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2 Ways to Get TV on Your iPhone – Slingplayer vs. OrbLive

snapshot-1266538933.455875Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could use your iPhone to watch the same television stations that you watch on your television at home?  Wonder no more, for television on your iPhone is a reality, with the right setup.  Today we’re going to look at two methods for getting all of your television stations on your iPhone – Slingplayer and OrbLive.  The first method, Slingplayer, works anywhere that you have a data connection (3G or via WiFi), while OrbLive only works via WiFi but also works over 3G and WiFi and can be cheaper.  (Updated on 2/24/10 to reflect that an OrbLive update has appeared in the App Store, restoring 3G functionality). Both methods require a piece of hardware.  Read on for details.

1. Method 1 – Slingbox and iPhone SlingPlayer app

You’ve probably heard about the Slingbox, a device that allows you to access your living room television anywhere you have a computer and internet connection.  There are different models of the Slingbox available, depending on your needs.  I use the Slingbox Solo, which lists for $157.95 on Amazon at the time of this writing.

With the Slingbox Solo, you place the Slingbox near your cable box, and use an extra output on your cable box to run outputs to the Slingbox.  There is also a small optical arm that you place near your cable box’s remote control sensor, so that you can do everything you could do if you were sitting in front of your television.   There are other connection methods as well, such as using the built-in tuner in other models of the Slingbox.

Once set up, you can then control your cable box remotely, and stream the cable box’s signal to another device over WiFi or over the internet.  Devices to which you can “sling” your content include a computer, and also the SlingPlayer Mobile app for the iPhone.  Using the app, which is $29.99 in the App Store, is easy – simply input your account information, and connect.  Until recently, the app only worked over WiFi.  Earlier this month, though, after Apple approval, Sling gladly released a version that works over 3G.  Below are some screenshots of the iPhone app in action.

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My expectations were low, but I’ve found that the iPhone app works surprisingly well, even over 3G.  The controls aren’t as easy as the controls on the computer version of the SlingPlayer, which mimics your television’s remote control, but that is because of the screen size, not because of any inherent problems in the app.  The easiest way to use the app is to set up some favorites, which are easily accessible.  From there, it’s easy to browse channels.  You can also use the app to access recordings, and schedule recordings.

All in all, I’ve been very pleased with my Slingbox, and using it on my iPhone.


Method 2 – TV Tuner card in computer, and iPhone OrbLive app

If you have a computer and a television capture card in your computer, you’re almost ready to get television on your iPhone.  Using the OrbLive app (iTunes link) from Orb, you can access your tuner card, and watch whatever you’d be able to watch from your computer.  OrbLive is currently $9.99 in the App Store.  Orb has a full-blown free service, that allows you to access all sorts of media on your computer, in addition to television.

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Setting up Orb is also simple, requiring you to input your account information.  I found it easiest to configure certain features from my computer, such as recordings and my favorite channels, and just using the iPhone app to browse content.

What TV features you get from Orb will be dictated by the kind of tuner you have.  I have the Hauppauge WinTV PVR 150, which is an analog tuner.  As a result, I can get 70+ channels, but don’t get certain premium channels that I get on my cable box.

The other drawback of OrbLive is that it currently works only over WiFi.  We’ve previously written about Apple forcing Orb to strip out 3G functionality, after users had already paid for that functionality.  Update: As of today, February 24, 2010, I’m seeing an OrbLive update in the App Store that restores 3G functionality.


SlingPlayer vs. OrbLive

So, which of the two apps is better?  I generally default to the SlingPlayer, unless my wife is using the television to which the SlingPlayer is connected.  I find that the video quality on the SlingPlayer is better than the quality on OrbLive, and the controls are more polished and feature-filled.  I also have access to all of the channels that I have on my cable box.  One drawback is that I find that, over WiFi, the SlingPlayer’s audio is ever-so-slightly out of sync with the video.  Oddly, the video is in perfect sync over 3G.

The benefit of OrbLive is that I don’t have to worry about jockeying for TV time.  Even if my wife is using the television, I can access television via Orb.  OrbLive also gives you the benefit of accessing more than just television.  You can access whatever photos, music, and video you have on your computer, as well as view certain types of documents.


If I had to pick one or the other, I’d go with the SlingPlayer, but I’d be perfectly happy using OrbLive.  I find that I’m watching more television on my iPhone than I thought I would.  Even if you don’t have an iPhone, you may want to look into a Slingbox, or look into getting Orb up and running on your PC, so that you can access television from other computers.

Do you have any interest in getting television on your mobile device?  Or are you already there?  If so, let us know about the tools that you use.