We’ve been evaluating the Slingbox 500 ($300) at the Ward household these last few months. And the timing was good: We went on a week-long vacation, giving us the perfect chance to try out the truly remote access features of the Slingbox. We also played with it while traveling around town, which was fun—including watching Bill Maher at the pool and catching a preseason Washington Capitals game while at a Nationals game.
However, the best use case is travel. This thing is made for travelers. I’d say we probably aren’t the key demographic for a Slingbox as we don’t travel too much. Yet it’s still very nice to have this option available when we are on the road, or even just traveling around town and finding ourselves—or our kids—bored out of our minds.
The Slingbox 500 has been connected to our Verizon FiOS HD HD DVR (Motorola QIP7232) via HDMI—however, the setup process told us that it required the non-encrypted component connection to actually sling content. I guess the HDMI passes through the Slingbox to the TV so no quality is lost, but the component connection is used to sling the video and audio to the mobile devices and web player. In our experience the quality was fine. I’m not sure how much better it would look if the HDMI input was actually permitted.
We viewed remotely—either inside the house or out and about—using the SlingPlayer app ($15) on our Android phones and tablets as well as the web browser plugin for Windows. It worked well on my HTC Evo 4G LTE and my wife’s Samsung Galaxy S4. We used it a bit more on the tablets—a converted HP TouchPad that’s running Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) and a Sony Xperia Tablet S. It’s also available for iOS (iPhone and iPad), Windows Phone 7/8, and Kindle Fire. Sadly, no love for Windows RT (at least not officially).
The picture looked best on the Sony since it has the best screen, but the other devices worked well too, depending on the bandwidth available. When enough bandwidth was available, the HQ mode (mobile phone app) or HD mode (only on the tablet app) was quite stunning. I’d love to try it on a Google Nexus 7 or Retina iPad to compare—I am sure those would be even sharper.
Overall the Slingbox 500 is very slick: it has the ability to deliver your full HD picture—if you have the bandwidth—plus remote control of your cable or satellite box, and the capability to “sling” photos and videos from your smartphone to the Slingbox to view on your TV at home using the SlingSync and SlingProjector features on the 500 model. You can also attach a USB drive to the Slingbox and play photos, music, and video files saved to the drive from your computer.
The less expensive Slingbox 350 ($150) may be a better choice for most people. It doesn’t offer WiFi, SlingSync or SlingProjector features, but still has the ability to sling remote HD video which is the main reason I’d consider getting one of these things.
- Great way to view TV content that may or may not be available wherever you are. My father-in-law had a great time watching the Eagles-Titans preseason game on the NFL Network while we were on vacation.
- Mobile access (almost) anywhere.
- HD quality is stunning, even HQ and SQ quality is very good.
- Video quality at 600kbps and up is quite good (SQ). HD is over 2000 kbps and can get up to 6000 kbps or higher—if you have the bandwidth.
- Worked well over weak 3G Sprint connection at an indoor swimming pool.
- Can simultaneously view content on your TV at home and mobile – as long as you both want to watch the same thing.
- Built in guide is useful for changing channels instead of using the DVR guide. But need to use the DVR menus for watching recordings, which is slow to maneuver remotely.
- Can sling photos and videos to the Slingbox via Android and iOS mobile phones (but not tablets) via SlingSync and SlingProjector features. Add a USB drive to store the content locally.
- Can play files (photos, video, audio) stored on a USB drive attached to the Slingbox 500. Codec support is somewhat limited.
- Can’t have two different things playing on the TV and mobile/remote.
- When choosing remote actions in the Android mobile apps, there is a few second pause in the audio and video after each key is pressed. This is quite an annoying lag time between remote button push and the completion of the action.
- Video quality has to be manually adjusted (SQ/HQ/HD or audio only for the tablet app). More hiccups with HD setting of course. Wish it would more automatically adjust streaming quality like Netflix.
- Need good network connection for HD, otherwise picture is choppy.
- Depending on your up- and down-stream bandwidth and network infrastructure at home, streaming may not always work perfectly. This is one of the risks of running your own server at home.
- On TV app selection (Slingbox 500 only) is non-existent—it’s not (yet?) a replacement for a Roku, Apple TV, or GoogleTV. You can sling photos and videos from your phone, but there is no Neflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc.
- No mobile app options for Windows RT—but there is support for Windows Phone 7 and 8.
Issues we encountered
- While we were on vacation, we went back and forth between watching shows on the Slingbox and finding the same shows via their network websites (HBO, Showtime, Comedy Central). This was because using the Slingbox can be clunky at times—and we had a few hiccups where the Slingbox was unreachable so we switched to the network apps or websites instead.
- The Slingbox device rebooted in the middle of us watching TV on the big screen.
- Data rate varies widely and affects picture quality and hiccups.
- Locked up one evening when we were on vacation, but then worked fine the next morning. No way to remotely fix it, of course.