SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry: Pragmatic Cable, Internet and Wireless Convergence onto a Smartphone

slingmedialogoIn my early 50’s youth when I was delivering afternoon newspapers in somewhat remote Saskatoon, Saskatchewan I always tried to be at one customer’s home at 4:30. Why? At that time the only television viewable came via high rooftop antennae from transmitters far away (~400 miles) near Minot, North Dakota. If atmospheric conditions were favorable my customer would let me watch half an hour of a kid’s program (probably Howdy Doody); most of the time we got to watch it masked by a snowy blizzard of faint reception. Getting any type of television reception at that time and location was, at best, a challenge and an adventure.

Fast forward 55 years to this past week’s 2009 New Years day afternoon. While riding as a passenger in our car, we sped along Ontario’s main 401 freeway as I watched the CBC Sports color telecast of the third period of the NHL Winter Hockey Classic (live from Wrigley Field) on my BlackBerry Bold. It was one more test to carry out during the public beta of SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry.

I viewed all the action in full color; equally as impressive was the quality of the stereo sound (which “swells” out well beyond the device). The only frame freezing probably occurred as my BlackBerry switched between cell tower sites. Otherwise I was experiencing a crisp picture with sharp colors and clear sound coming from my home cable TV box. Talk about convergence – a Rogers cable TV signal being transmitted back out over Rogers High Speed Internet to a BlackBerry Bold via Rogers 3G wireless.

I have provided the detailed basic requirements for using SlingPlayer for BlackBerry Mobile on my recent Web Worker Daily post: “A New BlackBerry Experience Goes Beta: SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry” along with a history of SlingMedia’s hardware and software products. Note especially that it requires a version 4.5 firmware upgrade of any BlackBerry 8×20. While it works via a WiFi connection on all supported devices, over a 3G HSDPA network (Rogers, AT&T and T-Mobile in North America)  it only works currently on the BlackBerry Bold.

Over the past 15 months I have been using SlingPlayer Mobile for Symbian on a Nokia N95-1 over WiFi connections. It has been a consistently reliable experience over that period; it also provided me with some benchmarks for testing the BlackBerry version’s user interface and video/audio quality. Here are some of the experiences I have had with SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry on my BlackBerry Bold 9000 over the past few days of beta trials:

  • a rock concert on HDNet where percussion, guitar chords and voice cover a wide audio frequency range
  • a rebroadcast of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas eve concert on PBS where over 200 voices, soloists and the orchestra provide an excellent source for testing the clarity of audio as well as the resolution of the video
  • several sports events, including fast moving football and hockey action as a test for shadowing and pixelation
  • Oprah Winfrey making Skype High Quality Video calls

In all cases the experience on the Bold took full advantage of the Bold’s processor power, network speed, native stereo audio and its widely acclaimed “stunning” color display. Simply stated, I became immersed in the programs I was watching to the point where the experience was transparent to the underlying technology. My only negative was more physiological than technical: I found full “playing surface” views of sports events could cause a bit of dizziness due to focusing on all the action within the Bold’s display size; holding the device further away from my eyes addressed this issue.

While I had some excellent viewing and listening experiences, a few comments:

  • instead of a full visual representation of the cable box remote control, the remote control buttons are represented on a menu bar across the bottom of the screen. Note that in addition to the icons on the menu bar, one can “fast-track” to an item using the keyboard (for instance, M=Menu, O=Power On/Off, etc.)
  • scrolling across any of the three menu bars is done via the BlackBerry’s trackball.
  • audio comes out by default over the Bold’s speakers without the need to click on the “speaker” button
  • the “Favorites” menu bar picks up your “Favorites” channels stored via SlingPlayer for Windows1
  • changing channels may cause a video freeze up for 10-20 seconds; this is an issue SlingMedia is trying to minimize.
  • no apparent viewing experience difference whether using either a WiFi or 3G connection
  • needs a bar to display volume level when using the BlackBerry’s volume +/- buttons
  • switches readily between a full screen video and a display that incorporates one of three menu bars
  • needs to “reconnect” if you switch to another BlackBerry application while viewing (SlingPlayer application remains open in background but disconnects from the source); the “reconnect” time is 5 to 15 seconds.
  • battery life on the Bold for continuous reception of a broadcast via WiFi is about 2-1/2 to 3 hours.; it’s probably shorter on other 8xx0 models.
  • I have also been able to get SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry beta working on a BlackBerry 8820 over WiFi where, once again, it provided an excellent true reproduction of the video signal within the limitations of the 8820’s video and audio hardware.
  • it can also be used to operate the PVR on my cable TV set-top box.
  • latency: at midnight New Year’s Eve, SlingPlayer for BlackBerry Mobile rang in the new year seven seconds after the broadcast version directly connected to a cable service.
  • you can almost read those real time scoreboard bars that appear across the top of the screen during football and hockey broadcasts.

And, for now for those not able to take advantage of SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry due to its current specifications:

  • it works over a GSM/EDGE connection on unsupported BlackBerry 8xx0 devices; however, SlingMedia does not guarantee the resulting performance. This is really an application for 3G or faster wireless networks only; an attempt to connect my Bold in a rural area where there was only EDGE wireless failed.
  • once SlingMedia releases this HSDPA version of SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry they will look at doing a version that runs over Verizon’s, Bell Mobility’s and Telus’s 3G EV-DO network

A suggestion for RIM: SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry demonstrates the full potential of the Bold’s and Javelin’s video display. Let’s hope that newer versions of their firmware can achieve the same level of high quality video on the YouTube player and other video applications supported by these devices.

If you have both a SlingBox and one of the supported BlackBerries, upgrade your firmware (where necessary) and give SlingPlayer Mobile for BlackBerry a try (U.S., Canada, U.K.). Sling Media is now looking for feedback from its targeted user public.

With over 500 channels to choose from, at any location worldwide where I can find a WiFi or (unlimited data plan) 3G HSDPA connection, television broadcast viewing has come a long way from having, in a fixed location, a single channel available only when atmospheric conditions permit.

SlingPlayer for BlackBerry has significant potential for business road warriors; in addition to the entertainment aspect, it also provides immediate access to “breaking news” and business broadcasts from taxis, airports, coffee shops, restaurants (mind your etiquette, however). For those states considering legislation prohibiting texting while driving, they may also want to include viewing videos as a potential distraction.

And this is an application I don’t expect to see on an iPhone any time soon.

(I would have put up a screen capture; however, the video does not make it to the BlackBerry screen capture programs I employ, including PC desktop programs.)

1SlingMedia’s remotely stored “Favorites” feature will be supported by a future version of SlingPlayer for Mac.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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