Sling Media Slingbox Solo
Price Range: $9.98 - $134.95
CNET Editors' Rating: 4.0 / 5
The good: Streams home AV sources to any broadband-connected Mac, Windows PC, Windows Mobile, or Palm Treo device in the world; no host PC or monthly charges required; simple, straightforward setup; excellent, easy-to-use software; pass-through AV jacks compatible with standard and HD video; controls almost all cable and satellite boxes and DVRs; excellent video quality over LAN, good video quality over the Internet.
The bad: Cell phone/PDA viewing software costs extra; no built-in wireless networking support; monopolizes the attached device during viewing.
The bottom line: An evolutionary upgrade of past Slingbox models, the Slingbox Solo remains an excellent way to stream your home TV programming to an increasingly wide variety of broadband-connected computers and smartphones.
Design, Features & Performance (out of 10)
Hot off its acquisition by EchoStar, parent company of the Dish Network satellite service, Sling Media is back in the saddle with a new product, the Slingbox Solo. The latest Slingbox model is essentially a streamlined version of the Slingbox Pro. Like that 2006 model, the Solo ($180 list) can handle standard and high-def video streams via pass-through AV input/outputs, but the HD input no longer requires the purchase of an add-on dongle. The Solo loses the built-in analog TV tuner and discrete audio inputs found on the Pro, but it gains a smaller, sleeker frame. Oh, and there's a USB input--but it's currently "reserved for future use." In other words, if you already have a Slingbox Pro--or even a Slingbox AV--there's no real compelling need to upgrade to the Solo. But if you have yet to take the plunge, the Slingbox Solo is an ideal place-shifting option, and an enthusiastic recommendation for anyone who wishes to stream their TV and home video content to any broadband-enabled computer (Windows or Mac) or any smartphone (Windows Mobile or Palm OS) in the world.
Stream your TV anywhere
Before we focus on the specifics of the Slingbox Solo, it's worth taking a broader look at the Slingbox technology as a whole. The Slingbox enables you to stream your home TV programming to your broadband-enabled computer or smartphone. Both the Slingbox (source) and the device running the SlingPlayer software (receiver) need to be connected to high-speed broadband networks--a cable or DSL line or a 3G wireless network--but the distance between the two isn't a factor. As long as you're getting normal broadband access speeds, you can watch your Slingbox playback anywhere--be it in another room of the house or halfway around the world, literally.
Design of the Slingbox Solo
The Slingbox Solo is about the size of three DVD cases stacked together, and it retains the trapezoidal shape of all previous Slingbox models. But the Solo's got a decidedly more polished look and feel--it's jet black (albeit with Sling's trademark red accents on the side), and the metal grille along the top and side gives it more of a classic high-end audio vibe. Except for the three red indicator lights on the front face, all the action is around back. There's no power switch either--once plugged in, the Slingbox is designed to be always on, just like a cable modem or router.
The Solo's rear panel boasts composite, S-Video, and component video inputs and outputs, so it can sit between your cable or satellite box (or DVR) and your TV. That's a step up from last year's Slingbox AV, which lacked pass-through connectors. While you can set up the Solo to receive video from three separate sources (say, a cable box, DVD changer, and Apple TV), you're limited to just one set of stereo audio inputs. Using Y-cable adapters provides a workaround, but you'll get a mash-up of multiple audio streams if you don't power down the other connected sources. We opted to stick with a single AV source--our DVR cable box--but some users opt to use the Slingbox for remote security (no audio needed).
Setup and installation
In addition to connecting the Slingbox between the cable/satellite box and the TV, you'll also need to connect it to your home network. With no built-in Wi-Fi, the only choice is the wired Ethernet connection. If you don't have a network cable in the vicinity, you'll need to opt for a wireless bridge or power-line networking interface. We've had much better luck with the latter, which sends network traffic over your home power lines. Sling offers its own SlingLink Turbo products, or you can opt for similar models from Netgear, Linksys, and the like.
Once you have the Slingbox base station wired up and ready to go, you'll need to install the viewing software on a PC (Windows or Mac). The initial setup must be done within your home's local network. The software follows a bulletproof, wizard-style install path; if you have a plug-and-play (UPnP) router, the whole process should take just a few minutes. The latest iteration of the SlingPlayer software setup includes a great video-optimization wizard, which automatically calibrates the software settings to your PC's CPU and graphics card. Once it's up and running, the software gives you a video window not unlike that of QuickTime or Windows Media Player, just with channel-changing controls. If you've connected the Slingbox to a TiVo, a cable or satellite box with a built-in DVR, or even a DVD recorder, you'll also get video-transport controls: pause, rewind, fast-forward, and so on.
