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Indians behind "amazing invention"

TEAM EXCELLENT: The group that created the slingbox.

TEAM EXCELLENT: The group that created the slingbox.  

A huge success in the U.S., "Slingbox" lets you watch home TV, movies, anywhere on earth

Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalore: An ingenious electronic gadget that allows the owner to transfer the entire entertainment content available at home — all the television channels, as well as movies on CD or DVD — to a desktop or laptop computer screen anywhere in the world has become one of the biggest sellers in the U.S. during the Christmas season. The product, listed by Time in a recent cover story as one of 2005's "Most amazing inventions," is actually the work of a small team of Indian engineers based in the Bangalore-based development unit of the U.S. Silicon Valley-based start-up, Sling Media.

The device, "Slingbox," is shaped like a large ingot of gold and when connected to the home TV, VCR/DVD player and Internet connection, it `place shifts' anything viewable on these devices — including the 100s of cable TV channels — to a Net-connected laptop or desktop PC on another continent if required.

In fact the software supplied with the $ 250 (Rs. 10,000) item, pops up a `virtual' version of the TV or VCR remote on the laptop screen and gives users the feel of using the same controls available at home.

The "Slingbox" was available since July this year, but it is the pre-Christmas shopping spree in the U.S. that has seen it capture the public imagination and become one of the most popular stocking fillers this week. One key reason is that unlike other such services, this does not require a subscription — the capital cost is the total cost. Typically an owner who has installed the "Slingbox" at home can remotely access all the channels on domestic TV from a hotel room in another city or country.

More importantly, explained Manish Singhal, General Manager of Sling Media's Bangalore operation, in a special briefing on Friday for The Hindu , users have discovered new uses: they can attach a few web cameras to the "Slingbox" at home and monitor from afar the security of the home or keep watch on children left at home.

The company was co-founded 18 months ago in San Mateo, California, by an India-born engineer, Bhupen Shah, with two American partners, the Krikorian brothers, Blake and Jason.

The product, which is built around a Texas Instruments signal processing chip and was developed in about 12 months, by the 20-strong Indian team, has become one of the biggest online sellers on the Amazon.com website.

The currently selling version works on a PC or notebook running Windows.

The team is perfecting software that will extend the utility of "Slingbox" to handheld computers such as the Pocket PC or the Personal Digital Assistant. The Hindu was the first representative of the global media to be provided an early preview of the new extension this week. Unlike streaming video, normally seen on such small screens, the "Slingbox" output, thanks to a specially developed compression algorithm, is jitter-free and works on connections as slow as 200 kilo bits per second.

While Sling Media does not, as yet, have a marketing operation in India, the Slingbox is trickling into the country, thanks to NRIs and Indian travelers bringing in units for personal use, since it is a universal tool and can be used anywhere, with standard TV and VCR connectors.

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