December 04, 2005

Graduating from 9 out of 9 to Applause

Andy Abramson is happy to report that PhoneGnome won an award in the multi-media gadget category in Gadgetfest 2005. As Andy tells it, it tied with SlingBox during the first round of voting and the tie continued for two additional round of voting and then won on the third one. I feel if we analyze the features and user experience of SlingBox, we will see how it could have continued the voting process for additional rounds and end-up in a real tie.

Drew Terry gives us some additional details: There were five contestants. Three of them are of interest for this discussion. Apart from PhoneGnome and SlingBox, the third entry of note is Sony’s Location Free TV Solution. Interestingly, both Slingbox and LF offer the same capability – place shifting media. Since I do not have hands-on experience of any of these three products and my knowldgebase is only from the respective user guides, let us assume that all the three products perform the central functions admirably. But there is a world of difference in the user experience while connecting the box for the first time.

Connecting PG is the simplest. One just needs to connect the power cord, telephone line and Ethernet cord. Everything else transparent to the user and takes place in the background. Its id is determined by the number of the associated PSTN line. SlingBox is slightly more complicated. The user needs to know what is UPnP, how to enable it in the router and setup port forwarding in the router. It is id is an unbelievable 32 characters long, assigned by the factory. LF is the worst, at least as it is written in the user guide. One has to worry whether the place shifting is happening within the LAN or over the Internet. One even has to worry about Dynamic DNS! Though there has not been much written about LF, Om Malik and Jeff Pulver have written about their experiences. Even though they are generally positive about SlingBox’s video quality, if you read the comments to Om’s post, you will realize network setup could be simplified. Even Jeff had to struggle with port forwarding. Can you imagine his reaction if he had to do all this for a VoIP device?

If you really think for a minute, there is no fundamental difference between PG, SlingBox and LF. They all need to provide directory service and have to device a mechanism for NAT/FW traversal. PG uses SIP for the former and most likely uses Session Border Controller for the latter. It is immediately clear that SlingBox and LF can also use SIP for directory service. Of course, it is not optimal for them to use SBC. After all there are times when SBCs have to handle the media flow. This is not preferable since video will be bandwidth intensive. Instead it is better that they use ICE. ICE will address the LAN issue and as long as both the SlingBox/LF and the client are not behind different symmetric NATs, it is a scalable proposition to host STUN/TURN and assist in NAT/FW traversal. If SlingBox incorporates these suggestions, then it will surely tie in GadgetFest 2006, if not get the award outright.

Posted by aswath at December 4, 2005 01:48 AM
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