In terms of performance and usage, the Slingbox Solo seemed indistinguishable from its 2006 predecessor, the Slingbox Pro. But that's a compliment, not a criticism--the previous-generation Slingbox models were already the best-in-class place-shifting products available, and the Solo ably lives up to the pedigree. We were able to watch our living room TV--with full access to all our channels and recorded DVR programming--on the bedroom PC, on our work PC (10 miles away), on a laptop, or on a Sprint Mogul (anywhere we had access to the EVDO network or Wi-Fi).
On a Windows or Mac screen, the SlingPlayer software offers several "skins," and you can easily set up favorite channels for one-touch access using the familiar channel logos. But where the interface of the SlingPlayer really triumphs is the onscreen remote control. Essentially, you're getting a nearly identical version of the handheld remote of whatever set-top box the Slingbox is connected to. During testing, we were able to toggle between the DirecTV HR20, the Scientific Atlanta 8300HD (cable), and the Dish ViP622, each of which had their corresponding remotes available on the screen. The obvious upside is that there's no learning curve--if you can use your home remote, you can use the SlingPlayer software as well.
The SlingPlayer software automatically optimizes viewing quality to available bandwidth via an algorithm called SlingStream. Of course, the quality is largely dependent on the available network bandwidth. You'll want at least 300Kbps on both upstream and downstream connections, with 400Kbps to 500Kbps--and beyond--offering a noticeably better picture. Viewing on a home network offers the potential for much greater speeds, and that's where the excellent video quality of the Slingbox Solo was most evident. We were able to enjoy all the action of a Sunday Night Football game, as well as some movies on HDNet. It looked great with the window filling half the screen and was still very good when we blew it up to full-screen mode. To be sure, some softness was apparent, but close-up objects looked sharp enough, and action was relatively smooth and well-rendered. If not the fabled "near-DVD quality," it was certainly competitive with--if not better than--the movies and TV shows available from the iTunes Store.
When broadcasting to the outside world, the Slingbox is limited by the upstream bandwidth of your home's broadband connection, which is often significantly less than your downstream speed. For instance, our cable modem seemed to max out at 500Kbps--not bad at all, but far below the 3,000 to 6,000Kbps that we were getting on the home network. The result is some "down-rezzing" to accommodate the lower bandwidth, which naturally results in a softer picture with more artifacts. (The SlingPlayer has a helpful meter in the window that shows Kbps throughput and frames per second.) You can still expand the SlingPlayer window to fill the screen, but you'll get significantly less sharpness and detail than you would via LAN streaming. Still, as long as you're getting a decent stream, you can get a very watchable video window that delivers 24fps to 30fps. The quality was much better than you'd get with most YouTube videos, for instance, and looked at least as good as CNET's own First Look videos (see above).
When watching on a cell phone or handheld device, the same bandwidth concerns apply. But because those devices have such small screens (compared to a computer's monitor), the resulting image looked even better. We tested the SlingPlayer Mobile software on several devices, including an old HP iPaq (via Wi-Fi), a Palm Treo 700w (Verizon EV-DO), a Samsung BlackJack (AT&T HSDPA/UMTS), and a Palm Treo 700p (Sprint EVDO), and it worked equally well in all instances. The mobile version is a faithful recreation of the same solid performance we've gotten on a PC. What's better, of course, is that you can use the handheld or cell phone service much more often and in many more locations than you could from a desktop or laptop PC. Just be sure you have an unlimited-usage data plan on that smartphone, or you'll have a nasty surprise at the end of the month when the bill arrives.
Limitations and caveats
The Slingbox is not perfect. Like all previous models, the lack of integrated Wi-Fi will be a sticking point for some users (the power-line adapters work perfectly, but they do require an extra expense). Furthermore, the Slingbox is only as good as its device support. And while its catalog of supported devices has grown considerably since the product's debut, you'll be out of luck if it's missing the remote codes for your primary video device. We'd love it if the Slingbox software could learn codes or allow modification of its virtual-remote template, much as a PC-programmable universal remote can. We'd also like the option to program hot keys ourselves into the software, which would enable easier control via multimedia-friendly keyboards, for instance. Meanwhile, the mobile client is hampered by some of the obvious limitations of the small screen: the miniaturized versions of your EPG and channel labels, or onscreen text such as sports scores, news crawls, and stock quotes, may just be flat-out unreadable on many devices. The finer details of some quick-moving videos, such as hockey pucks and baseballs, will also be hard to discern.
