Slingbox Solo Review

Video Gadget ReviewsGary Mazo

Last year, I was amazed as I used a SlingBox for the first time. I said then that is was a product that was truly capable of changing your life – and for us, it has. I watch TV on my computer in my office every day. Our son who is at college watches local TV from his college apartment through the Slingbox.

Now, Sling introduces the SlingBox Solo – the most advanced Slingbox released to date. The Solo can stream HD content from your Cable Box, TIVO, DVR or any other video source.

Is the Solo even better? Is this a ‘must have’ product? Read on for my thoughts.
Who is Sling Media?

About

Founded in 2004, Sling Media, Inc. is a different kind of consumer electronics company – one that’s working to demystify convergence technologies and to create empowering experiences for the digital media consumer. The focus of Sling Media is to embrace – not replace – existing products and standards by enhancing them with hardware and software that make divergent technologies compatible and greatly improve the consumer experience. Because, after all, can’t we all just get along?!

Sling Media’s first product, internationally acclaimed, Emmy award-winning Slingbox(tm), has literally transformed the way we are able to watch TV. The Slingbox turns any Internet-connected PC or laptop, Mac, or smartphone into your home television. That means you can watch TV virtually anywhere in the world.

Sling Media’s innovative SlingPlayer(tm) software connects users on all types of computing platforms to their Slingbox which then gives them complete control over their living room TV. The Slingbox gives customers the ability to control any Audio/Video device including analog cable, a digital cable box, satellite receiver, digital video recorder (DVR) a DVD player or even a still video camera. The SlingPlayer applications are fully compatible with all Slingboxes sold today.

Requirements for ‘Slinging:’

Minimum PC Requirements: Microsoft Windows(r) Vista(tm) or Windows(r) XP with Service Pack 2

Intel(r) Pentium IV 1.3 GHz processor

1 GB RAM for Windows(r) Vista(tm) and 512 MB for Windows(r) XP

150 MB available disk space for installation

Graphics card (24-bit color)

Sound card (16-bit)

Network connectivity

Minimum Mac Requirements: PowerPC(r) G4/G5 800 MHz or Intel(r) processor

Mac(r) OS X v.10.3.9 (or higher recommended)

512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)

150 MB available disk space for installation

Network connectivity

Minimum Network Requirements

Cable or DSL modem (for out-of-home viewing)

256 Kbps upstream network speed recommended (higher upstream network speeds yield higher quality video)

Home network router – wired or wireless (UPnP(tm) compatibility highly recommended)


Supported Audio and Video Sources

Connects to one standard or high definition (HD) component, S-video or composite video source such as: Basic Cable TV Set-top Box

Digital Cable Set-top Box

Digital Video Recorder (DVR) such as TiVo(r), Comcast(r), ReplayTV(r), DISH(r) or one provided by your cable/satellite provider

DVD Player/Recorder

HD component support with resolution up to 1080i

Satellite Receiver such as DIRECTV(r) or DISH(r)

Video/Security Camera

Apple TV(tm)

Windows Media Center

Box Contents

1 Slingbox(tm) SOLO

1 AC adapter (100-240V 50-60Hz)

1 Ethernet cable

1 Quick Start Guide

1 Composite AV cable

1 Remote control IR cable

Overview of the Slingbox Solo:

Hit The Road in High Def:

The Slingbox(tm) SOLO allows you to watch and control your favorite TV source-including your HD content-from anywhere in the world on your laptop or cell phone. So now you can watch your DVR, digital cable, satellite receiver, or DVD player wherever you see fit. With the Slingbox SOLO, you can watch your favorite TV shows and sporting events from anywhere.

HD Compatible
Connects to any of your high definition devices.

Single Input
Connects one high definition or standard definition device such as your DVR, digital cable set top box or satellite receiver.

SlingPlayer
SlingPlayer is the software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to bring your entire living room TV viewing experience to your laptop, desktop or mobile device.

No Monthly Fees
Watch and control your TV and its programming on your compatible cell phone, PDA, laptop or desktop with no monthly subscription fee.

On to the Review….

Design:

The Slingbox Solo is a little bigger than the Slingbox Tuner I reviewed last year and a little smaller than the Pro version. It is a very sleek in design. It is a small, almost pyramid shaped box that you can place out in the open or hide behind books on a shelf. The Solo is a glossy black on the front and sides with red accents at the base of the sides. It features an array of inputs on the back of the unit. Composite Video and Audio jacks, Component Video jacks, an S-Video jack and a USB and a Network jack (no, wireless is not built in.) There is also a jack for the IR controller – which is a very cool feature.

Setup:

There are three versions in the new Slingbox family. From what I have read, setup can be a bit more complicated with the fancier Pro version.. Setup on the Solo was pretty straight forwards – but there are some options available about which the user needs to decide.

The Solo is designed to connect to one particular video Source – it could be the Set top Cable box, the DVR, TIVO – whatever you use the most or whatever has the content you want to stream. I chose to connect the Solo to my set top HD Cable box. At first I used the Composite Video cables but found that some of the features did not work well (like accessing the On Demand content of my Cable Box.) I switched to the Component Cables and all worked fine. The Audio out of the cable box went to the audio in on the Solo and the Ethernet cable went to my router.

Lastly, I needed to plug in the IR controller to the back of the Solo and attach the included IR sensors to the front of my Cable Box.

That’s all there is to it. All the nuts and bolts of making it work are tackled through the software setup.

Software Setup:

The Slingbox comes bundled with a software setup CD that takes the user right to the Sling Media web site to download the latest version of the SlingPlayer software. Simply download the right version and the setup wizard does everything else.

The software finds the slingbox on the network, the user can give it a unique alias and it is assigned a finder ID – a number that lets the Slingbox be identified from other computers.

