TV Everywhere: The $150 Wireless Slingbox M1 Arrives

Dave Zatz —  July 16, 2014

slingbox-m1

The Slingbox M1 has arrived and, as expected, Echostar’s smallest, lowest priced placeshifter packs WiFi… along with a variety of software enhancements across the board. As General Manager Michael Hawkey tells me, they intend to significantly grow their footprint with the $150 M1 and associated marketing: “Go big or go home.” While I can’t say for sure what the “M” stands for, amidst increased competition from all corners, their goal is to move beyond road warriors and sports fanatics (often one in the same) to target mainstream, millennials, and mobility.

Like all Slingboxen, the M1 is designed to relay one’s home television content to other parts of the house or beyond… without pesky studio agreements and provider restrictions limiting us. Also, unlike TiVo’s half-assed approach, Sling’s agnostic – operating on both WiFi and cellular networks via a wide array of platforms, including Apple, Android, and computer operating systems. Further, mobile app-powered Apple TV and Roku Slingbox video endpoints are newly improved.

Unlike the Slingbox 500, now known as Sling TV, the M1 doesn’t provide HDMI pass-thru and you’ll utilize component cables if you intend to stream in HD. Given HDMI licensing and HDCP content protection, that’s no great loss nor is it a surprise. But given further industry restrictions on dual output, instead of running HDMI to your television and component to your Slingbox, many will wire up the Slingbox in serial with component cables going from set-top to Slingbox to TV. Also on the hardware front, like the Slingbox 350 the M1 replaces, the enclosure contains IR emitters to control your STB — so you may not need external IR blaster clutter, although in limited testing my dongle-free channel changes using guide favorites haven’t been as reliable as seen from the 350 & 500.

slingplayer

Setting up the Slingbox M1 with a TiVo Premiere Elite was a breeze, with a streamlined process that now includes wireless configuration — I did it all via iPad app in just a few minutes. Sling had previously abandoned desktop software in favor of browser plugins. Yet, given customer feedback and development realities, new Mac and Windows software clients have been produced. The incoming desktop software is free, supporting the Solo, 350, 500, and M1. But mobile apps still run $15 per platform. In M1 testing, I wasn’t able to get above 640×480 streaming on pre-release iOS and Android apps. While video looked great on my smartphones, it wasn’t where I’d want it on the larger iPad. Having said that, I’m running iOS 8 and the app hasn’t yet been optimized for Apple’s unreleased operating system. And, in general, Sling quality is highly network dependent… I’m running 50/25 FiOS and should have sufficient bandwidth for out-of-home HD streaming, but suspect my test unit’s location in relation to my wireless access point is limiting its bandwidth. So, what you gain in WiFi convenience, you could give up in performance. Once the final apps are released, I’ll conduct additional testing along with relocating the M1.

The Slingbox M1 is available for pre-order today, with release expected on Sunday… along with a slew of app updates and new software downloads.

30 responses to TV Everywhere: The $150 Wireless Slingbox M1 Arrives

  1. I’m considering upgrading my PRO (not Pro-HD) to this mainly because of the forced obsolescence of it not being supported by the ipad app. The price seems right. Any reason not to other than losing OTA?

  2. Beyond the software support, you’ll get higher quality streaming with better, modern encoding in smaller space by upgrading to anything recent. If you need WiFi, this is the model to get. If you don’t need WiFi, they’ve been blowing out the 350 at $100 every couple days or so – was a Best Buy deal of the day yesterday.

  3. “unlike TiVo’s half-assed approach”

    That’s a bit much and unnecessary. Placeshifting is Slings core product with many more years of experience. I’d expect them to be less “half-assed”

  4. I have the original Slingbox and actually still very occasionally used it up to about a year ago. My biggest issue with it was that the remote commands were just unbearably slow. It was really hard to deal with skipping through commercials and skipping through sports games (30 second skip between football plays is awesome) was nearly impossible.

    But most of all I just found that it was mostly a device for my family and friends as opposed to me. I have a brother in Canada and another that doesn’t own a TV so they used it a lot for local sports games. I don’t typically travel that much outside of a fairly long daily commute that involves a bus for most of the commute. I generally found the Slingbox unusable via cellular data while moving (it was completely unusable in the Lincoln Tunnel). Also, when using the Slingbox you’re hogging the TV which was always really annoying. For my use case, downloading on the TiVo iOS apps is a much better solution. And in the rare cases where I forget to download something I just watch something on Netflix during the time when my cell data is good enough for it.

