SlingTV aims for a unified TV experience at home and away
If you’re paying tons of money for a cable or satellite TV package, you deserve to be able to watch that content on all your screens, both around your house, and on your mobile devices when you’re out and about. Sling Media’s Slingbox products have let you “place shift” live TV and DVR recordings for years, and on Tuesday the company announced both a new entry-level Slingbox, the M1, as well as a new software interface for its flagship Slingbox, now rechristened SlingTV.
SlingTV’s hardware isn’t changed—it’s the same Slingbox 500 that we reviewed in 2012, just with a new user interface. Current owners of the Slingbox 500 will be able to update their boxes with the SlingTV software when it’s released in late August. The only difference in the hardware is that it’s got a HDMI video-out port, which was previously a passthrough.
Having a true HDMI video-out port lets SlingTV put an overlay of its UI on your TV screen. So even if you’re home, watching on the same TV your Slingbox is connected to, you can still use SlingTV’s software to navigate and discover what to watch.
SlingTV’s programming guide will resemble the Media Gallery in SlingPlayer for iPad, with a visual, Netflix-like grid of cover art, and filters to isolate sports, movies, kids’ shows, and so on. You can see what’s popular, what’s on right now, what’s coming up next, and what will show in prime time.
The SlingTV UI has some nice touches—the sports screen, for example, shows you the scores for currently playing games, so you can check in while the game you’re watching is on a commercial break. If you click the Details view for a game, you can get more stats, and a Thuuz rating, which is a number between 1 and 100 that is supposed to measure the level of excitement around that game. For example, if a game is important for league standings, or if the score is really close, or if one pitcher is working on a no-hitter, the Thuuz score will climb accordingly, giving viewers a hint that they might want to tune in. The movie screen shows you each movie’s Rotten Tomatoes rating, plus how much of the movie you’ve missed so far.
But SlingTV has a few head-scratching misses too. I like the idea of a list of upcoming movies—typical programming guides make it tough to get an at-a-glance view of upcoming movies, since a two-hour movie takes up as much horizontal space in the grid as four 30-minute sitcoms. But all of SlingTV’s upcoming screens are for informational purposes only. You can’t schedule a recording or a reminder from that screen, although that’s something Sling Media would like to add.
The new SlingTV comes with a small hardware remote, like the Slingbox 500 did, but you’ll also be able to use a software remote built into the SlingPlayer app for iPhone and Android phones, which are each $15 add-ons not included in the price of the $300 SlingTV or the $150 Slingbox M1. (The Slingbox M1 doesn’t get the SlingTV software update.)
Like the Slingbox M1 and past Slingboxes, the SlingTV will let you access your cable box or DVR when you’re away from home. You can use native apps for Mac and PC, which replace the browser-based software Sling used in the last generation. Or you can pick up the SlingPlayer app for a huge range of mobile devices, but again, each of those costs $15. It’s a shame that Sling Media doesn’t include, say, one free mobile app with the purchase of a new SlingTV. The SlingPlayer apps for iOS support streaming to an Apple TV over AirPlay, but we’d also like to see Chromecast and Fire TV support.
The Slingbox M1, without the SlingTV software, goes on sale July 20—we’ve got a full review here. SlingTV debuts in late August, both in retail stores and as a free software update for the Slingbox 500.