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Slingbox releases two new devices for watching TV anywhere

Heather Kelly, CNN
The Slingbox 350, top, and Slingbox 500, bottom, allow cable subscribers to stream HD TV to mobile devices and computers.
The Slingbox 350, top, and Slingbox 500, bottom, allow cable subscribers to stream HD TV to mobile devices and computers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Slingbox lets you watch what's playing on your TV from a mobile device or computer
  • The two new Slingbox devices are the first from the company in four years
  • Both add HD streaming and the Slingbox 500 adds HDMI and WiFi

(CNN) -- The way we watch TV is changing. People want to decide when, where and on what screen they watch their favorite shows.

One of the simplest tools for viewing your shows from any device is the Slingbox, which is releasing two new models of its popular TV-streaming tool.

The Slingbox is a device that streams content from cable and satellite providers to mobile devices and computer, allowing you to watch whatever is playing on your TV or recorded on your DVR far from your home. Instead of having to plant yourself in front of the living room television to watch a new episode of "Breaking Bad," you can watch a live or DVR stream of it from another room, state or country using a smartphone, tablet or computer.

The two new Slingbox models add in some key features that were absent from the previous model, the Slingbox Pro HD. The smaller $180 Slingbox 350 can stream videos up to 1080p and has simplified the set-up process.

The $300 Slingbox 500 also streams1080p HD content and has a variety of connection options, including HDMI, component and composite for linking to your other devices and television set.

The 500 adds a rough first go of a promising new feature called SlingProjector which makes it possible to stream content, such as photos, from your mobile devices or computers back to the TV.

The old trapezoid design has been overhauled. The Slingbox 350 is a small and light box covered in pattern of small diamond shapes. The larger Slingbox 500 has a slick undulating rectangle body, that while pretty to look at, makes it difficult to stack other boxes on top of it. For the many people playing device Jenga in their entertainment centers, that means the 500 will always have to be perched on top of the Xbox, DVR, DVD player or Wii.

The company is also updating the companion software, SlingPlayer, and temporarily dropping its price from $30 to $15 for iOS, Android and Windows Phone apps. The Slingbox 350 and 500 go on sale this Sunday.

The announcement isn't a complete surprise. The devices were spotted earlier this month on the shelves of a Best Buy by Dave Zatz. And it's been four years since the last Slingbox hardware release; that's eons in gadget years. In that time, Slingbox was bought by satellite company EchoStar.

Slingbox is a makeshift solution to cable's slow move onto the Internet and mobile devices. There are a host of business reasons these companies don't stream all their content on demand to any device with an Internet connection. For example, content is still expensive to produce and advertisers pay less for online placement than they do for television airtime.

It's estimated that by the end of 2012, 3.58 million people in the United States will have opted out of cable for alternative services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime according to the Convergence Consulting Group. These consumers, called cord cutters, will only account for 3.6% of subscribers. Not enough to leave behind a profitable-but-aging business model just yet.

Cord cutters cobble together an alternative to cable using a combination of services and sometimes illegal streaming sites. It can be hard work that requires time and a larger amount of technical know-how than many cable subscribers are likely to have.

Many shows are available for streaming, but the market is heavily fragmented. Some shows are available for free online but delayed, others through subscription services. You can buy episodes through stores like iTunes or download official apps for the channels you like. Some of the solutions only work if you have cable, like the HBO Go app that requires you also have a cable subscription.

The Slingbox is a pat solution for people willing to pay for cable or satellite subscriptions, who want to watch shows on other devices (a trend called "place shifting"). It does have its limitations. Only one person can control the TV at a time, so if you're trying to stream "True Blood" from a hotel in New York while your husband and kids are watching "SpongeBob" at home in California, their channel will change.

However, it is still one of the better options in a market of imperfect solutions. Until cable companies and content creators embrace à la carte television, tools like Slingbox are a necessary stopgap for a lot of people.

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