It's also important to realize that the Slingbox is only as good as the source device to which it's attached. Most users will find a DVR to be the best source, offering access to the full panoply of live TV channels, plus anything already recorded. And the Slingbox also means you'll never have to worry about forgetting to record your shows, either--just log in from your PC or your phone to schedule recordings and change whatever settings you like.
The bigger issue for most users isn't Sling's fault, but it is an important limitation of the Solo--and all other hardware-based place-shifting devices. Because the Slingbox is piggybacking off of the output of the cable or satellite box, it's monopolizing the attached box whenever it's active. So if you dial in remotely and switch to ESPN to watch a baseball game, anybody watching the TV will be forced to watch that channel as well. Likewise, if they switch back to another channel, the Slingbox feed will change, too. The only way around that issue is to dedicate another set-top box or DVR strictly for Slingbox use.
Finally, don't expect to share a Slingbox key with friends and family to use simultaneously. By design, the Slingbox only supports streaming to one client at a time (be it a PC desktop or a mobile device).
Competing products and services
The Slingbox is far from the only game in town when it comes to streaming your home TV to a remote location. Sony offers two LocationFree TV products that deliver similar functionality. The $250 LF-V30 includes built-in wireless and the ability to stream TV programming to PSP gaming handhelds. Sony also offers third-party software for streaming to Macs and Windows Mobile devices, and even has plans for a SlingCatcher-style client called the LF-BOX1 LocationFree TV Box (originally scheduled to debut in 2006, it's since been delayed indefinitely). Meanwhile, the Monsoon Multimedia Hava Wireless HD and the Pinnacle PCTV To Go HD Wireless (essentially the same product sold under different names) also deliver Slinglike streaming and HD support. Both include built-in wireless networking and the ability to stream to multiple clients on a LAN concurrently, as well as some limited integration with Windows Media Center PCs.
Moving beyond hardware, there are a growing number of options for copying and syncing video media from your PC to a handheld--the most notable being Apple's video-enabled iPod and TiVo To Go. But that's just transferring previously recorded media to a portable playback device. If you want live, real-time video, your options are limited. Those with newer mobile phones can opt for live 3G streaming subscriptions such as MobiTV and V Cast but will be restricted to the few channels offered by each provider. And anyone with a Media Center PC should check out Orb Network; it's a free service that offers remote access to virtually any PC-based media--photos, music, and so forth--but unlike Slingbox, it requires a host PC with a TV tuner card to stream live or recorded television programs.
All in all, none of those competing products deliver as good an experience as the Slingbox. It's one of the few gadgets that adds value to all of your other tech investments--including your cable/satellite service, your DVR, your home network, your laptop PC, and your handheld device. The Solo is a nice choice for those who need HD compatibility and/or pass-through outputs, but who don't need the overkill of the Slingbox Pro's multiple device control. But if you can live with S-Video inputs (fine for streaming outside the house) and no pass-through outputs, stick with the Slingbox AV--available for $50 less, it remains the pick of the litter, and the Editors' Choice.
|Product Description||Digital multimedia receiver, Sling Slingbox SOLO|
|Product Type||Digital multimedia receiver|
Average User Rating: 4.0 / 5
User Rating Breakdown
5 Star: 9
4 Star: 0
3 Star: 1
2 Star: 1
1 Star: 13
Rating: 0.5 / 5
on August 13, 2009
3 out of 3 users found this review helpful
Pros: nothing since I can't get it to work outside of my living room.
Cons: tech support stinks. they want $29.99 to tell me why Port forwarding doesn't work remotely. I'd rather throw the darn thing out..
Summary: It worked at home but when I tried to view remotely I got an error message about DVI connections but I connected via s-video. I was on vacation in Canada and contacted Slingmedia tech support and 24 hours later received e-mail that they will help me at a cost of $29.99.
Excellent customer service; product works as advertised.