    Overall, I thought the Slingbox was really cool technology but wasn’t all that usable (at least for me). It didn’t help that my original Slingbox wasn’t officially supported by the iphone app and that they charged $30 for it and then had the nerve to want $30 more for the ipad app. I see they’re still double dipping on the app but at least they charge $15 each now as opposed to $30. Still seems ridiculous when the apps are the primary usage for the device.

  5. James, I obviously disagree… based upon how TiVo touts the (handicapped) feature as one reason to choose a Roamio over a cable company DVR – including hundreds of yards of airport advertising I’ve passed in several terminals along with radio spots conveying similar. Heck, the Roamio is named after its placeshifting capabilities (despite the fact that only two of three models natively “roam” and Android support was “coming soon” back in 2012). The ability to change channels without relaying commands over IR and to offload shows for situations without connectivity are quite nice – I’m sure I’ll provide a far more positive TiVo endorsement if they ever complete it.

  6. Dave,

    I agree that they really should have the Android app updated already. They should also have a web browser solution, though I’m guessing that the web browser solution, if they ever provide it, would be streaming only. It’s just that I have an iPhone and iPad so the android issues don’t affect me at all.

    The Tivo app is one of my most used non-native apps on my phone/tablet. It’s one of the main reasons I’ve gone with iOS over Android. At this point the devices and operating systems are all really good and they all do pretty much the same things. The availability of the apps I really want is the deciding factor and iOS has the Tivo streaming features. It becomes an easy decision after that.

  7. Dave, Any mention of chromecast capability update? With all the software announcements, it seems like its just Apple TV and Roku getting the love.

    Also, is there any encoding advantage of the new M1 over the 350? I have the 350 now and it works great, but if it provides a better stream it may be worth applying the $30 upgrade credit. I don’t need wifi though. Do you think theres a chance that support/updates for the 350 will cease?

  8. Dave, could you make a list of the max resolutions for the major slingplayer apps? I have a 5Mbps upload and would like to get the best possible picture… any recommendation will be appreciated.

  9. Jonathon, 5Mbps is probably cutting it close – you’d want some more breathing room for reliable HD. In theory all the apps and software will display HD. I believe my current choke point is my internal wireless network.

    Eric, If your 350 is working good for you, I wouldn’t upgrade – your device will continue to be supported. The primary line in the sand was moving from WMV to a more efficient H.264.

  10. i wouldn’t mind picking up a second Slingbox 350 if I can get it for $100.

  11. Dave, is there anything to share about Chromecast support?

  12. Not at this time…..

  13. I’m a bit disappointed by Sling discontinuing support for other connected devices. Its understandable as most of these are now legacy boxes and flash support is waning. While the new WDTV appears to bundle the Sling app, the Sling site states the player is no longer receiving updates nor supported on the M1. This would be easier to swallow if the Roku app had similar onscreen controls and remote support. Basically, if your using a GoogleTV, Neo, or WDTV, hold on to your 350s.

  14. While they might not support chromecast, some Android devices have started supporting screencasting to the chromecast. So in theory its possible. I abandoned sling a while back, but they had a browser plugin of sorts. If that works in the chrome browser, you could use it’s chromecast plugin (assuming that’s still around.).

  15. HarryKerryJr. July 17, 2014 at 2:58 am

    Wow, James B., I agree: the M1 not being supported on the WD connected devices could be a deal breaker for many who prefer that solution for their use. I’ve invested in the older WD Hub because of its support of Sling (500) and enjoy using it. Great! One step forward, but another step backward. James, you are correct: if we had some CLEAR word on full support on Roku, I could certainly live with the M1 not being supported on WD connected devices, and could highly recommend Sling as a solution It seems I am coming across more people who are interested in something like Sling, but to view on their big HDTV at home, not via mobile device.

    Further, I believe the current Sling app on Roku supports PHONES only? I need it to work with my tablet, but I could find no way for it to do so, and the word used at Sling is “phone” with no mention of tablet. Sling really is a great product and without the restrictions of similar competing implementations of home streaming to remote locale technologies, but more robust support for connected devices or EASY way for my friends who are part of “the masses” with no tech savvy at all who want to Sling to an HDTV.

