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SlingBox Pro 

I don't think I'm unique in wishing my TV were where I was, rather than in the living room where the aerial is! There have been a number of solutions to this issue - here we look at what the SlingBox, from Sling Media can do.
Sling media SlingBox Pro
click to enlarge

SlingBox comes in a various flavours - from the original 'Classic' through the the 'Pro', which is the one currently sat underneath my TV.

What's a SlingBox?

The clue is in the name. In short it takes video and audio from where they are and slings them to where you want them - SlingBox. In a little more detail - the product 'streams' your existing video content across a network to a computer running Windows or Mac OS. That's usually across your home network although it could be across the Internet to a remote PC.

The different members of the SlingBox family primarily differ in the kinds and number of video sources that can be connected. The 'Pro', reviewed here, offers the most flexibility with support for both High Definition (HD) and for multiple sources. In addition the Pro variant includes an integrated DVB-T tuner allowing you to remotely watch TV without requiring another box to be powered - and without having to watch the same channel as the rest of the family!

Opening the SlingBox packaging reveals a somewhat daunting collection of cables, the only documentation being a quick-start guide. As well as the power supply you're also provided with : an audio cable; S-Video cable; Composite A/V cable, an aerial lead; an infra-red remote control cable (see later); a couple of adapters for SCART and HD connections and finally an Ethernet cable to connect the SlingBox into your home network.

Although short the quick guide is very easy to follow and has you up and running in no time. The rear of the device has both video inputs and outputs. Two inputs are available - one the usual composite video and stereo audio, the other an S-Video connector and again separate audio signals for left and right.

There is a separate HDMI input for a single High Definition stream if you have that available.

Sling media SlingBox Pro
click to enlarge

Installation

Despite the daunting array of wires, installation was remarkably straightforward and followed the easy start guide. In my case I connected a TopUp TV+ box into the SlingBox as a video source. this was connected via the supplied Scart to RCA adaptor. This works by sitting between the video's output SCART socket and the cable to your TV. My only criticism of this arrangement is the weight placed on the SCART socket can cause the connect to fall out occasionally.

Network connection is via wired Ethernet. This can pose some problems if your main home network is wireless and your TV is not near your Internet Router (as is my case). This is an ideal scenario for Homeplug technology - using your existing home wiring to connect devices to your network. SlingBox sell a product called 'Slinglink Turbo' that does this. In my case I used a couple of Zyxel Homeplug devices.

On your computer

Once you have the SlingBox configured you then need to install the "SlingPlayer Desktop" software on the computer(s) where you want your video. SlingBox do not include the software with the product, instead you download from their site. The download is a fairly hefty 50M bytes. Once downloaded installation is straightforward. Starting SlingPlayer automatically scans your local network for the SlingBox and then asks you to log in. You then go through a set-up process where you identify the video sources you have connected. This is crucial - the SlingBox not only 'slings' video to you - it can also 'sling back' IR remote control signals. Having identified your video source correctly, the SlingPlayer shows you a graphical representation of the remote control for that product (a wide range are supported). You can use your mouse to click on the remote and control the source device. Clever!

Sling Media SCART adaptor
click to enlarge

Performance and Limitations

I connected several computers to the SlingBox. One, a Windows Vista desktop and the other a Windows XP SP2 laptop. Both connected to the home network via WiFi, and in turn to the SlingBox via the Homeplug system. Both machines worked flawlessly. Note though that only one computer can be connected at a time - attempting to connect a second machine asks you whether you want the first to disconnect. I don't think that's too much of a limitation.

As already mentioned the SlingBox Pro has an integrated DVB-T digital television. This was the only weak point in the product. Although the receiver detected 42 stations when many of them were then selected the system reported no signal. We do have a fairly weak signal here, but I've not had this problem with other digital receivers.

