Hands On: Slingbox 500

Stream your TV programs to your mobile device.

For years I’ve heard Slingbox commercials on the radio. These commercials typically feature local celebrities touting how good the Slingbox product line is and why I should buy one.

After setting the Slingbox 500 up in my home and living with it for a while, I can confidently say the company’s products aren’t popular due simply to copious amounts of marketing fluff – they deliver on the claims the company makes.

The 500 is the company’s new flagship product and it incorporates HD compatibility, HDMI and the company’s photo streaming technology.

I set the product up in my main A/V system by following the Quick Start Guide that provides step-by-step, numbered instructions. One of the most important recommendations the guide makes is a redundant wiring configuration (initially I used a single HDMI cable) with both component and HDMI connections. After making the physical connections I went online and set up my Slingbox user’s account. The next step in the installation process was to download the Slingbox app from the iTunes app store ($15) and install that onto my iPad.

With all of the basics of the setup complete, I turned on the Slingbox to make sure it was running the latest firmware and to input my user preferences. In total it took about 45 minutes to unpack, set up and install the Slingbox 500.

Regarding the tandem HDMI/component cabling runs, I found that when I tried to use a single HDMI cable my Comcast cable box wouldn’t allow me to access certain channels due to copyright restrictions. The analog component connections bypass this problem, and to this point the dual cabling runs have not affected any part of my non-Slingbox system experience.

Another important step in the setup process identifying your cable box. This is important because this information facilitates the virtual remote control functions that enable access to cable box functions such as my DVR and On-Demand (VOD) programming.

Using the Slingbox on a regular basis was so easy that I showed my 8-year-old daughter how to use the app and she picked it up without any issues. I used the Slingbox to watch Boston Bruins hockey games, content on my DVR and from my service’s VOD options without any problems.

Part of the Slingbox’s quality user experience is its adaptive automatic video quality setting. This option selects a stream level that won’t bog down and buffer in the middle of a program and it takes some strain off a network connection. I found the image quality on my iPad2 to be perfectly acceptable in the “auto” setting (it runs the cable box with a 480 output) and after checking the HD stream option I switched back to the auto setting because I would rather sacrifice some resolution than deal with the frustration of the video that could potentially buyer.

Perhaps the only thing that is a little cumbersome about the Slingbox 500 is using the virtual remote to drill down into VOD and recorded DVR interface screens. Because the remote acts “virtually” there is a pause in response times and I found it best to count the “clicks” on the remote. For example, I would count four consecutive clicks to move through the on-screen options to bring me to the next page on screen. Doing this allowed me to navigate the arrow buttons up, down, left or right while waiting for the virtual remote to catch up.

For what it’s worth I am not a local or, for that matter, a national media celebrity. However, like those personalities that are on the TV and radio, I cannot recommend the Slingbox 500 enough.

Slingbox 500: $299

Pros: Easy to setup and install. Great for streaming content to other locations.

Cons: Eats a lot of network bandwidth. Quality is highly dependent on your network.

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