Slingbox Pro-HD: Access HD Content From Anywhere

The scoop: Slingbox Pro-HD, by Sling Media, about $300.

What it is: Like the original Slingbox, the new HD version is a small appliance that connects to your TV and home network to let you stream TV content across the LAN or across the Internet. With the included SlingPlayer software, you can watch a Boston Red Sox game on your laptop when you're in a San Francisco hotel room, for example. The new Slingbox version takes advantage of set-top boxes with high-definition content, allowing you to stream those channels across the LAN and Internet also. With multiple connection options (composite, S-Video or component video inputs), the device can stream video from several sources, including a cable set-top box (basic or high-definition), a digital video recorder, Apple TV, DVD Player, satellite receiver or a video security camera.

Why it's cool: The new box and SlingPlayer software improves video quality when streaming content, and a new live video buffer lets you pause, rewind or fast forward up to 60 minutes of content, creating a DVR-like experience. A very colorful TV listings guide and the SlingRemote feature looks and acts just like your real remote control sitting at home, making changing channels extremely easy. A very nice optimization feature detects your network settings and adjusts the bandwidth stream for the best available video and audio. On the home LAN, I was able to get up to 6Mbps of bandwidth streaming at times, making for a very nice in-home experience -- for example, being able to watch TV in a home office on the laptop where no TV connection exists.

Some caveats: The biggest downside is the limitations of your broadband connection. Most broadband connections offer lots of download bandwidth (my system offers 6Mbps downloads at times) but very limited upload bandwidth (I'm lucky if I get more than 500Kbps). Sling Media suggests that the best viewing experience comes with more than 800Kbps upload, with "better" ranging from 400K to 800Kbps, and "good" between 256K and 400Kbps. In testing with my 400K to 500Kbps connection, the high-definition content is nearly impossible to view remotely. It's still possible to view remotely with that connection speed, but you get a smaller screen and resolution. That criticism may be moot -- when you're remote and watching a game, just watching the game is good enough -- but still, audio and video should be synchronized.

Another issue -- if your router isn't located near the Slingbox (where you can run an Ethernet cable), connecting involves trying to use a powerline bridge or a wireless Ethernet bridge. In testing, I tried two separate adapters, and had trouble with in-home streaming. Then I turned to the SlingLink Turbo (a $150 four-port unit near the Slingbox and an $80 one-port unit next to my router) powerline adapters. Once these were connected, my streaming flew -- it was worth the extra cost.

Grade: 3 stars (better if you have great upload speeds at home).

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