Slingbox PRO-HD Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Home Theater/Media Center PCs
Written by Mike Flacy   
Tuesday, 22 February 2011

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.

Slingplayer left side

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.

slingplayer right side
Testing:

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.

 

When quality started to fall, it was typically when I was using a lower grade wi-fi network in coffee shops or the airport.  Public wi-fi connections are certainly watchable, but you will immediately see a difference in pixel density and responsiveness of the interface.  However, it's just a matter of adjusting your perception and still produces a signal that's highly watchable.  I would compare it to a 360p resolution connection on a service like Hulu.  If you are on a mobile device with a 3G connection, this also supports it.  Again, the quality will drop dramatically and you will likely be disappointed with the result.  I was able to watch portions of the Super Bowl on my iPhone when I had to make a run out for more snacks, but it was extremely pixelated.  I would compare it to low-grade YouTube quality when blown up on a HDTV.  The connection and streaming is rock solid and requires no buffering, but the picture is sub-par.  The audio, however, is excellent.
 
iPhone / iPad Application:

As mentioned earlier, I tested out the iPhone Slingplayer Mobile application on my iPhone 4 as well as the first generation iPad.  The interfaces on both are simple to understand, speedy in response and slick in design.  When connected to Wi-Fi, I found the picture and resolution to be quite fantastic.  However, 3G's lowered resolution quality and spotty performance wasn't my favorite way to watch video while on the go, but I did enjoy the stable framerate.  The quality of the video is dependent on both your connection to the Internet and the Slingbox's connection to the Internet.  If you are using a low quality wi-fi signal, you will get constant rebuffering reminders to gain that bump in picture quality.  I don't approve of the pricing strategy as it bumps up the cost of the Slingplayer Pro HD by 10%.  It seems like a natural pack-in to entice people to purchase the Pro HD, but dings your pocketbook yet again.  The app is $29.99 on the App Store and requires 4.1 or greater for the iPhone 4 (4.2 for the iPad).

slingbox front

  Pros:

- The value of accessing all your recorded media from anywhere with Wi-Fi / 3G is huge.

-  Picture / Sound quality is superb on most Wi-Fi connections and flawless within my home network.

Cons:

- It's definitely not simple to get working, requires a moderate amount of home theater and networking knowledge.

- There's no HDMI option.

- There's no built-in wi-fi, requires a wired connection near your router.  

Conclusion:

The ability to watch your television or satellite content anywhere is certainly a powerful motivator for purchasing a Slingbox Pro-HD and, to that point, it does an admirable job of allowing access to television and movies while on the go in extremely high video / audio quality.  It's most ideally suited for consumers that spend a large percentage of time on the road and don't want to be bothered with extra subscriptions to Hulu Plus or Netflix.  It's probably best paired with a DVR to record current shows.
 
However, don't expect to have a simple installation like a Apple TV or Boxee Box.  Installation alone requires a decent amount of home theater know-how.  In addition, consumers that only need access to their media on-the-go a small portion of the time are likely better served with online streaming services rather than a SlingBox Pro-HD.  If you are traveling all the time, consider the $299 SlingBox Pro-HD as a solid investment into getting the most out of the content that you are likely subscribing to on a monthly basis.  If you are staying close to home most of the time, you can accomplish similar streaming with cheaper applications.  





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