Slingbox

Vjeran Pavic

TV


Up until a week and a half ago, I had never used a Slingbox. And after testing the newest model, I’m not convinced I need one.

Slingbox, for those who don’t know, is a box that connects to your cable box at home and lets you watch remote streams of that live or DVR’ed TV content while you’re away. It’s made by Sling Media, which is owned by EchoStar Communications.

I’ve heard many Slingbox-saved-the-day stories from consumers, including my boss Walt Mossberg, who years ago relied on his Slingbox to watch Red Sox games while he was traveling in Japan. (Yes, he’s that big a Sox fan.) In fact, a lot of these Sling stories involve can’t-miss sporting events, like the World Cup soccer games earlier this month.

But personally, when I am away from the cable box at home, I get by with webcasts, streaming video services and downloadable content. Even Twitter, in a way, has started to fulfill my need for real-time updates during sports.

Slingbox M1

Vjeran Pavic

Put it this way: The first Slingbox was introduced back in 2005. Since then, a lot of new options have emerged for consuming TV content, even if it’s not through traditional cable or broadcast feeds.

So I was curious whether the newest version of the Slingbox, the $150 Slingbox M1, would be worth it for a consumer like me. In short, it’s not; the set-up for me was almost comically complicated, partly because the cable box I have at home isn’t very Sling-friendly, and I didn’t have the burning need to watch much TV on Sling while I was traveling last week.

That said, I recognize there are likely some die-hard Sling fans out there who really love their Slingboxes and are curious about what the new one has to offer. So if you’re not in my shoes, and you don’t have the same cable box I have — a brand-new, Arris-made Xfinity X1 box from Comcast — then the M1 has some appealing features.

For one, the $150 Slingbox M1 has the lowest price point of any Slingbox, though it’s still more expensive than boxes like Apple TV and Roku (which, to be clear, are set-top boxes that stream Internet video; not cable boxes or cable box attachments). Most notably, the new Slingbox now has dual-band Wi-Fi capabilities, which means it no longer requires an ethernet cable connection (one less wire!). It’s also supposed to be faster, and Sling’s mobile apps have been tweaked to allow for more of a “second-screen” experience, which I’ll get into.

Sling promises a fast and easy set up — 10 minutes or less — but this was not the case for me. This is partly due to the fact that there are several set-top boxes and hubs and a spaghetti-like pile of wires around our entertainment console at home. There could be a family of small trolls living under there and I would not know it.

My cable box wasn't the most Sling-friendly.

Vjeran Pavic My cable box wasn’t the most Sling-friendly.

But you also have to identify your cable box make and model as part of the Sling set-up online. In my case I knew the cable box was made by Arris, but Sling’s website listed three Arris models in a drop-down menu and I had no idea which one was mine. So I dug around for the Comcast paperwork, which had been stashed in a liquor cabinet in a flash of brilliant foresight. A couple of phone calls later, and it turns out you don’t need the Arris model number; you can just identify the model as “X1.”

It also turned out that I couldn’t connect the Slingbox M1 to my cable box and get a video feed without first obtaining a composite cable that wasn’t included in the box (in full disclosure, the company later supplied me with this extra composite cable; the Sling M1 comes with standard component cables).

Even with the boxes finally connected, my Slingbox M1 feed was entirely in standard definition, with no option for HD. Again, this is because of limitations around my particular cable box. So for me, the quality of video was never really that good.

Sling offers apps on Macs, PCs, iPhone, iPad and Android devices. I ended up accessing Sling mostly on a Mac laptop and on my iPhone, but unfortunately, the Mac app has a couple of bugs. One small annoyance, for example, is that you can’t just change the channel on the app’s virtual remote; instead, you punch in the channel you want, and then have to hit “OK” on the virtual remote. Sling says it’s aware of such bugs and that fixes are in the works.

Here’s an example of when I found the Slingbox M1 incredibly useful this week while I was traveling: I was stuck in a TV-less office during the time CNBC (our Re/code media partners) had a sit-down video interview with Tim Cook, the CEO of Apple. I fired up the Sling app on my desktop, logged into my account and was able to watch the interview.

slingbox1

Vjeran Pavic

Here’s an example of the Slingbox M1 being just another box crowding the shelves at home: Before bed at night I would open up the Sling app on my iPhone, browse through the channels and ultimately irritate my boyfriend, who was on the couch at home trying to catch up on “Game of Thrones.” You see, whoever is using the Sling app can change channels on the home cable box, and vice versa, even if someone at home is in the middle of watching something. I have yet to watch a single episode of “Game of Thrones.” I closed the Sling app.

