Hands on with the Slingbox 500's new SlingSync feature

Owners of Sling Media’s top-of-the-line Slingbox 500 can now use their place-shifting set-top box to enjoy media from their smartphone on their HDTV.

Sling Media activated the new feature, called SlingSync, via a firmware update to the Slingbox 500 and with upgrades to its $15 SlingPlayer apps for iPhone and Android smartphones. (The iPad, Android tablet, Windows Phone, and Kindle Fire apps haven’t received SlingSync support as of yet.) SlingSync also requires you to plug a USB drive into the USB port on the Slingbox, as the feature transfers videos and still images from your mobile device wirelessly to the USB drive, after which you can initiate and control playback using the Slingbox’s remote.

Photos on the Slingbox.

It wasn’t easy for me to get my Slingbox 500 to perform the required firmware upgrade. Efforts to initiate it manually failed until I reset the box completely, after which I had to go through the entire setup process and install two firmware updates. Updating my iPhone app was a much easier.

Once I completed the upgrades and plugged in a USB drive, SlingSync appeared on the menus of both the Slingbox 500 and the iPhone SlingPlayer (on the iPhone you access it from the MyMedia option). From the iPhone app, I was able to choose the image folders I wanted to copy to the USB drive. (Note that both the Slingbox 500 and mobile device must be on the same network.) You can also opt to have all images transferred automatically, although this might take a while if you’ve got a lot of media (and you’ll need a big USB drive).

Once the media have been transferred—you can see the transfer progress on the mobile app—you choose the SlingSync menu option on the Slingbox 500, then choose whether you wish to look at videos or still images.

You can navigate to specific images by paging through the thumbnail displays and using the arrows on the keypad. With a single image onscreen, you can also adjust orientation by using the up/down arrow keys. You can either click through images with the right and left arrows on the Slingbox remote keypad, or initiate a slideshow by pressing the play/pause button. (I couldn’t see any way to adjust slideshow options such as the length of time an image appears on the screen, however.)

Slingboxes are best known for their ability to let you watch your HDTV remotely on Internet-connected computers, tablets, and smartphones (aka place-shifting). They do so by grabbing and compressing an analog version of the HD signal from a cable or satellite box’s outputs and enabling remote control via IR blaster.

Sling says the firmware update also restores audio-only mode for older Slingbox models (Solo and Pro-HD) as well as the 500; Slingbox 350 customers, however, will have to wait for a future update. Also included is Japanese localization ahead of a Slingbox 500 launch there.

As for the mobile apps, the company also included audio-only and Japanese localization support with those updates, and added Facebook sharing for Android phones and tablets.

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