Chuong

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Sling Media’s Slingbox hardware and accompanying software are some of those few tech investments that gives you the potential to maximize your existing tech purchases. Essentially, the Slingbox’s job is to “sling” or stream your media over the internet to your mobile phone, laptop, or PC using the Sling Player software. The software, free for PC and Mac users and at a cost of $30 for your smartphone (BlackBerry, Symbian, iPhone, Windows Mobile, and Palm OS are supported, though individual device compatibility may vary as the Symbian S60 Nokia E71 doesn’t work with the software at the time of this review), allows you to view, control, and switch between various connected devices, including cable boxes, DVRs, DVDs, and VCRs.

The version that I reviewed is the Slingbox Pro-HD, which supports a plethora of audio-visual (AV) input and pass-through output ports, making it ideal for streaming much of your home theatre media, including your cable or digital cable box, DVD changer, connected media center (like an Apple TV or Microsoft Home Media Center), home stereo system, or any other AV source that outputs to composite, component, or S-Video.

Because of its simplicity in setting up and using the Slingbox Pro-HD, along with its ability to maximize the utility of your cable and home DSL/cable modem service while you’re on the go, the Slingbox Pro-HD deserves its place among the top of Chuong’s Pick.

Chuong’s Picks is a series that features electronics, gadgets, and gears that I have used and selected due to the product’s balance between performance and value, form and function. Essentially, it is my personal “Editor’s Choice” and recommendation to you to hopefully help the beginning gadgetphile pick from among the best products in a category without having to spend too much money or time researching a group of products.

Read on to find out more about bringing your home entertainment experience while you’re on the road, a must read for any road warrior or mobile professional who doesn’t want to miss a highly rated television show or sports game while traveling.

Hardware: The Slingbox Pro HD is an attractive black and silver unit with a honeycomb-like grill on the front and some red LED light that can be visually displayed in your living room or tucked behind some shelves. The trapezoidal unit has red LED indicators on the bottom right of the device to show power and Ethernet connectivity. In the middle front, 8 LED lights form the horseshoe Sling logo to indicate that the device is “slinging” your content wirelessly over the air.

The back of the device offers a plethora of ports. You’ll also find a reset button in case anything goes wrong during setup. There is a power and Ethernet port. You will need to connect the Slingbox Pro-HD to the internet via your cable or DSL modem.

powernet


Slingbox, shown backside, with Ethernet

and power jacks

The Slingbox must be connected to the internet in order for the Slingbox to stream your media content. Unfortunately, WiFi isn’t supported, but you can connect the Slingbox to your modem or router via the built-in Ethernet port.

ethernet


Slingbox connects to your home network

via the Ethernet port on the back of the box.

If your modem or router is in a different room than your cable box, Sling Media also sells a kit called SlingLink Turbo. With SlingLink Turbo, you get two SlingLink boxes; one box plugs into an outlet near your modem/router and the other SlingLink box plugs in near your cable box and Slingbox Pro-HD.

front


SlingLink Turbo allows you to extend

your Ethernet in the event that your modem and cable box

are in different rooms; SlingLink transfers your

modem signal over your home power line so you will

need one near your router and one near your Slingbox.

The SlingLink package takes your Ethernet connection and streams it over your home’s power line, connecting it to the second SlingLink box where you can take an Ethernet cable and connect the that second SlingLink box to your Slingbox rather than have long Ethernet cables snaking around the house if your Ethernet source and cable box are in different rooms. SlingLink Turbo is an elegant, easy to use solution that really works!

slinglinkguide


Diagram showing how SlingLink works.

Other ports include composite input ports with pass-through composite output, S-video with pass-through output, left and right stereo audio input and pass-through audio output, component video input with pass-through output, and coaxial antenna input and output.

av


Slingbox and AV ports: composite, S-Video,

audio ports, composite, and coaxial ports; comes with

input to Slingbox and pass-through outputs

There is also an IR port with included IR wires that allow you to connect and control your home DVR, cable box, or other AV source remotely through the Slingbox.