The Slingbox M1 has other worthwhile features that I tested briefly. For example, another way to watch Sling content is to “cast” the feed from your Sling desktop or mobile app to another TV screen, using a Roku, Chromecast or Apple TV box.

That’s not exactly new, but what is new is the ability to close that mobile app — let’s say you wanted to check email or use other apps on your phone — and the Sling content will keep playing on the TV you’ve “casted” it to.

But, again, unless I really wanted to watch that live cable TV feed, I would likely use that same Roku or Apple TV to stream one of the many video apps offered through the Web.

So while the Slingbox M1 has some new features, the value proposition with Sling is still the same: It’s good for hardcore sports fans and special occasions. Overall, it feels like the world has moved on since 2005.




12 comments
Seno
Seno

 I think that this review does a real injustice to the Slingbox. I have had Slingboxes ever since the first came out.  I like Slingbox so much that I actually use two of them at home, one of which has its own cable box, so that  I dont accidentally change channels of one of my family members.

In our bedroom my wife has control of the large flatscreen and I watch TV on my MacBook Air. I travel quite a bit and I love watching TV at the airport while waiting for my plane and in a distant hotel (This was wonderful to watch the World Cup this Summer while traveling) AND I have a Slingbox installed at the home of my family in Europe, which lets me watch that country's tv channels here in the US.

At home I also have a Apple TV as well as a Sony Google TV. They all serve their purpose. The only negative of Slingbox is that is does not allow you to schedule TV programs and watch them later, unless your cable box is at the same time a DVR. That is why I also have a Vulkano place-shifter.  The Vulkano does the job but when not needing to watch a recorded program, I prefer the Slingbox by far.

ePoch
ePoch

Uuggghh!!  What a piece of junk review.  "I don't need this so it's pointless."  Thanks for your insight.  


I have Dish Network with Sling built in.  It works the same (except I have a Dish Anywhere App instaed of Sling App, but same concept.  When our TV in the bedroom died, we started using Sling on our Nexus 7.  I Didn't have to pay for a new TV and I saved $7 a month on an additional bedroom box.  


PLUS, I watch a ton of live sports on the road, in the garage working on projects, in the bathroom working on "projects", and in the background at work.  And I watch many of my favorite shows that I can't watch at home due to time and or content.  The Bridge and Justified are really family friendly.


I have gotten several friends and colleagues to adopt some form of Sling (Dish or Sling) and they are all thilled with it.


But since YOU don't like it, it sucks.  It must be tough having to hit "OK" after typing in 3 numbers.  Poor thing.  


phil28
phil28

This site seems to be copying Yelp where they sometimes only display a controversial review when the reviewer is signed in. Original review:


This review really does a disservice to Slingbox because the reviewer begins by saying she has no need for it. It's like reviewing a TV set and saying you never watch TV.  Slingbox is all about watching live and time shifted programs using your home TV.  Since you can't relate and even disparage the need, how can you fairly review this product?


It seems this is a consistent theme of these reviews, particularly from this reviewer, of missing the mark and displaying real ignorance. 


What's happening to this site? Walt used to be known for great, thoughtful reviews, and now we see lame, thoughtless, reviews.

Agsystems
Agsystems

Sorry - but this is terrible review. I am a salesman on the road most of the time and slingbox is invaluable.  Some examples for the reviewer:

-watch live sports

-catch up to local news

-have access to your DVR from anywhere in the world

-and much more...

A-Lopez
A-Lopez

Slingbox is not for everybody, only for people who have discovered the savings, benefits and the value of it.

I own two of these devices, and I’m very pleased with them.  Few years ago I was looking for a way to watch my subscription channels when I was away from home, but I was not able to find a reliable solution (hardware) to do it. It was until a couple years ago that I discovered Slingbox and I become a regular user of it.

This little box saves me lots of money. My cable/internet provider is Xfinity, which offers On Demand to have access to TV shows and movies, but I have to pay a monthly fee to use it AND blocks a lot of live content. Slingbox does a wonderful job streaming all my movies, recorded shows and ALL live events offered by TV networks (including sports, obviously)

Just last week I visited Mexico, and I needed to watch some news and other shows while I was there. This little box allows me to be connected to my home DVR and makes me feel, somehow like I'm in my leaving room. Like I mentioned before, I own two of this boxes and they are connected to two different DVRs, so when one DVR is being used, then I connect to my second one without disturbing other family members back at home.

