When Sling debuted the first Slingbox back in 2004, “place-shifting” was revolutionary.
These days, though, the place-shifting revolution — watching TV just about anywhere — has long passed it by. Thanks to Internet-based services, including Hulu, Netflix, Apple’s iTunes, Amazon’s Prime and the like, you no longer need to have a special gadget like the Slingbox to view current TV shows and movies when you are away from home. And with the advent of HBO Go and the new TV Everywhere services from pay TV providers including Comcast, you can access online much of the same programming included in your monthly cable bill at no extra charge.
Still, Sling, now owned by TV technology company EchoStar, isn’t ready to concede defeat. It recently rolled out a pair of new Slingboxes, its first new gadgets in four years.
The new boxes add the ability to stream video in full 1080p resolution and other features. I’ve been testing the high-end model, the Slingbox 500, off and on. I like it, but given all the place-shifting choices available today, I’m not convinced that what it offers is worth its $300 price. (Sling is offering a new lower-end model, the Slingbox 350, with fewer features for a more palatable $180, but I didn’t test it.)
Sling’s main selling point for its new gadgets is the argument that they offer a much better place-shifting experience than Netflix and the others.
Basically, anything that users can watch on their TV at home — broadcast sitcoms, cable dramas, live sports, shows broadcast on HBO and other premium channels — they can watch, via the Slingbox, on their smart phones or computers.
The breadth of content that you can get through your cable service — and on your computer through Slingbox — is indeed far greater than what you’ll find on Netflix or any other single Internet service. It also includes programming such as that found on local channels that can be impossible to tune in online. And beyond the cost of the Slingbox and your regular cable bill, you don’t have to pay anything extra to access the content when you’re away from home; there’s no need to subscribe to Hulu or buy individual downloads from iTunes.
I was able to set up the Slingbox 500 without too many problems, but it was more complicated than the typical Internet-connected living room box. That’s because instead of just connecting it to your TV and router, you have to connect it to your set-top box as well.
One of the great features of the new Slingboxes is that they come with a built-in IR emitter.
In order to control your set-top box or DVR, Slingboxes need to mimic your remote control and beam infrared signals to them. On previous Slingboxes, this typically meant stringing an unwieldy wire of IR emitters in front of your set-top box and carefully placing them so that they beamed the IR signals to just the right place. With the new box, you don’t have to worry about that.
The problem for the Slingbox is that place-shifting the Sling way is a solution for a passing era.