If you’ve never heard of Sling Media, or the Slingbox media content streaming range, then the thought of trying to access your home entertainment setup whilst on the go may not have even crossed your mind. If it has, though, then there is no doubt some sort of Slingbox that will suit your needs.
Today I have the Slingbox Pro-HD for review, which is the premium offering from the company setting you back a princely sum of £200, but will in theory transport your HD content from a variety of devices to a different selection of devices via the Internet.
With many devices these days it’s simply a case of plug in and go, though this is not the case with the Slingbox. There are a wealth of connection possibilities, although to some degree this works in its favour. Let me explain, whilst the coaxial’s, composite’s and component’s may befuddle your brain for a while if you’re not the most tech savvy, the sheer number of possibilities mean that you can get it set up with any number of devices including the likes of Sky+HD and Virgin Digital TV.
Once you have found the necessary cables in the box, found where they go in the back of the Slingbox and co-ordinated the IR blaster correctly and connected your Slingbox to the Internet via Ethernet to your home router (No Wi-Fi which quite frankly sucks), then you are ready to get started. Sort of.
Unfortunately, you still need to configure your device online, which entails locating it on the network, giving it a name and password, telling it the make and model of your A/V device if it is not automatically recognised after scanning the various A/V outputs and updated the software on the Slingbox, you might just be ready to go.
Of course, with this many steps and this many variables, there may just be a few hurdles to clear along the way, but during my time with it I encountered nothing too serious.
How to Watch
This is where the Slingbox range really comes alive, as the viewing possibilities are pretty comprehensive. For starters, you can access your Slingbox providing it is switched on, anywhere that you have an Internet connection and a compatible browser (it doesn’t support Google Chrome on Mac OS X). The interface is clean and you can bring up a virtual remote which emulates the actual remote of the device you are streaming from. It’s all pretty neat.
As well as that option, there is desktop software which tends to work in a very similar fashion, but offers a little more eye-candy and a little less clutter than a web browser. Again, the interface is tidy and the software is free to download on Windows or OS X.
More interestingly, though, is the mobile application. These days the term ‘mobile app’ seems to go hand in hand with iOS, but not in the case of the SlingPlayer, which is currently available on pretty much every major platform, including Android, iOS, Windows Phone 7, Blackberry and Symbian.
The testing I carried out on the Windows Phone 7 app was pretty basic in truth, but the basic interface was simplistic and typical of the OS. As far as I can gather from the screenshots the other platforms share similar attributes, whilst differences in the general look and feel only differ as far as the OS’ themselves.
Whilst generally this is a quality piece of kit, there are some strange annoyances with it in my opinion. Firstly, whilst I do believe that the HD quality can be excellent at times, it is difficult to believe that the majority of home broadband connections can cope with the demands of constant uploading of a high definition video stream. However, it could be argued I suppose that the sort of person who would spend £200 on a video streaming kit would generally be a bit of a geek who would probably demand, and could afford, a top of the range connection anyway as splashing that sort of money on a device which in very few circumstances will be necessary speaks volumes.
Other than that, whilst there is an incredible number of methods of connectivity between A/V device and Slingbox, HDMI is nowhere to be seen and normally that wouldn’t be a problem considering there is component input and a set of corresponding cables thrown in, however when you consider that both Sky and Virgin have pulled the plug on component connectivity in their set top boxes in favour of HDMI, it can create quite a major problem.
I’m going to put it out there and say that I love the idea of the Slingbox. However, is it worth the £200 for the sake of throwing the ‘HD’ on the end? No, considering there are so many faults in the implementation of HD streaming whether they be the fault of Sling Media or not (infrastructure of your available internet connection), it doesn’t really equate to a huge selling point. Alternatively, you could get yourself one of the more basic Slingboxes for nearly half the price and be equally happy viewing standard definition.
In all honesty, particularly when viewing on a mobile device such as my Samsung Omnia 7 with a relatively large 4″ smartphone display, the difference in quality is almost negligible considering the size and resolution of the screen. Only when viewing on a laptop or desktop PC were the effects of high definition especially noticeable, but I feel they were more noticeable to the rest of the household who were failing to connect to the Internet the whole time. You would have to be mighty careful on an internet access data plan without unlimited allowance watching TV regularly in HD.
My final gripe is with the pricing of the mobile apps. Whilst they may provide excellent functionality and be complex in what they achieve, I find it hard to justify the £22 cost for the WP7 app, and even more on other platforms.
Having said all that, the Slingbox Pro-HD is the best solution to a problem out there and hardware wise is an impressive piece of kit. It looks great and fits nicely into a modern home entertainment setup. Connectivity to so many devices makes it unrivalled in a market which admittedly doesn’t really exist yet. Yes there are media streamers out there, but none quite like this as far as I know.
If you are the sort of person who stays away from home on a regular basis, perhaps in hotels on business trips, in the long term this is a much cheaper solution than an added subscription to a service such as Sky Player and I strongly recommend the product as a whole especially if you have a device such as an Apple iPad already, but I feel with the growing number of TV on-demand services out there, it might not be long before this sort of thing is almost entirely redundant.