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Slingbox PRO-HD
Pricing at publication
  MSRP Street Amazon.com
Slingbox PRO-HD $299.99 $298.00 $244.99

We reviewed the original Slingbox way back in 2005. Ara currently has two of them and has been able to watch TV from his hotel in Chicago, Denver, and Europe. But the main way the Slingbox is used in the Derderian family is to extend TV reception to any room in the house. While the Slingbox works well via the Internet it works really well on your local network. The issue with Internet usage is bandwidth. First, if your upstream bandwidth is limited, it really doesn't matter how much downstream bandwidth you have. In Ara's home the upstream is capped at 1 Mbps although lately I have exceeded that.

When we saw the Slingbox PRO-HD come to market we were very excited. We realize that the dream of streaming your HD channels via the Internet is a difficult proposition. Regardless, a significant improvement over the current state is welcome. And that's what the new Slingbox PRO-HD is. A significant improvement for some of us. On your local network, it is a significant improvement for all!

The new Slingbox is setup for HD. It accepts component HD video, SD video over RCA and S-Video, and it has an ATSC tuner built in. If you include the ATSC tuner the PRO-HD accepts HD from three sources. Those can range from satellite or cable boxes to Windows Media Centers and Apple TVs. The ATSC tuner is a great addition. You can watch something over the air via the Slingbox without affecting any of the other devices connected to it.

Setup

I connected the PRO-HD to my satellite receiver, antenna cable, IR emitter, Ethernet cable and power. Then I installed the SlingPlayer on my wife's laptop. It's important to note that the new software only works with PCs for now. Once installed, the Mac SlingPlayer will recognize the PRO-HD but video will only be played in SD. Albeit high quality SD. You go through a few questions and before you know it you are ready to go. The SlingPlayer has just about every device IR code so controlling your equipment is not an issue. Then it was on to scanning for digital channels. That process took about 10 minutes. The last process was setting up my network to see my Slingbox over the Internet. Total investment in time, about 40 minutes.

Performance

A new feature that is being introduced on the PRO-HD is the integrated TV Guide built into the Sling software. If you have used the Slingbox with a set top box you know that pulling up the guide is a little cumbersome due to the delay in sending the command via the Internet and waiting for its response to show up on the screen. The integrated guide eliminates this. You pull up a guide that is representative of the channels you subscribe to or receive over the air. When you select a show the software sends the change channel command to the set top box.

Another new feature is the Live Video Buffer on your computer. This makes your PC act like a DVR. You can't record shows but you can pause, fast forward, and rewind live TV for up to 60 minutes. The previous two new features are Windows-only for now. No date has been given for the Mac version.

Internet - The best way to describe the Internet performance is that it is an improvement over the previous versions. While we wouldn't call it HD, we did think it looked very good. This is a function of your Internet connection. At Ara's home the upstream bit rate is just a tad over 1 Mbps. Not enough for the 1.5 Mbps required to get what Sling Media calls HD. Its important to know that. If you don't have the 1.5 Mbps going up you won't see the PRO-HD perform at its optimum. The SlingPlayer software has HD optimization built into it to try and adjust the performance to match the connection speed. Our advice is to leave this on. It will make the appropriate adjustments on the fly.

Local Network - Here we saw a major improvement. The picture was better than DVD quality and in a side-by-side comparison we'd say the PRO-HD did an great job. When compared to the SD version, you could see a lot of artifacts that weren't visible on the PRO-HD.  At points we were seeing a data rate that exceeded 8Mbps. So WiFi would work but you need a clean signal. The other thing we noticed was that the computer would have some issues with smoothness of the video. To really see the thing fly you need a 3GHz processor or a 2GHz dual core processor. A fast video card wouldn't hurt either.

Conclusion

This is a good product that may not be for everyone. If you want to watch your HDTV programming via the Internet and you have a good broadband connection on both ends, this is your only real solution. On your local network, the Slingbox Pro HD will turn your computers into HDTVs. If you have a TV connected to one of your PCs, you can watch recordings on a DVR in one room on a TV in another. While we are very pleased with the performance of the PRO-HD we feel that the introduction of the SlingCatcher will further enhance the products value. With the SlingCatcher you will be able to control the Slingbox without a computer effectively providing you a multi room DVR.

Posted by The HT Guys, October 21, 2008 9:12 AM

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About The HT Guys

The HT Guys, Ara Derderian and Braden Russell, are Engineers who formerly worked for the Advanced Digital Systems Group (ADSG) of Sony Pictures Entertainment. ADSG was the R&D unit of the sound department producing products for movie theaters and movie studios.

Two of the products they worked on include the DCP-1000 and DADR-5000. The DCP is a digital cinema processor used in movie theaters around the world. The DADR-5000 is a disk-based audio dubber used on Hollywood sound stages.

ADSG was awarded a Technical Academy Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2000 for the development of the DADR-5000. Ara holds three patents for his development work in Digital Cinema and Digital Audio Recording.

Every week they put together a podcast about High Definition TV and Home Theater. Each episode brings news from the A/V world, helpful product reviews and insights and help in demystifying and simplifying HDTV and home theater.