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As an owner of an original Slingbox, I was excited to get the chance to review the new Slingbox PRO-HD. My original model was relegated to the closet once I converted all the TVs in my home to High Definition viewing. Now with the Slingbox PRO-HD I can bring remote TV viewing back into my life.

For those who do not know what a Slingbox is or how it works. It is a “placeshifting” device that attaches to a video source (whether a set top box, Apple TV, VCR, etc); which connects to a high speed broadband connection such as a cable modem or a FIOS connection. The Slingbox can then transmit the video signal to a remote device running the SlingPlayer software. This software can run on PC, Mac, Smartphone, SlingCatcher and literally hundreds of other devices.

Over the years, SlingMedia has expanded the Slingbox line from its humble one model beginnings. Now they have a new flagship model known as the Slingbox PRO-HD. Previous Slingbox (PRO and SOLO) products supported HD component inputs, but down converted the high definition source to standard definition 640×480 resolution. This version not only allows you watch your TV anywhere including High Definition video and is the first Slingbox to stream high definition video. In addition, it has three input sources including one for a high definition video source. The Slingbox PRO-HD replaces the Slingbox Solo as the king of the SlingMedia family of products.

With previous Slingbox devices, using a component source required the use of an additionally purchased dongle. Now the Slingbox Pro HD has component input and output capability built in. This model is designed with the home theater user in mind as it allows the best quality streaming available. Of course it requires a minimum of 1.5 Mbps to upload HD streaming quality video. Sorry DSL users. Most home networks can easily transmit these speeds within the home, once the user tries to access the Slingbox PRO-HD from the internet, upload speeds will come into play.

Please check out the unboxing video for a better look at the package and its contents.

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The Slingbox Pro HD is a metallic black and slate grey trapezoid shaped device measuring 14.4 x 3.9 x 9.6 inches and weighs 5.4 pounds. It is the widest Slingbox but maintains a similar shape as its predecessors.

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The front of the device features a grill with numerous ventilation holes and the Sling ‘n’ logo in the middle of the face plate. On the bottom right are the power and network LED lights. The top of the Slingbox Pro HD has the Sling Media logo in the center.

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Turning the unit around, we find a slew of video and audio inputs and outputs. From left to right is the Reset switch, power connector, LAN jack, USB connector, SD Audio/Video connectors (composite and S-Video) , HD Audio/Video (Component, S/PDIF and analog stereo inputs), an IR transmitter connection and digital antenna inputs (ATSC/NTSC/QAM).

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The Slingbox HD Pro can accept up to three inputs for broadcasting, one from each of the three sections – SD, HD and Digital Antenna. You can use all the inputs or just one, the choice is yours. As with some prior models, the Slingbox HD Pro includes a Tuner so you can split your coax connection and send one coax directly into the Slingbox PRO-HD and the other into your HD set top box. This built in tuner allows you to watch and control your direct cable or antenna reception channels remotely while viewers at home can watch and control another input on your Slingbox PRO-HD, such as a cable box or DVR, without channel changing conflicts.

The ATSC/QAM Tuner is another key feature with the transition to over the air digital this past February.

Sling Media includes almost all the cables needed to attach your specific audio/visual device to the Slingbox Pro HD. Also included is a remote control IR cable with four transmitters for controlling multiple devices using the Slingplayer software. The only cable not included with the bundle is the S/PDIF one. The Slingplayer software is available for download from the SlingMedia website.

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Devices able to view the stream from the Slingbox Pro HD include PCs running Windows and Mac, Windows Mobile phones and handheld devices, cell phones running the Symbian OS, and PalmOS phones including the Treo 700P, 755P and Centro. There are additional devices with beta software currently in development which includes several Blackberry models and a possible app for the iPhone, which may or may not get approved by Apple.

The Slingbox Pro HD supports resolutions up to 1080i. Devices that use 1080p for its AV output will not work with the Slingbox Pro HD.

Specifications:

Slingbox PRO-HD

The Slingbox PRO-HD is the first ever HD-streaming Slingbox. With the Slingbox PRO-HD, you can watch and control multiple devices – including your standard- or high-definition DVR, digital cable, satellite receiver, or DVD player – from anywhere in the world on your computer or mobile phone. Your high definition programming streams in HD quality for an amazing picture.

HD Streaming

Connects to any one of your HD sources for true high-definition streaming on your computer and great picture quality on your mobile phone.*

Multiple Inputs

Connect to and control mutiple video sources, including your DVR, digital cable, satellite receiver, and DVD player.

