While set-top boxes and home media servers have done an excellent job of providing access to our content around the home, another battlefield for gaining our attention is on the mobile front. Beyond the barrage of online services to choose form for streaming content, we also have the ability to stream our own recorded content on the web. The Slingbox Pro-HD is a device exactly for that purpose. For those that are unfamiliar with the concept of the Slingbox, it's a intermediary device that sits between your content provider (cable, satellite, DVR, etc) and your television. Using a connection to your home network, it can send out anything on content provider to your PC or most mobile devices. For instance, if you are commuting and want to watch a live football game, you can.
However, it's not a device to record your content. You still need a HTPC or DVR if you want to accomplish that, but you can watch all that content via the Slingbox. There are two set-top boxes in the Slingbox lineup, the Solo (standard definition) and the Pro-HD (high definition). The Pro-HD requires a higher level of bandwidth to transmit all that wonderful HD content onto your PC or mobile device, a minimum of 1.5 Mpbs. It's definitely something to be wary about before purchasing it.
Even if you meet the minimum requirements, think about all the other computers or Internet connected devices in the house that you may be using. It takes a hefty toll on your network to stream content from the Slingbox Pro-HD, watch Netflix on another television in the house and do a bit of online gaming on the PS3 or Xbox 360. I use Verizon FIOS with 25 Mps download & upload, so running multiple devices isn't an issue. It's also perfect for streaming content out from the Slingbox as I always know that any issues I'm having with content quality are likely on my end if I'm out of the house.
Design and Setup:
Having just come off a series of reviews on minimalistic set-top boxes, I was quite surprised at how large the Pro-HD is. More than a foot in length, the Pro-HD is about 6 inches deep and a couple inches high. It has a trapezoid shape and is encased in a matte black plastic. The front panel is extremely minimal with a mesh grille on front and a few indicator lights to tell you if everything is working correctly. On the back of the unit, you will find a ton of inputs and outputs for composite, S-Video or component connections. There's also a connection for the wired Ethernet jack, power connector, USB port and Coax connections. It's a bit daunting to look at, especially if you are used to the simplicity of HDMI. There's no HDMI port or an inclusion for Wi-fi, likely due to to the slower nature of Wi-Fi networks. Running a cable is the best option as power adapter kits are likely too slow to keep up.
In addition to the unit, you will find tons of cables included with the Pro-HD for nearly any combination of connections. There's also a variety of IR blasters for communication with your other components like a Blu-ray player or a cable box. I connected the Pro-HD in between my HD projector and a HD Time Warner cable box to start as well as hooked the Cat-5 cable up into my nearby wireless router. Getting everything to talk to each other was simple and I went from initial setup to streaming video in about 20 to 30 minutes of tweaking my Internet connection settings. Be aware that you may likely need a solid amount of knowledge around your wireless router settings before getting the Pro-HD. It took me a couple modifications to get everything streaming correctly.
While at home, I found the Pro-HD to be the most responsive on the home network. I could bring up HD stations from my iPhone in the den or on my laptop in the office via a wireless connection. There was just a second or two delay in changing stations and the live-tv buffer for pausing video worked perfectly well. The quality was comparable to a typical HD streaming service like Vudu or even the higher quality Netflix streaming content to some extent. I could read the subtitles easily when watching The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
, both on my laptop and on my iPhone 4.