Most set-top boxes are just that: Boring, rectangular things we try to hide away in the shadows of an overpriced TV stand. But the new Sling 350 and 500, a pair of media extenders that push your cable feed to the cloud, were crafted by NewDealDesign with the values of industrial design at their heart—blending form with function to create unique, self-branded products in the otherwise humdrum home-theater space.
"Most people see electronics as docile, but they’re actually quite active and create immense amounts of heat," NewDealDesign President Gadi Amit tells Co.Design, "which is a huge problem, especially for chipsets dealing with video."
For any designer dealing with graphics chipsets, heat is by far the most pressing concern. (And when it’s not, you get mass product failures, like the Xbox 360’s infamous red ring of death.) But fans create a lot of noise, and vents are, well, they’re vents. Unless you’re an original Mac or 1980s Ferrari Testarossa, vents are an eyesore.
"Vents are as essential to electronic boxes as wheels are to cars," Amit explains. "We don’t hate vents. We see them as a nice opportunity to be creative. For us, the goal is to create something new that’s as effective as it is magical, a new approach to ventilation."
The Slingbox 500 is essentially a pair of reversed triangles, which creates an intriguing, twisting form. But these triangles also have a secret. They passively coax hot air (which as we all remember from school, rises) in an upward direction out of the box, like an inverted ramp. It’s a design so effective that the 500 needs no fans.
The Slingbox 350 has a totally different aesthetic, at the request of SlingMedia to differentiate the products for different markets. And while at first glance it may remind you of the Jawbone Jambox, the inspiration for its faceted design reaches back into Amit’s childhood.
"My grandma used to have this crystal glass cookie jar, and it had all these facets all over," Amit explains. "We created this hybrid of a plastic enclosure that looks like crystal. Honestly, it was directly derived from my grandma’s cookie jar."
But again, this crystal wrap is hiding thermodynamic efficiency. Each highly polished pyramid on the surface has one missing side—a completely open panel—that allows airflow out. "It’s next to impossible to see," Amit explains. "Funnily enough, I had a meeting with a client, and you’d see people really putting this box right up against their face trying to figure it out. It’s an optics trick hiding in plain sight."
Of course, these Slingboxes do challenge a tacit rule of the consumer electronics industry. They’re not boxes, so they’re not stackable. SlingMedia has generally sided with less conventional designs that, while somewhat of a market risk, double as statement pieces that will draw much-needed attention to themselves as cultural artifacts. And it’s only a rising trend in the industry. Neither the PS3 (nor the Xbox 360, to some extent) were designed to be stacked, which is most likely yet another ploy in the interest of thermodynamics: Manufacturers don’t want you stacking all these fragile graphics processors inside a hot, cramped cabinet, so why should they design boxes to enable that bad behavior?
The new Slingbox 350 and 500 are on sale now.