Built-in Digital Tuner

Features an integrated digital tuner for access to analog or digital cable (clear QAM), and digital over-the-air broadcasts (ATSC). The digital tuner may be used independently from your cable or satellite box.

No Monthly Fees

Watch and control your TV and its programming on your compatible mobile phone, PDA, laptop or desktop with no monthly subscription fee.**

Live Video Buffer—Get a Handle On Live TV
The new Live Video Buffer with DVR-like control allows you to easily pause, rewind or fast-forward, up to 60 minutes of video on your PC, right from SlingPlayer. (Available for Windows only).

The Guide—See What’s On
The SlingPlayer Guide is just like your programming guide at home but is built right into the software. So you can easily find what’s on without having to use your TV’s programming guide or the remote control. (Available for Windows only).

Virtual Remote Control—Just Like Home
SlingRemote™ looks and acts exactly like your real remote control at home, giving you full control over your viewing experience. From changing channels to setting a DVR to record, you can click buttons right on your computer screen.
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Your TV On The Web – Browse Channels With A Browser
Watch and control your TV directly from the Sling.com Web site. Using your Windows PC with Internet Explorer or Firefox, you have complete access to your Slingbox and its connected cable box, satellite receiver, or DVR. You still get a floating virtual remote control as well as a searchable TV guide—all without downloading and installing the full SlingPlayer software.

Multiple Viewing Modes & Sizes—Go Full Screen or Anywhere In-Between
With different viewing modes, the SlingPlayer software allows you to work, surf the web and enjoy your TV—all at the same time.

TV On Your Mobile—A Truly Liberating Experience
SlingPlayer Mobile software (sold separately) lets you watch your TV and all of its programming on your Windows Mobile, Palm OS or Symbian cell phones and PDAs.


Installation of the Slingbox Pro HD is straightforward especially if using one video source; multiple sources requires a little more time, but is still a plug and play setup. If you do encounter a problem, the quick start guide has a troubleshooting section to solve most common problems.

For my setup, I attached the Slingbox Pro HD to my DirecTV HR20 DVR; the high definition receiver that replaced the beloved HR10-250 TiVo model (note to DirecTV – please bring back Tivo!). Since the HR20 has all outputs sending signals out at the same time, I was able to use the Component connections along with the S/PDIF for audio in conjunction with the Slingbox Pro HD, while using the HR20’s HDMI connection to send a High Definition signal to the television. In addition, I was able to attach an OTA HDTV antenna to the coaxial input.

My ISP is FIOS with a 20/5 download/upload capability.

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The next step involves connecting the Slingbox Pro HD to your home network. If you don’t have a wired connection near the Slingbox Pro HD, then you can use a SlingLink Turbo (which we will be reviewing in the near future at TestFreaks). The SlingLink Turbo uses your home’s power lines to transfer network traffic. If you don’t wish to use the Sling Media option, then you can try a wireless bridge or other network extender.

Finally, download the Slingplayer software for either Windows or Mac to complete the initial setup. The setup wizard guides the user through the Slingbox setup process and includes a video optimization and router configuration wizards. Router setup is especially simple if it UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) capable, just click a few buttons using the wizard and you are done. Otherwise, the wizard helps the user manually configure their router. In my case, I had to manually set up port forwarding on my Linksys router.

Overall the setup process took under fifteen minutes. Setup also requests the set up of a Sling.com account which provides access to the Beta Sling.com website.

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The Slingplayer software is what allows a client machine to watch video streaming from the Slingbox. There are multiple versions of the Slingplayer software for the various platforms. Currently the Windows version SlingPlayer 2.0 is the only one which can view High Def streamed content. It includes an on screen program guide and a 60 minute buffer for pausing live television which is especially handy when you are not streaming from a DVR device. Sling Media is working on a new version of the Mac software that will allow High Def streaming to OS X.

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On the Windows’ SlingPlayer menu bar are four categories – Connect, View Settings and Help. From the Connect tab, we are able to connect to multiple Slingboxes when choosing the Slingbox Directory. In the View tab, there are Video Zoom and Display Mode options. Video Zoom allows the user to change the screen shape between Windowbox, Pillarbox, Letterbox or Anamorphic. Display Mode lets the user position the viewing area window. The Settings option features the Setup Assistant for re-running the initial configuration, SlingPlayer Options including video, encoding, connection and player preferences, and the Video Tune Wizard.