The Slingbox Pro-HD has a built-in digital tuner. The beauty of having pass-through output is that you won’t require a splitter. For instance, if you wanted to connect your cable through the coaxial port, rather than having a splitter to split the cable into two wires, one for the Slingbox Pro-HD and one for the television, you can have the cable coaxial input go to the Slingbox Pro-HD first, and then connect a second coaxial cable from the Slingbox Pro-HD coaxial output to the TV.

Since I used a digital cable box with integrated DVR, I connected the cable coaxial input to the cable box, and then from the cable box, I used the included composite cables to carry the signal from the cable box to the Slingbox Pro-HD. The downside in doing this is that the cable box and the Slingbox are linked, meaning that the content playing on the television set and on the Sling Player software on a remote PC would be the same. That means that if someone were watching television at home and changed the channel, this would be reflected on the Slingbox and SlingPlayer as well. If the remote viewer changed the television channel via the SlingPlayer software, the television would also reflect this change.

To mitigate the downside mentioned, I also connected a coaxial input to not interfere with the television if someone were to be watching at home. Doing this, I can switch between the composite input with all the DVR content and my cable programming guide and the standard coaxial input for analog and digital cable program at will.



Set-up video guide for an older Slingbox model;

much of the ease of use and connection instructions

are still applicable

Users can also connect a home media center computer, a CD or DVD disc changer, stereo system or other AV source to make use of any available composite, component, S-video, or audio input ports on the Slingbox that is available to them.

Software: After connecting your hardware, set up is relatively. Users can download the Sling Player software for their Mac or PC. Users do need to be on the same network as their Slingbox Pro-HD. The Slingbox Setup Assistant will walk you through which input to use for streaming live content, discovering channels and stations in your area, and setting up the Slingbox for remote viewing. Remote viewing should be a relatively simple process, unless you require port forwarding and configuration, in which case you should either contact your cable modem or DSL provider or router manufacturer for help; Sling Media also provides basic guides on their website. You will also be assigned a Sling Finger ID, which is a string of letters and numbers, and be asked to choose a password.

After the Slingbox has been configured, you can log in to view your media content. When you launch Sling Player, you’ll be asked to enter the Sling Finder ID and password to view your content to prevent unauthorized viewers from logging into your network.

If you used composite or component inputs to connect your digital cable box and/or DVR, the Sling Player software will intelligently select and display a software remote control on the side of the player that resembles your hardware remote at home. If you use coaxial input for your live cable programming, Sling Player will display a generic numerical remote control on the side; nothing fancy. If you used both a composite or component input and coaxial input as the scenario mentioned earlier in the review to mitigate remote control of the home TV set remotely, you’ll have to run the Slingbox Setup Assistant twice for the Slingbox and Sling Player to discover the channels under both inputs.

HD streaming is only available on PCs at this time. Sling Media promises an updated Mac OS X player that will be capable of watching HD content on the downlink side. Please also note that HD content is available at 1080i; if you have 1080p, you’ll be asked to switch to 1080i for the Slingbox to work.

pcguide


Sling Player software, with software

remote control, as it looks on a PC, with programming

guide shown on the far right side.

The PC version also comes with a programming guide that the Mac version currently lacks at this time.

Going Mobile: After everything has been configured at home and enabled for remote viewing, Windows Mobile users can download the mobile software for viewing their Slingbox content on their Windows Phone. The Slingbox supports QVGA, 240 X 240, 320 X 320, VGA, and WVGA resolutions in both landscape and portrait modes and touchscreens and non-touchscreens Windows Mobile devices.

The onscreen programming guide allows you to select favorite stations and their corresponding icons so you can quickly switch between favorite channels that you often view. For instance, tapping on the Food Network icon launches whatever channel number you have configured for the Food Network channel in your area. You can have up to 14 configured favorite channels. There is also a basic numerical on-screen software remote control that you can pull up to change the channel.

winmo


Sling Player Mobile software shown

on an HTC Touch Pro with VGA resolution and

favorite channels configured.

