Slingbox has long let you watch your home TV anywhere, but its Slingbox Pro opens the support gates and makes it easier than ever. The Slingbox Pro adds support for multiple device inputs and the ability to accept HD video. The Slingbox is still required to be plugged into a hard-line LAN connection, but its easy setup and simple computer software brings place-shifting technology to a new not-so-techie level.
An Easy Setup
The Slingbox Pro software does an excellent job walking users through the networking setup, automatically detecting the device's presence. It also includes detailed instructions for scores of routers and has the ability to automatically set up many popular routers. Its one drawback is that it has to be connected via an Ethernet cable or a powerline networking adapter, which can cost anywhere from $30 to $200. Those that don't have an Internet hookup near their TV should think twice about investing in this device.
Making the connection to our cable box and DVR proved to be straightforward. The Pro uses an IR blaster to control associated equipment and worked without fuss. Total installation time lasted approximately 30 minutes. If you're not familiar with setting up a network, however, expect to spend a little more time on setup. The good news is that if you get stuck, you can rely on free online support via instant messaging or phone.
Loads of Input Sources
Out of the box, the Slingbox Pro can accept three video sources, via its one RF coaxial
signal, one S-video connection, and one standard RCA jack video source. It's also HD-ready, adding a potential fourth video source. The Slingbox does not have a standard HDMI port, but you can purchase a special Slingbox HD breakout box for $50. We wish the company had just included it in the $230 price.
On the client side, you can download the SlingPlayer software to as many computers as you like, free of charge. SlingPlayer software now works on both Windows and Mac OS X systems; a client program for Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, such as the Motorola Q, costs an additional $30.
Sleek Remote Viewing
Controlling the video sources was a snap on our HP Pavilion dv9000t notebook with the Slingbox' on-screen remote, which can accurately mimic many popular models, including the cable box remote used in our tests.
All the familiar buttons are there, although there is some lag time between hitting fast-forward and seeing the image spin by, so trying to skip commercials remotely on a DVR can be difficult.
Picture quality for other computers on the same home network was quite good, even in full-screen mode (assuming that other members of the household aren't taxing network resources).
When compared with streaming over a local network, tapping into a living room cable box over a remote Internet connection substantially degrades the picture. The Slingbox Pro's picture, however, has improved noticeably over the first generation.
Those going the HD route should note that the Slingbox has to compress the HD signal down to a 640 x 480-pixel image. It then plays the picture back on a conventional 4:3 monitor but tends to look squeezed. Fortunately for widescreen laptops, the image can be up-converted to deliver a much more pleasing picture.
On the Motorola Q's tiny screen, the Slingbox' image was jerky, and football games were microscopic. Of course, this shouldn't be a surprise, but it made us resent the $30 software fee.
Slingbox Pro Verdict
Overall, the Slingbox provides nice remote viewing of your television with an easy setup and sleek-looking software. Though the Sony LocationFree Base Station LF-V30 includes HD connections and integrated Wi-Fi, the setup process is more lengthy and complicated (see ourhead-to-head comparison). With Slingbox's AV line being discontinued, the Pro offers simple place-shifting technology at an affordable price.