  16. Will check in with Sling regarding the WDTV, etc.

    Also, I forgot to test last night, but my Android has full screen Chromecast mirroring. Will see what happens with Sling. Not sure if audio is also passed. When I tested the new mirroring feature a few days back, I hadn’t routed sound to receiver so I’m not sure what the situation is. Not did I test video – not sure how the frames/quality holds up. A true Chromecast solution would be preferable, but until such a time maybe this is an effective stopgap. Will try to remember to test tonight.

  17. I still have and use weekly my third generation model ‘Singbox Pro HD’ when it was first announced in 2008 and I believe it was priced at $299, which was an upgrade from their first generation model. I skipped the fourth generation, but now that Sling’s fifth generation is out I’m loving the new footprint of the M1 and its price point. I just checked what my Singbox Pro HD is worth on ebay and it values used $75 and new $129. I’d sell mine and surely get the M1!

  18. The reference to WDTV, etc not being supported on M1 or receiving future updates:

    http://www.sling.com/sitecore/content/Support/KB/KB-2000539?sc_lang=en-US

    “Apple TV and Roku are the only connected devices for which support is currently being updated. Previous versions of SlingPlayer for Connected Devices are no longer being updated.”

  19. Of course, most of the devices on the list are no longer supported by their actual manufacturers… ;) I pinged Sling to see if it’s accurate. Actually, I do have a WDTV box somewhere – I can test this tonight. If I remember and time permits.

    Update: Sling has confirmed the details of the support note. They’re looking forward with the M1 and in general.

  20. Hopefully they’ll look forward with onscreen controls. For me the Roku use case (i.e. with remote control) is completely different than how I use Chromecast. Btw, given the new additions to the 500 / SlingTV, surprised they’ve not also given it Catcher capabilities.

  21. Yeah, I brought that up at my briefing. At the very least, I said lets at least make use of the Roku remote buttons in some way – I think I can control channel up/down, but play/pause would be a useful addition. I don’t know if it’s the Roku SDK holding them back from on screen control or this approach is to ensure at least $15 in mobile app payment. Probably both.

  22. Now if only there was a WMC Extender that supported component out, I guess we’d be set. Alas, there isn’t, so in order to use this you’d end up needing something like the HDFury. I wish Sling would try to work out some sort of deal with HDMI Licensing that allowed them to strip HDMI encryption and wrap it in their own before sending it off. Clearly others – Microsoft’s Xbox One, almost every Pioneer receiver in the past five years – have managed to do this, so the question is why not. That would almost make the Sling worth paying for.

  23. Xbox 360 supports component out as a WMC Extender, doesn’t it? I think my old HP did as well.

  24. Since its the 20th, I decided to download the Windows desktop client even though Sling currently states it only works with M1 . I’ve got the older 350 and it worked fine. I was surprised though its not a think client like the old desktop client. It appears to be a thin-client using the chrome plugin. Its very similar to watching from a browser, minus a local caching buffer. It probably supports all the same boxes as the web player; and for at least in home testing, the remote lag wasn’t terrible.

  25. By the by, I’ve been streaming a bit of Slingbox M1 while away in Florida and video quality via the iPhone app is outstanding, streaming down at over 3000kbps. And I didn’t move the Slingbox prior to travel.

  26. HarperVision – yep, the 360 does. I guess what I meant was something that was economical to leave running for the purposes of streaming. I think the current 360 idles around 70W, compared to the Echo, which is around 5W maybe less?

  27. Sorry, posted instead of new lining. At any rate, if Sling got a deal on the HDMI licensing, they would be able to support a much larger set of devices. Heck, I could even see them making and marketing a receiver – a single box that becomes the center of your entertainment system.

  28. Regarding HDMI/HDCP, there is a difference between pas-thru and retransmit… The 500 probably operates in a grey area as it is. There were talks to enable some sort of secure transport, but don’t know where industry went with that.

  29. I thought the 500 still requires you to hook up component separately if you want to retransmit?

    In short, though, it’s things like this that make Usenet+Plex so much better a viewing experience than going the official way. The sooner the industry realizes, the quicker things are gonna get fixed, but I’m not holding my breath – too many stupids.

  30. So Slingbox support has detailed upcoming Chromecast support:
    http://www.zatznotfunny.com/2014-07/slingbox-support-reveals-upcoming-chromecast-details/

    Regarding beta Android mirroring, on a Galaxy S4, I can beam video but audio doesn’t make it. In reading various discussions, audio seems to be hit or miss based both on app and on device. So your mileage may vary. Fortunately, looks like the real deal is nearly upon us.