For most of my adult life, I have been on the road travelling. Some years, it was mostly CONUS; other times, it was extensively OCONUS, but I found my old Slingbox while cleaning the basement. What is a Slingbox, you might be asking? Sit down, children and let me talk about a time you will soon see again…
Slingbox (Early 2000s)
Slingbox, introduced in the early 2000s, was a pioneering device that allowed users to remotely view their home television programming from anywhere with an internet connection. The device connected to my cable box and streamed the content over the internet to a computer, tablet, or smartphone. This groundbreaking technology allowed me to access their live TV and recorded shows without being physically present at home. When I was travelling in countries without English TV, it was a godsend.
It was nothing special - a small embedded box with a tuner, software, and encoder to adjust the image quality of the MPEG stream, but it was a creature comfort that made it easier to be on the road. The technology got me tinkering with video streaming when devices began to support HLS and opened up a world of how best to take high-quality video streams from airborne sensors and push them to various field devices.
Today’s Slingbox (VPN services)
Nowadays, I still travel as much, but streaming services are increasingly looking like cable TV. Netflix, YouTube TV, and others are starting to lock to geography. We have gone through these phases:
- Shared accounts are allowed from anywhere
- No shared passwords
- Geo-restrictions begin to close things like access to specific media
- VPN providers’ IP blocks are blocked from access
- Only residential IP addresses are allowed for access
- Only your home IP address is permitted for access
Phase #6 is where we are ending up today.
Things like Tailscale allow you to repurpose your residential IP from abroad with an exit node. That realisation brought me to the comparison of the modern Slingbox. We are turning our computers & routers into modern-day Slingbox to allow us to access services we are paying for in a way we ought to be able to do on Day 1.
My Slingbox sits in the basement unused. Plex + HDHomeRun can stream my OTA stations as needed (WNEM5 morning news!), and my VPNs allow me to stream as required. Still, I am hopeful one day, my complex setup will end up “in the basement” because we are back to fair, affordable, and accessible services.
One can dream! It only took Sling about 15 years to go the way of the DoDo.