Summary

The SlingBox has very many uses. Whether you just want to watch in bed - or want the main set reproduced in kitchen so you don't miss out on the action as you labour away over the stove, the SlingBox can help. There are a few things that could be added - my favourite missing feature is the ability to record from the Slingplayer. This would avoid me needing a video capture card to transfer video from my cam-corder to the computer. Countered against that though is simplicity. Rather than attempt to do too much and complicate the product, the SlingBox currently does one thing very well!

Sling Media should be congratulated on making a product that involves networks, video and computers (any one of which is usually a minefield of compexity) easy to set up and use.

The SlingBox Pro is available for 169 Amazon :

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B000W49MPI

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Rating:

Comment by Iain, Apr 24, 2009 11:23

One of the best gadgets ever made... at least it used to be.  Slingmedia forced everyone into a firmware update recently (packaged in a software update) that has caused many users problems.  The Slingbox will now freeze daily and if you are not near the location of your Slingbox, you can't reset it.  This renders the box useless.
Their solution?  Users can pay for technical support but they then end up telling you that you need a new box (which they charge you extra for).  All they need to do is bring out new firmware that works, but alas they won't.
Rating:

Comment by Ernie, Apr 3, 2009 21:59

This product kepps freezing. The company provides the worst customer service.  Even after calling many times for the same issue during the first 90 days, now they say that they upgraded thier database in there is no history of my calls, HOW CONVINIENT.  DO NOT BUY.
Rating:

Comment by Pete, Mar 17, 2009 15:08

The concept and product are unique, but the reliability and customer support are subpar.  Dishing out over $100 for the box, then another $30 for the mobile, then $30 each time there is a problem with it ( and you WILL experience a problem with it), NOT WORTH IT.  I would discourage anyone from pruchasing this.
Rating:

Comment by Keloid, June 26, 2008 14:58

Read the above with interest as I was considering some sort of location free TV solution for long train journeys/staying away on business etc etc.

I have a PSP and PS3 so does anyone have any views on Sonys new PlayTV for PS3 and its streaming/recording + streaming capabilities - this looks impressive and I hear it will be very competitively priced
Rating:

Comment by Manny, Apr 3, 2008 2:04

I think your review of the SLingbox PRO is not incorrect based on the length of experience you have had using the gadget.  Well, I have owned and remotely operated a Slingbox PRO for almost 1 year (and a Sony Location Free for even longer).  I am sorry to disagree with your evaluation and all you need to do is to google Slingbox PRO Video Problems and read up on the numerous complaints this gadget has generated.  I replaced my Location Free with the Slingbox PRO on the recommendation of a colleague who also uses the Slingbox to stream TV programs from the UK to our location in Canada. For ease of setup, the Slinbox is more user friendly.  The Slingbox video quality is also superior, when it works.  However, the Location Free is better than the Slingbox for reliability and problem-free streaming.  Problem with the Slingbox PRO is that the video freezes frequently and I have had to disconnect and reconnect every 5 minutes when streaming.

I have had cause to visit and post on the Slingbox Forum for help in solving this problem which suprisingly isn't uncommon and is extensively reported on the Forum.  Unfortunately Slingmedia Support seem not to be helpful in resolving this issue, preferring to place the blame on clinets' setup rather than a dodgy Firmware.  Initially I blamed my wireless network and actually posted a retraction and an apology on the Forum after a scathing criticism of the gadget and the Slingmedia support team.  

Now I think my apology may have been misplaced and premature.  I reconnected my Location Free during my Easter break in the UK and now stream with both Location Free and Slingbox here in Canada on two laptops, running XP and Vista Home Premium respectively.  As I write, I have been streaming UK TV with the Location Free for about 4 hours with no problems but the Slingbox PRO froze after 5 minutes and I just cannot be bothered reconnecting it.  Both gadgets are running off my wireless network, which is a D-Link Xtreme N Gigabit Router.

Any prospective Slingbox enthusiasts should at least visit the Slingbox Forum for other views on the gadget or holdout until Slingmedia releases an updated Firmware as the freezing video problem is probably linked to the current Firmware (v 1.039), which many think may be defective.

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