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on December 20, 2007
3 out of 4 users found this review helpful
Pros: Best CS department in town
Cons: It's more difficult to get out of the box than to operate
Summary: The best part about my new Slingbox Solo is knowing that they’ve got an awesome customer support department to lean on. I’m one of those guys that tosses the directions aside in favor of figuring things out myself. I will admit however that I did look at the directions for a few seconds. After fiddling with the software setup for about 15 minutes I decided to give their chat support a try. I got Cathy. We chatted for a few minutes and I followed her instructions but I eventually gave her control over my system and watched her whiz through my multi firewall setup. It’s certainly not a real difficult task to setup the Slingbox equipment, but setting up port forwarding can be challenging. I have to tell you and everybody reading this review that my 6 minute CS experience with Cathy was ‘the best’ CS experience I have ever encountered. Anybody that’s purchased network equipment and had to contact the manufacturer knows how frustrating it can be. Most of the time you’re speaking to someone in India that knows much less about your equipment than you do. None of that at Slingbox. They know their stuff.
Rating: 1 / 5
on May 11, 2011
1 out of 1 users found this review helpful
Pros: Good idea, not sure if it works
Cons: Support is pathetic
Summary: I can't speak for anybody else, but I would assume most would be concerned that this company only provides free support for 90 days after purchase (after that you pay for it). Sounds an awful lot to me like a product that is either high maintenance, doesn't work, or a company that sees support as a profit center. I was encouraged by the "you are watching TV over the internet in 20 minutes" tagline. Sure enough I had the thing set up in 20 minutes, but it didn't work. After battling with obscure and misleading error messages for a few hours I called support and was told that I had to send proof of purchase before they could help. This was to ensure that I was within the 90 day horizon. Support closed at 7pm and it was 6:45. I was told I had to scan or photograph my receipt and email it in to get help, but of course that couldn't happen before 7pm so I was out of luck for the day. I asked four times if that was the standard means of confirming purchase and/or registering the product to see if there was a faster way via the web and the guy refused to answer. He eventually HUNG UP ON ME, and I spent several more hours in vain trying to get the stupid thing working. My error message had to do with "disconnected due to poor internet connection". Apparently this is a popular problem. The Slingbox was hardwired to my router and every other device in my house has good connectivity. The setup program found the Slingbox on my network, so clearly they are either masking their own problem or too lazy to provide actionable feedback about the real problem. Basically this forces you to contact them.........a very good strategy if you can get people to pay for support! Sent the stuff in today and now have the privledge of getting support. Every instinct I have is telling me that this is going to turn out to be a nightmare, but I will try and make it work because I like the idea.
Contrary to negative reports - Solo works great!
Rating: 4.5 / 5
on May 16, 2013
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: Living in the Philippines, most all US video is blocked: government here refuses to enforce piracy laws. Slingbox is the only option: streaming Comcast from Portland, OR. 2 years of use no problems at all. Powered up 24hrs, used here 6 hours daily.
Cons: Website is down twice a year, once for 2 days. ISP connection speed (poor in the Philippines) under 500Kbps: forget it, picture freezes. More than a few seconds, content is lost. BUT not a Slingbox problem, its an ISP problem! 2+Mbps works great.
Summary: For us, the Slingbox Solo has performed as advertised and has far exceeded my expectations. Also, there were no problems during installation & configuration. "Port" issues were not addressed or incurred, it was pretty much plug-in & play. Based on our experience, as long as you have a good internet connection (speed) there shouldn't be any problems.
Updated on May 17, 2013
Cannot give zero stars. What a shame.
Rating: 1 / 5
on January 12, 2013
0 out of 0 users found this review helpful
Pros: Product might work... temporarily.
Cons: Won't be long before it fails. Absolutely horrible tech support - and to add insult to injury, it's free for only a limited time.
Summary: Sling had something going for it in the days of the classic, and solo versions, but these new 350 and 500 versions are just appalling. Poor, unreliable performance, no ATSC/NTSC/QAM tuner, no possible way to adjust your video or audio level settings anymore, no more dedicated software - you are now forced to watch your TV in a browser.. Yuck! What were these goons thinking? I purchased both models 350 and 500 from Best Buy, but it wasn't long before I sent them back. Absolutely disappointed. Tech support was useless, and they admitted their newer product was lacking features present in older products. By the way, forget their heralded HDMI feature... doesn't work 50% of the time due to HDCP restrictions. USB support on the 500 still non-existent (they claim it will work "someday"). If you can still get your hands on a Classic or Solo/Pro version, do it while there's still time, otherwise don't even waste your breath on this company.
Just the putrid shape of the Slingbox 500 alone should have warned me to stay away... (looks like a plastic box left out in the hot sun and horribly warped)