Sling Media has created a line of products that allow users to remotely access their media whether it is a VCR, set-top box or DVR. While this may sound simple, controlling hardware from a remote location requires full two-way communication between the components that sits at home and the user controlling it. The new SlingBox Pro HD takes a great idea and makes it even more powerful by accepting external 1080i high definition content and includes a built-in analog (NTSC) and digital (Clear QAM and ATSC) tuner that can stream cable or terrestrial broadcasts in high definition if available. The unit is simple to install and also offers compatibility with standard definition components such as DVD players and VCRs.
The right side of the SlingBox Pro HD has indicators for both the network and power. Both lights illuminate when properly connected. The center array of lights illuminate when the SlingBox is being accessed remotely. This make it easy to see if the box is responding to a streaming request during the testing process.
The rear panel of the SlingBox accepts component video (up to 1080i), s-video, composite video and an antenna/cable input. We connected our rooftop antenna and dialed in 67 digital channels here in Los Angeles using the integrated ATSC tuner. Unfortunately, the SlingBox Pro HD lacks an HDMI input, but that didn't stop us from being able to watch any of our content. Both analog (left and right) and digital (coaxial) audio is supported with this unit.
The Remote Control IR Cable plugs into the 3.5mm jack and is required to send IR commands to the connected components. The IR cable has four IR emitters to support several components used with the SlingBox. This is how users will command their connected devices remotely. We connected our SlingBox to a local ethernet switch that was also connected to our router.
The SlingBox Pro HD is a platform designed to stream content to the SlingPlayer software that is installed on a PC or Mac, whether it is in another room or another part of the country. Performance can vary widely depending on the internet connection speed and the associated hardware being used for playback. Our test computers were both running Windows Vista (32-bit). Our laptop was an HP Pavilion dv9910us with an AMD Turion 64 (TL-60, 2GHz) processor and our Desktop was an HP Pavilion d5000t with an Intel Core 2 Quad (Q9300, 2.50GHz) processor. It is important to mention both these configurations because of the performance differences. The SlingPlayer software helps the user setup the SlingBox using the Setup Assistant utility. Once logged in, each video input can be defined by the user and Sling Media takes care of the rest (such as providing a remote to control playback features). In the case of our Dish Network Vip722, the remote was identical to our original remote, making it extremely easy to use. We also connected an OPPO DV-971 DVD player to the s-video input. Picture and Audio setting adjustments are available for each input.
Once configured, the software automatically found the SlingBox and began streaming video from the selected source. The latest SlingPlayer software can be downloaded from the SlingMedia website and takes a few minutes to install. We loaded the latest SlingPlayer 2.0 on our laptop and desktop to test the capabilities of the system. Configuration of the SlingBox Pro HD was simple and our network had no problem finding it.
There are several factors that affected the performance of this system. We were determined to find them since our laptop showed some choppiness in the video at times. At first we thought it might be related to the network speed, but even using a local high speed switch connected directly to the SlingBox, the results were the same. It turned out that our laptop was just too slow and not capable of decoding the high definition streams in real time and had nothing to do with the SlingBox system itself. This is important when considering how you plan to use the system. In contrast, our HP desktop with the Intel Core 2 Quad processor had no problem at all decoding high definition media even at rates as high as 8 Mb/s. That's the highest we were able to see during our tests. Again, these tests were all done locally on our network.
Once you use this system from a remote location, network speed will become another bottleneck in overall bandwidth to your computer. If you have a fast connection, you will likely see good performance during playback. If not, you may encounter dropout issues during streaming. The SlingPlayer software reports to the user when it detects frame drops. This was helpful when trying to optimize the system and allows the user to throttle back on the bandwidth to maximize the playback experience. Wireless networks may be less reliable due to the variation in signal strength and bandwidth consistency.
The built-in tuner allowed us to watch over-the-air programming without disturbing the rest of our home theater system, meaning others can watch television using any of the connected components and you can still enjoy high definition TV remotely and independently.
Watching high definition video remotely is really an amazing feat considering the amount of bandwidth required for a good high resolution picture. The SlingBox Pro HD is capable of delivering excellent picture quality and did so during our testing. We watched a prerecorded U2 Vertigo concert and it was a real treat. Detail was wonderful and the audio sounded good. There were occasional lip-sync issues, but this only occurred on our slower laptop. Standard definition video sourced from our DVD player still looked good, but certainly not as impressive as the high definition content. Nonetheless, it took less bandwidth and still performed admirably. A nice feature of the SlingBox is its ability, like a DVR, to store and scroll though up to 60 minutes of content being watched.
The SlingBox Pro HD is a really cool product that can benefit those looking to enjoy their home content from different sources while they are away. Best of all, there are no monthy fees for using the system. It is a great concept that works better than I expected. While the high definition video quality looked outstanding on the SlingBox Pro HD, it does require good playback hardware and a fast network connection to get smooth results. We also think having the built-in ATSC high definition tuner was a smart idea that gives this product even more powerful capabilities worth having. SlingPlayer allows us to watch any of our content on any PC in the house and while we are away from home. SlingPlayer Mobile supports a variety of portable devices from Palm, BlackBerry, and Symbian. There is also support for devices running Windows Mobile. See the Sling Media website for details. The SlingBox Pro HD is innovative technology that comes highly recommended based on our testing.