You've heard the pitch: the Spawn-720 is like a Slingbox for console games, letting you play your Xbox 360, Playstation 3 or (almost) any other console, through a streaming client on your PC. But does it work? Yes, so far.
The promise of the Spawn HD-720 is twofold: You can "log in" to your console to play games when, say, your TV is otherwise engaged, or you're away from home. You can also invite remote players to play against you—as a local player, interestingly enough—over the internet, from anywhere. The whole system will set you back $US200, but there's no monthly fee.
The streaming box itself is a nondescript brick with a panel full of A/V connectors in the back. It's middleman hardware, sitting between the video source—the console—and whatever display it's connected to, like some sort of VCR. And in a way, that's what it is: the HD-720 grabs, encodes and streams raw video signals without without interacting with your console at all. In fact, the only input it sends to your Xbox/PS3/PS2/whatever is through controller adaptors, which let the box (and in turn, whoever is using it) act like a local player.
So, right, enough about the hardware, what about that question that you can't not immediately have about this box: How laggy is it? I tested Kung Fu Panda over a LAN connection for a few minutes on an utterly undistinguished $US500 Core 2 Duo laptop, and it worked. I can't say there was no lag—there definitely was—but it wasn't enough to ruin a game like this, or even a first person shooter. To give a sense of how it felt, the delay felt like the difference between a wired optical mouse and a first-gen wireless mouse, in that is was enough to make some controls feel imprecise, but not enough to make anyone angry. This laptop was, for all intents and purposes, an Xbox 360.
Predictably, there was a catch. And it was the catch. I couldn't test Spawn remotely, even from a predetermined node with guaranteed upstream bandwidth. Not so predictably, the Spawn guys said they're sending out evaluation units in a few weeks, which we'll be able to connect to any console and stream over any connection. Spawn, meet Earthlink. I really hope you get along.
That'll be the ultimate test, and it's a test I'm really looking forward to. Even in its current state, Spawn can definitely keep up at least half of its side of the bargain — local game streaming is decidedly decent, and the client software is polished. The other half? You know, streaming a game of COD 4 over a 512Mbps upstream connection without 150ms+ latency? I can't overemphasise how big of a "we'll see" that is. [Spawn]