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.
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.