The setup wizard asks you to identify your make and model of the Video Source hardware (so it can find the right code for the IR sensor to control the device.) You also need to optimize the picture on your computer – It very intuitively shows you two different versions of the feed and you suggest which looks better – kind of like going to the Eye Doctor. After the second round of optimization, the Slingbox is set up for viewing on your computer over the local network.

Once local network usage is setup, you are prompted to either continue with ‘remote access’ setup or save it for later. I will say, that due to no fault of Sling Media, this is the tricky part for many computer novices – even for some advanced users. My Solo was even more confusing because I have a Slingbox Tuner already on my network.

The concept behind the remote access to a Slingbox is what is most amazing about this device. If you have your computer (or supported Mobile Device) configured correctly – you can access your cable TV setup in your home from anywhere in the world. That’s right. Take your notebook to Starbuck’s, turn on your computer and launch SlingPlayer and you are watching TV from your house.

Setting this up correctly is dependent on your router allowing you to ‘open’ up access to your router from the Internet. Now, that sounds scarier than it is. Every Router as its unique IP address that you can plug into your Internet browser. When you do this, you are not giving the world access to your home computers – you are just opening up the port to which your Slingbox is connected. On my particular router, Port 5001 is the default – but that never worked well with my old Slingbox, so I used port 5002. For the Solo, I opened up port 5003 and all worked fine.

A final test of the remote viewing capabilities and you are set to start using the Slingbox Solo.

Ease of Use:

Herein lies the beauty of Slingbox – it is incredibly easy to use, once set up correctly. Simply launch the SlingPlayer software and it determines whether you are attached to your local network (and therefore the Slingbox) or whether you are connecting remotely. If you are on the network, a better resolution image is streamed to your computer. The Solo Can Stream HD Video, but it is not at ‘True’ HD quality. Nevertheless, the picture quality was certainly much better than the older version of the Slingbox. HD video was a little choppy when using remotely – but it still looked great.

You can maximize the picture, make it full screen, widescreen or dock it left or right. Remember that the picture is less sharp when you blow it up – especially on a large screen monitor.

there is a very easy and intuitive ‘button setting up’ process where you can choose icons and channel numbers for your favorite cable stations and have them displayed below the screen for easy access. There is also a ‘remote control’ that you can hide that simply chooses the channel or selects up and down. What is very cool is that the exact image of your particular remote is displayed on the screen

You can change the encoding parameters if the stream is too slow, adjust the quality of the stream, set the audio output even change the skin of the player with a simple click.

In short, it is so easy to use the SlingPlayer software. I now sit in my office and dock my SlingPlayer in the upper right of the screen and watch my favorite shows – including HD, check in on the news or catch the updates on ESPN while I am doing my other work on my screen. Amazing!

My Solo was connected to a Comcast HD box. That allowed me to access the ‘On Demand’ content, use the program guide and even order a Movie – all from my PC!

Remote Access:

Slingplayer is available for your Notebook, your Windows Mobile and your Symbian and Palm OS device. BlackBerry is in the works and I can’t wait to try that out! I tried both remote access on my notebook and the Windows Mobile version of Slingplayer. As long as the ‘Finder Id’ mentioned above in put in correctly, the SlingPlayer software connects to the Internet (either through a WiFi or 3G or EDGE connection) and finds your Slingbox. Remote streaming is at a slightly lower resolution but it was amazing to watch my TV through my Slingbox anywhere I had a WiFi connection.

Remote access costs nothing if you are using your Notebook. For mobile devices, there is a one time fee for the software – but it is well worth it. I was streaming TV on my Windows Mobile device and it looked awesome in full screen (Widescreen) mode.

Pitfalls:

There aren’t many to speak of. Given that you are controlling your cable box or DVR or TIVO – it make sense that you can only ‘Sling’ on one computer at a time. Also, an interesting phenomenon occurred. I had my son test out the SlingBox Solo remotely. The only problem with that was that it gave him the ability to change the channel while I was in the middle of watching something. The IR remote allows a remote user to change the channel – and, since the connection is to the box directly – if you are watching TV at that time, the channel changes.

That being said – there is nothing else remotely negative to say about this device.

Overall Conclusions:

Wow! – That about sums up the Slingbox Solo. I loved the Tuner – but streaming HD is amazing. We have found another use for the Slingbox – our son is away at college living in an apartment without cable. He just uses his internet connection and watches TV through the Slingplayer software. The only downside with the Solo is that he has to watch what we are watching and if he changes the channel, it changes what we are watching – but it is easy to deal with that.

I was set to buy a new TV for my Home Office – now there is no need – I just ‘Sling’ what I want to my computer throughout the day. Framerates are good, picture quality is very good even at 640 X 480 resolution. I love using the Solo take advantage of the higher resolution of the LCD screen on my Notebook.

The word that seems to be used to describe what the Slingbox does is ‘Placeshifting.’ There are competitors – Sony has ‘Location Free TV’ and Monsoon has released their Hava Wireless system. Both try to improve on what the Slingbox has established as the ‘benchmark’ of this newfound industry. Apple TV does not do the same thing – but the upcoming ‘Sling Catcher’ should do what Apple TV does and do it better.

What no one can match is the ease of use, the excellent interface to the software, the almost idiot-proof installation and troubleshooting guide and the amazing detail in the advanced technical support issues a user might encounter with their router.

Final Grade: A

Pros: Wonderfully simple to use, fabulous software and interface, great technical support, very high ‘coolness’ factor, HD streaming is great

Cons: The Slingbox runs hot, router setup might be complicated if you have another SlingBox hooked up

The Sli
gbox Tuner can be found at: www.slingmedia.com=”” http:=”” href=”http:// http://www.slingmedia.com/go/slingbox-solo-purchase’ target=’_blank’>

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