Licenses purchased for the Symbian, BlackBerry, Palm OS, and Windows Mobile devices can be transferred between each other. There is also an iPhone version, which only works over WiFi and not over 3G data. While the Sling Player Mobile works decent over 2G/EDGE data, 3G and WiFi streaming is highly recommended.

On the upstream (home Slingbox) side, you’ll need a decent upstream speed. I’ve tried the Slingbox on the most basic of AT&T’s DSL service and the upstream speed is not adequate, resulting in picture stutter and constant freezes. On the basic cable modem package from Time Warner, things worked beautifully. If users are to use Slingbox with DSL service, I’d recommend an upgraded package whereas a basic cable modem package will provide with ample upstream speeds to make the experience enjoyable.

Value, Bugs, and Quirks: The Slingbox Pro-HD and the accompanying Sling Player and Sling Player Mobile software may seem like a steep upfront investment. The Slingbox Pro-HD retails for around $300, though it could be had for less on e-tailers, and the Sling Player Mobile software license is a one-time $30 fee (the Sling Player desktop software is free to use and download). However, given that the costs are one-time, and if the equipment and software are to be depreciated over a period of a year, it’d be less than $1 per day.

Also, because you can now watch and utilize the services that you had paid for—which would have been sitting idle otherwise—it makes good use of your cable ($30-$100 value) television service, your home internet package ($30-$50 value), and your mobile 3G data subscription ($30 value). Given these subscription costs run around $90 to $180 monthly, Slingbox Pro-HD will allow you to maximize your utlity of these investments rather than plunking an extra $10 per month on mobile television service from V-Cast, MobiTV, or others.

A minor quirk I had while using the Slingbox Pro-HD had to do more with my Time Warner Cable service and integrated cable box and DVR/PVR rather than the Slingbox itself. When I first run Slingbox sometimes, a screen with an error message that states “Your TV does not allow display of this program through the DVI input source. Please choose another TV input source” appears. I discovered after a brief Google search that the error message has more to do with Time Warner’s annoying DRM protection. Users on some online forums had to restart or reset their cable box. A work around that I discovered is to hit the “Info” button and then the “Exit” button. The screen gets cleared, and then I can hit the “Power” button to remotely power on my cable box and begin my entertainment experience on my smartphone.

Until Sling Media and parent company EchoStar (which also owns Dish Networks) begin licensing agreements with cable providers to integrate the Slingbox features into set-top boxes and DVRs, the Slingbox is the best way media solution for frequent travelers. For the maximum road warrior, the Slingbox will allow you to either carry your cable service into a location that you otherwise won’t have TV or if you’re traveling abroad, bring along your home TV service in your primary language so you’re not stuck watching foreign language programming. For the maximum road warrier, the Slingbox will allow you to either carry your cable service into a location that you otherwise won’t have TV or if you’re traveling abroad, bring along your home TV service in your primary language so you’re not stuck watching foreign language programming. Its ease of use and simplicity compared to other solutions warrants it a top spot on Chuong’s Picks list.

Pros:

-Easy to setup

-Easy to use

-No monthly access charge

-Maximizes your utility out of your existing cable, DSL and DVR services

-SlingLink is an invaluable accessory (not included) that helps if your router and cable box are not in the same room

-Works flawlessly on smartphones on WiFi and 3G data networks

Cons:

-Networking can be troublesome, but that’s due to the modem and/or router and not Slingbox’s fault

-Up-front investment is expensive

-Mobile software is pricey at $30

-iPhone version of Sling Player Mobile only works on WiFi and not over 3G data networks

The Slingbox Pro-HD earns itself 4.9 stars out of 5 and is one of my favorite devices, earning itself a spot on Chuong’s Pick list.

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About The Author
Chuong Nguyen