I know a friend of mine who owns one Slingbox 350 and uses it to watch TV content in the US from Mexico using  SKY TV (satellite receiver TV). This box allows him to save hundreds of dollars per year, since his family has two of these SKY receivers back at home in Mexico allowing him to use a dedicated receiver with the Slingbox 350.

Yes, adding one of this boxes to your entertainment center would crow it with cables, especially if you use the composite input/output, but dedicating few minutes to the setup, arranging cables neatly and somehow hiding the box on a blind spot, the end result could be very pleasant and will allow you to enjoy streaming live TV, movies and recorded shows on your phone, tablet, PC, Roku, Cromecast or Smart TV.

Richard S. Butwin
Richard S. Butwin

I think you overthought this and missed the main uses of Slingbox, which I have had for many years. Some examples of use: I watch The Today Show in the bathroom in the morning. I watch important sporting events when I cannot due to social/marriage reasons stay home. IE I watched the Wold Cup finals (1 st half on the beach and 2 half while at dinner with friends on vacation. Lot's of sports, especially playoffs and football games as a multitask to another activity. I have used it when stuck in an airport. I will watch the evening news when I get back to my room when away....an so on. Bottom line it is a great and easy way to watch TV or your own DVR when out of the house. As a one-time expense I found it to be a no-brainer great upgrade to my viewing life.

JerryP
JerryP

Agree with others that this product should have been reviewed by another writer. 


I generally use Slingbox in home connected to a second cable box not in use in the main room. Good for kitchen, backyard or other area where you want to watch a little TV on an iPad while doing another activity. 


Set up could definitely be better. 

ron m.
ron m.

As mentioned by bobsulli, I use Slingbox so I don't have to have cable service--expensive cable service with sports, HBO, Showtime, etc. at the home I'm at almost every weekend.  Slingbox saves me at least $100 per month.


Perfect?  Of course not.  Component quality instead of HD.  Kids staying at home and you elsewhere have to watch the same thing.  You need faster internet because the bottleneck is the upload speed from internet connection, which is often only 10% of your download speed.  And there is a time lag from when you remotely give an instruction to your DVR at home.   But I can watch it on a 65" TV instead of a laptop.  And I can watch live TV or stuff I've not yet watched on the DVR.


Wonderful product.  I wonder how much faster the new box is?

taino211
taino211

They should have assigned this review to someone who actually likes watching LIVE tv.  The value of a Slingbox is INVALUABLE to someone who wants to watch LIVE tv wherever they're at.  This product lets you do that.  


Or say, as in my case, I have my DVR located in the living room and I'm bummed because I can't watch those recorded programs while lying in bed at night from my bedroom (because I don't want to pay for a Whole House DVR service).  Simple... just load up the Slingbox feed from my Roku in the bedroom and BOOM, "another" DVR without having to pay the cable company for one.  


No technical specs were even discussed in this review and you didn't even know that it didn't come with a Component cable.  Really?  Did you even do your research before writing this review?  Hardly any product these days comes with an HDMI cable, let alone a component cable.  Looks like you weren't prepared and got frustrated.  


Re/code, please do us a favor and don't assign her reviews for important products.   Stick to reviewing iPhone cases please.

bobsulli
bobsulli

Besides being "still relevant", Slingbox's products have more uses than touched upon in this review. 

The review notes using the M1 to 'cast the TV feed to another TV set via Chromecast, Roku or Apple TV, but doesn't explore what the experience is on each. That would have made the review more interesting.

The value add of the M1 is using and ROKU (for example) to drop an existing cable box rental or start watching TV in another room of the house without paying more.

How about using M1 with the cable service at your primary residence to get the same service at a seasonal residence?

Bottom line: Re/Code did not assign this review to the correct person.

Kesey
Kesey

So a Slingbox review from someone who doesn't want to stream live TV or content that they have on their DVR?  This product clearly isn't for you.  You didn't even need to try it.


Can we get a review from someone who actually wants to use the functionality of this product?

Theosis
Theosis

Questionable review. Almost no technical details. Excess of subjective fluff; irrelevant; unrelated to the evaluation of the device along the dimensions it was built for.

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