The Slingbox Pro-HD has been a long time coming. It’s Sling Media’s first new consumer set top box in its line for two whole years, and a lot has happened in the time between: the increasing presence of HTML5 video suited for mobiles, Flash compatibility for some smartphones, and all in all, simply more options for watching video on the move on a laptop, tablet or phone. So does the addition of high-def streaming make it worth investing in still? Find out in our full Slingbox Pro-HD review.
Visually, you’d be hard pressed to spot the difference between the Slingbox Pro-HD and its predecessors, and indeed the premise is still the same as ever: you hook up your set top boxes to it, and you’re able to stream and control their content over other laptops, TVs and smartphones (Just about the only platform that doesn’t support SlingPlayer is Windows Phone 7). The twist here is that the Slingbox Pro-HD can output 1080i HD video, rather than the VGA image older Sling boxes output. By and large, this is a nice improvement, but it’s a pity Sling hasn’t used the 700 or so days since its last launch to fix some of its other glaring flaws.
To the good points first: the Slingbox Pro-HD does put out improved picture. Of course, this is going to vary based on the quality of the cable, whether you’re on a home network with the Slingbox Pro-HD or connected remotely, and the input channel or set top box. But in general, it looks impressive: watching a HD channel seemed about as pleasant as watching a HD YouTube video, and when you’re out and about, that’s more than enough. There are two HD component connections on the back, and two standard def, which should have most people covered.
Of course, current smartphones aren’t capable of outputting 1080i so the HD option is only really beneficial if you use a laptop to hop on and connect to your Slingbox Pro-HD, and we weren’t sure we could see much difference using a BlackBerry.
Now to the bad points: it’s not really Sling’s fault, but the nature of connecting up various boxes, sticking connectors in front of infra red receivers and hoping support is included for your exact model means set up is still not for the fainthearted. This is not an Apple TV plug and play scenario: you really need to know what you’re doing to get Slingbox Pro-HD working with your Sky box and DVD player, especially if it’s from a lesser known brand. We’d really love to abolish IR control of gadgets at this point, but there’s no changing your AV set up retrospectively to solve this problem.
But Sling could make things simpler still. We’d just like to have a moan at this point about Sling Media’s continued resistance to several mainstream forms of connectivity at this point. The last time Sling outed new hardware for the UK (2008), we moaned about the lack of WiFi. Here was are in 2010, and it’s still left the flipping WiFi out. It sounds like a minor issue, but if you don’t live in a flat, it’s entirely possible you don’t have your router by your TV. In fact, let us illustrate how annoying it can be – here’s how we had to set it up in our home:
Yes, on a stool. Sling: charging £60 extra for a SlingLink is not an acceptable solution, especially when the Slingbox Pro-HD is massive anyway (You could fit a good three or four new Apple TVs into it). We appreciate there’s no getting around the fiddle of IR blasters to control other set top boxes, so why add to the convoluted set up process? Bad, bad, bad.
It could also admittedly be easy to complain about Sling’s lack of HDMI on the Slingbox Pro-HD – it being pretty much the standard connector for transferring HD video and all. It’s also an easy way to introduce copyright protection on programmes being broadcast, which can prevent gadgets like Slingbox Pro-HD from working, so we can appreciate that the company doesn’t want to harm its user experience when a certain primetime show can’t be streamed, leaving an irritated customer. But we’d still like to see the option there just in case: can’t you credit your customers with a little more common sense Sling?
Finally, a quick mention about the new streaming option on Slingbox.com. We weren’t able to test it on a PC, but on a Mac it wasn’t quite as simple as “Open it in a browser and watch”. It proved impossible to login in on Firefox, and Safari required some serious settings fiddling before we were up and running.
But none of this will likely perturb you if you know Slingbox already works with your setup, and you’ve got some high-def channels and video to watch – and don’t let it.
If you’re a Slingbox user already, we can’t really see any use for the Slingbox Pro-HD if you rely primarily on the SlingPlayer Mobile app, and the same applies if you don’t have a set top box capable of connecting to stacks of HD content – namely, a Sky HD box. We suggest you try TVCatchup instead – it’s good!
But if you find yourself away from home on hotel WiFi regularly, and really would rather watch streaming Champions League than a movie you can buy on iTunes, it’s certainly a tempting option still. Just be prepared to trade it in if it doesn’t play nice with your AV setup.