On first glance, Slingbox looks more like a giant foil-wrapped candy bar than a piece of sophisticated electronics. But it's actually a new product that lets you watch TV from your cable box or digital video recorder (DVR) on any PC attached to your home network or, for that matter, any PC in the world with a broadband Internet connection.
About 73% of the country is watching cable TV these days. And as HDTV has caught on with this crowd, so have digital cable boxes that include TiVo-like hard-disk recorders for high-def programming. But these boxes, built almost exclusively by either Scientific-Atlanta or Motorola, have drawbacks: limited capacity, a less-than-elegant user interface, and, of course, a monthly lease.
Even before Apple's iPod changed the way we listen to music on the go, audio hard-disk recorders - also called music servers - were altering how we store and listen to music at home. When ReQuest Multimedia christened the category with its ARQ1 some five years ago, the promise of putting away all your CDs and having any song accessible by the push of a button seemed too good to be true.
What time-shifting was to the VCR generation, place-shifting is becoming to the home-network-enabled. Extending personal entertainment to every room in your home is the mission of SkipJam, a company whose main product is the iMedia Center, a box you can attach to multiple A/V components including your cable or satellite receiver, home theater receiver, DVD player, and TV.
A lot of people equate downloading with transferring songs from Apple's iTunes site to an iPod, thinking that's the end of the story. But online music files can have about as many uses around the house as your favorite three-in-one tool.
Conventional TV broadcasting, whether over the air or by cable or satellite, sends out multiple channels all at once, and it's up to the viewer to tune in a particular one at a set time to watch or record a show. Akimbo is promising the next step: speedy interactive delivery of video directly from the Internet to a hard drive connected to your TV.
When the Windows Media Center (WMC) PC was introduced in 2002, the idea was to create a computer that also recorded TV programs and had a remote control that let you play them - as well as DVDs, slideshows, or ripped CDs - without sitting right in front of it.
A computer is a terrific tool for storing your music, photographs, and videos, but the home office usually isn't the best place for family and friends to enjoy the show. The better room is where you have the comfy seats, good speakers, and big-screen TV.
Surfing the Web on a TV has never had much appeal for anyone who's comfortable with a computer. Even mighty Microsoft did little to increase the set-top browser market after it purchased WebTV and renamed it MSN TV. Now the company, through hardware partner RCA (Thomson), is trying again with the introduction of the MSN TV 2 Internet and Media Player.