Sling Media Slingbox Pro-HD review
The Slingbox range plugs into your home video equipment and broadcasts its content over the internet, so you can watch your shows from any PC or Mac connected to the ‘net. There are also smartphone players, so telly addicts don’t even need to carry a laptop. It makes for a refreshing change from French TV for those on business abroad.
As the name suggests, the Pro-HD adds high definition video support. There are component inputs to connect to an HD TV box, blu-ray player or media player such as an Xbox 360, and component outputs to loop back out to your TV. There’s no HDMI input – as the Slingbox sends video back out over the internet, it’s unlikely to be compatible with the HDCP beloved of Sky HD boxes (see FAQ). This could be a problem as manufacturers phase out component outputs in favour of HDMI. You can also connect standard-definition devices to the Slingbox’s composite or S-Video ports. You’ll need to connect it to your home network – as there’s no built-in wireless, you’ll have to use an Ethernet cable or the SlingLink Turbo homeplug networking kit (£62 from www.amazon.co.uk).
There’s also an integrated DVB-T tuner. Simply plugging the Slingbox into your aerial and scanning for channels lets you watch Freeview online without plugging the ‘box into any other equipment. However, the Program Guide isn’t available in the UK, so you have to choose channels manually. If you want an EPG you’ll have to plug the Slingbox into an external Freeview box.
Once you’ve got everything connected, the rest of the setup is done through an online wizard. This is clear enough, if sometimes painfully slow to load each step. Once the wizard has found a video signal on one of the ports, it prompts you to enter the name of the device plugged into the Slingbox so it can load the correct virtual remote control. This links with an IR transmitter cable that you position in range of your source equipment’s receiver. If your source isn’t listed, there’s no way to set a custom remote layout, though. The layout for our test Xbox 360 was also strange - there’s no ‘B’ button to go back a step, which makes the menu system unusable. You instead have to right-click and use the ‘clear’ option in a sub-menu to go back a step.
The setup wizard examines your router to see if any ports need to be opened in your firewall to access the Slingbox’s video stream from outside. Ours needed port 5001 to be opened for streaming to a mobile device such as the iPad, iPhone or Windows Phone 7, Android or Symbian mobile phones. We were surprised this couldn’t be done over UpNP and the setup wizard only provides instructions for a handful of routers – you’ll be better off going to www.portforward.com for help.
Once you’re set up, you can view TV in Internet Explorer, Safari or Firefox (Chrome isn’t supported) or on your mobile with the SlingPlayer app. This is shockingly expensive, though, at around £18. Over a local network, picture quality was stunning – high-definition with few artefacts. There’s more compression and a lower resolution when viewing from outside your house, but it’s still watchable.
The Slingbox Pro-HD is a very specialised device. The lack of HDMI inputs could be a problem for those with modern Sky or cable boxes, but it’s useful if you want to watch Freeview over the internet. £250 buys a lot of TV shows from iTunes, though.