -- can be captured. Sources therefore range from cable and satellite boxes to digital video recorders and security cameras. HDMI and component cables can also be used.
All sounds great, right? Watch a home-team game nowhere near home, catch the local news across the country. Well, it is great when it works.
Many variables come into play during slinging, including bandwidth quality and router issues, including those related to ports. I'm currently on my third Slingbox and modestly consider myself a veteran. Here are some of the evergreen basics I've learned, over some years, to keep a Slingbox running right.
Disable UpNP (Universal Plug and Play) on the network's router and set the IP address for the Slingbox manually if you experience any flakiness connecting remotely or the stream inexplicably drops out.
Often you can access the router's Web browser management panel here. The User ID may be "Admin" and password blank on Linksys routers, or the password can be "password" on Verizon Actiontec routers. But yours may be different. Check with the router manufacturer's website.
Open Port 5001 on your router if you've been unable to get the Slingbox to stream outside of your home network. The Slingbox defaults to Port 5001, although you can change that in the Slingbox configuration settings if you need to -- like if you have more than one Slingbox.
The port has to be open for the streaming to work remotely, even if streaming works within the home. Open it by looking for the gaming, or a "Port Forwarding" section of the router's firewall within the router's Web browser management panel.
Obtain as much upstream bandwidth at the Slingbox as you can get your hands on. This is probably the single most important thing you can do to improve video picture quality.
Do not use WiFi adapters to bridge the Slingbox onto the Internet. Use hard and fast Cat 5E Ethernet cables to connect the Slingbox to the router and thus out onto the street. Forget Powerline adapters. I even had trouble with Belkin's HD Powerline kit, which is supposed to transfer at 1000 Mbps.
Look for a minimum of 256 Kbps upstream for a barely acceptable picture. Good pictures will be obtained with fiber Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that can deliver 2 Mbps upstream and more.
Even if your DSL copper-based ISP is promising you, what sounds on paper, good upload speeds, variables like distance from its switch, the quality of the phone line in the home, and more come into play.
Check providers in your area and ditch anyone who isn't delivering you high speeds.
Cause a stink at your ISP if any of the previous steps don't provide a good picture. It's likely its fault. Have the cable guy's installation work checked by a supervisor, and make the ISP give you a new modem and cabling.
I had an occasion recently when the TV and Internet splitter used for my cable connection at the Sling viewing location was discovered as being TV-grade, not Internet grade. Replacing it and changing out the three-year old RCA modem for a brand-new Cisco -- plus days of complaints and threats to cancel -- got me a significantly better Slingbox stream there.
Fixed IP Address
Try to get a fixed IP address from the ISP for the Slingbox's location. This will let you access the router there remotely, including periodic rebooting, at the same time you are experiencing the trouble. You'll be able to identify if trouble is at the Slingbox itself (because the device won't show on the network) or issues with the packet route.
Run a Trace Route at your viewing location by typing "cmd" on a Windows machine at "Run" on the start menu, and then type "tracert," a space, and the IP address the ISP at the Slingbox end has given you. You'll see the hops the traffic is taking to that IP address from where you are.
Long waits measured in "ms" (milliseconds) can indicate trouble that you should report to your ISP along with slow speed test results from a testing website. Ignore "Request Timed Out" on the last few hops of a trace because some ISPs won't report those hops back.
Use a speed testing website that allows you to select server locations, and choose locations as close as possible to your sending and receiving locations. Make notes and use the notes as evidence when arguing with your ISP.
Want to Ask a Tech Question?
Is there a piece of tech you'd like to know how to operate properly? Is there a gadget that's got you confounded? Please send your tech questions to me, and I'll try to answer as many as possible in this column.
And use the Talkback feature below to add your comments!