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From the SlingPlayer interface both the virtual remote and on screen guide can be toggled on and off. The virtual remote should be a replica of your physical remote. Watching video on the SlingPlayer is as easy as using your remote at home. If connected to the QAM tuner, a generic remote will appear on screen.

Now that the Slingbox Pro HD is setup how does the video look? The Slingbox Pro HD easily transmits a high definition stream over the home network. For remote streaming a minimum of 256Kbps uploading capability is required, while for HD streaming an upload speed of 1.5 Megabits per second or higher is needed.

Here is the LAN stream:

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Here is the remote stream:

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The picture quality on the LAN was stellar with a smooth video stream; resolution was sharp and fine details such as the print on small objects and pores on people’s faces were easily visualized. On the LAN, streaming speeds ranged from 3,500-7,500 Kbps.

Watching remotely outside the home network using the SlingPlayer is another story with the video quality is more on par with YouTube or other flash based video. The video quality is dependent on the home networks upstream bandwidth. If streaming Is below the 1.5 Megabit per second threshold, then the SlingPlayer will likely down-convert the stream to VGA or HVGA or QVGA resolution.

their smaller screen size produces excellent image quality due the lower pixel resolution. Obviously smaller details such as on screen text will be difficult to read on a tiny viewing screen. An important consideration in using these devices is whether you have an unlimited data usage plan, make sure you have one before you get hit with an astronomical cell phone bill.

If you wish to “placeshift” at home to another television, then Sling Media has the SlingCatcher, which is a device that attaches to a television and can receive streaming video from another Slingbox including the Slingbox Pro HD. Currently the SlingCatcher receives VGA quality streams at best, but Sling Media is working on HD to the SlingCatcher in the near future.

When the Slingbox Pro HD is transmitting remotely, the “U” logo on the front of the device will “march” back and forth on the box. It looks pretty cool and is a good way to know if someone is accessing the device.

Overall, my experience with the Slingbox Pro HD was very positive. It is as simple to use as the original model Slingbox and the improved software provides several new features such as place shifting and on screen guide. Some of the problems of the original remain such as the Slingbox “taking” over the remote device, meaning if someone is physically watching the cable box at home and you change the channel on the SlingPlayer from a remote location the channel will change on both ends. This can cause a long distance fight over the remote, so to speak. Of course this problem is not isolated to the Sling devices but to any hardware place shifting device.

Sling Media did provide a way around this issue with the Digital Antenna input, which uses the built-in-tuner. Watching this input would allow the remote and local viewers to watch separate channels.

Due to concerns from content providers, the Slingbox can only stream to one client at a time. This prevents the simultaneous use of the Slingbox by multiple users. The Sling setup provides a general password and an administrator password; as long as you keep the admin password to your self, you can always kick off other users.

Another exciting new feature from SlingMedia is the beta Sling.com website which is similar to Hulu. The site provides a host of online content including shows from CBS, NBC and Fox. But the coolest feature is if you are on a computer without the Slingplayer installed, you can log into your SlingBox through the website when using your log in. The site looks great and if you have used Hulu, then navigation on Sling.com will be easy.

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Conclusion:

The Slingbox Pro HD is the next phase in the evolution of the Slingplayer line. It provides several exciting new features including the ability to use three video sources, built in QAM tuner, High Def streaming and more. It does not include an HDMI input, but most devices have both HDMI and component connectors so that is not a sticking point.

High Definition streaming is dependent on your network’s upload speeds, so if you don’t have a connection as fast as FIOS speeds, you will be disappointed by non High Def streams outside of your LAN. Mac folks may feel left out in the cold by the lack of High Def support by the current version of the SlingPlayer software, but don’t despair as SlingMedia announced that HD streaming for Macs will be available in the late 1st Quarter of 2009. In addition, the SlingPlayer mobile app if approved by Apple will provide Sling viewing for the iPhone set.

The Slingbox Pro HD is the cream of the “placeshifting” crop and is feature rich. It is the most expensive model and if you don’t mind watching a standard definition signal over the internet, then the Slingbox Solo may be the better choice. But if you desire the best video quality and need the ability to watch multiple devices then the Slingbox Pro HD is the way to go.

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Pros:
Streams video to numerous devices
No fees
Simple to setup
Software simple to use
High Def video quality over home network

Cons:
Portable devices such as Cell Phone/PDA Slingplayers cost extra
Requires high bandwidth upload capability for high def viewing
Lack of wireless support
Expensive

Grades:  
Overall score-9-10
Design score-9-10
Performance score-9-10