You can finally remove the SlingCatcher from the vaporware list. Following reports that it was popping up on store shelves around the country, the $300 product officially begins shipping today, ending a wait that began more than 18 months ago when it was first unveiled at CES 2007.
The SlingCatcher is a playback device that's designed to pull digital content from three sources and display them on your TV. It can play a variety of digital video files from an attached USB storage device (anything from a thumbdrive to a hard drive); display anything on your PC screen (including full-motion video) via the SlingProjector "screen scraping" software; and stream video from any source connected to a Slingbox (elsewhere in the house in high-resolution, or from a remote Slingbox source over the Internet at lesser quality).
While the SlingCatcher may sound like a niche device, there's strong indication it will gain more widespread appeal with forthcoming feature upgrades. Enter Sling Media's Sling.com Web site, which recently entered a closed beta phase. Originally intended as a home for the YouTube-style "Clip-n-Sling" snippets (another Slingbox feature first demonstrated months ago), the site appears to have morphed into a more Hulu-like "premium library of movies, TV shows, and Web videos" (to quote the site splash screen), with content from NBC, Fox, CBS, Showtime, Break.com, National Geographic, and MGM highlighted on the homepage. (Also mentioned: the capability to watch your Slingbox in the browser, directly through the Sling.com portal, presumably without the need for a software install.)
How does the eventual launch of Sling.com tie into the SlingCatcher? Blogger Dave Zatz--a former Sling employee-- writes, "SlingCatcher will eventually tap directly into Sling.com for some web video, perhaps partially taking the PC out of the mix." In other words, the need to have your PC nearby and be running the SlingProjector software may be more of an intermediate step to a direct pipeline to Web video for the Catcher. Sounds intriguing indeed.
We'll have a full review of the final SlingCatcher hardware as soon as our sample arrives. In the meantime, check out our hands-on preview of the product from September, and our full review of the recently released Slingbox Pro-HD.
Editors' note: Sling Media and CBS (the parent company of CNET) are working together on Sling's Clip-n-Sling project and the CBS' Interactive Audience Network.