Sling.com like video site Hulu with a twist

NEW YORK (AP) -- Since its launch in March, video-streaming site Hulu has become a popular place to catch TV shows, video clips and movies for free on the Web.

Apparently, the folks behind Hulu - which is a joint venture between General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal and News Corp. - aren't the only ones that think this is a good idea.

This week, Sling Media, which makes the Slingbox device that lets you watch your home TV remotely, rolled out a "beta" version of its own video-streaming site, Sling.com. Owing to deals with Hulu and a number of the same partners that Hulu has, Sling.com has much of the same content. But there is one neat twist: if you have a Slingbox device, which lets you control and watch your TV from any Mac- or Windows-based computer equipped with high-speed Internet access, you can also use the site to control your Slingbox.

It's definitely not breaking any ground as far as content is concerned - the only full-length movie I spotted on Sling.com that Hulu didn't have was blaxploitation horror flick "Blacula" - but overall the site makes a pretty good alternative, especially if you have a Slingbox, which starts at $180.

Sling.com has a fairly clean look, and I found it easy to navigate. You don't need to create a site profile if you just want to watch TV shows, movies or clips, but it's necessary if you want to set up subscriptions to channels and shows so you'll be alerted when new content is added to the site. Unlike with Hulu, you don't have to log in to watch R-rated movies. And Slingbox users who want to watch live TV can use the e-mail address and password associated with their Slingbox to log in.

As with Hulu, Sling.com is free to use but there are commercial interruptions during TV shows and movies, shorter than the ones you'd sit through when watching TV.

I spent some time watching the show "30 Rock" and teen cheerleader classic "Bring it On." "30 Rock" looked pretty good, but "Bring it On" was pixelated and jerky at times when viewed on both Firefox and Internet Explorer over my high-speed Internet connection. A newer computer with a dual-core processor probably wouldn't have the same problem.

You can watch in a browser window or in full-screen mode. Depending on what you're watching, the full-screen mode may look fuzzy because of the low resolution of the feed.

Sling.com does have a number of content partners besides Hulu, including CBS and comedy Web sites CollegeHumor and 23/6. The site also has deals with the Associated Press and Reuters for news videos.

The site's coolest feature is that it lets Slingbox owners watch live TV online. Before, this required the installation of a standalone program called SlingPlayer. Setting up to watch through the Web browser is much easier and quicker, though it requires the installation of a proprietary plugin that works only on Windows-based PC's running Mozilla's Firefox or Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Sling Media said it hopes to have the feature working with Macs in a few months.

The option of watching through the Web browser would make it much easier to jump on my non-TV owning friends' computer if we had a sudden craving for a cable television fix. I liked being able to use an on-screen remote to watch content that had been recorded to a home DVR or to record new things to watch later.

You'll need a decent high-speed Internet connection at home to enjoy watching your Slingbox through the site. Unfortunately, my cable modem wasn't fast enough to give me a decent picture. When I watched "The Today Show" on NBC, anchor Lester Holt's face looked like it was melting and the sound was choppy and often rather tinny-sounding - issues I didn't have when I tried a few demo Slingboxes set up by Sling Media that streamed live TV at a much higher rate.

Sling.com still has a ways to go if it wants to truly differentiate itself from Hulu. Sling Media said it plans to keep adding content partners, so hopefully its video selection will improve. And if it can add some more interesting features that will appeal to non-Slingbox owners, it may become a contender.

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