Final impressions - Good buy or not?

Sling Media has had over three years to improve upon their initial Slingbox and this shows both in hardware and in their current software implementation. Each new product in the series has made improvements over the previous generation, and the Pro-HD is no different.

The ability to stream live HD programming is pretty neat, especially over your local network where bandwidth shouldn’t be an issue. I often found myself loading up the SlingPlayer and running it on my secondary 22” monitor instead of turning on my TV which is right in front of me in the same room. Quality over the local network was superb.

When using the Slingbox away from home, which is its intended purpose, you are ultimately limited by the upstream of your home Internet connection. I was able to maintain a stream around 1100-1200 kbps remotely on my laptop which resulted in a very enjoyable viewing experience. This would seem to be borderline acceptable for using an HD quality stream.

Being able to connect multiple devices is another plus for the Pro-HD, although I only really needed a single connection for my cable box’s DVR. The Slingbox does not have a DVR feature, but the 60-minute play buffer on the SlingPlayer is certainly nice if you don’t have a standalone DVR box.

The included programming guide worked much better than I anticipated, being easier to navigate and eliminating the horrible button lag from previous SlingPlayer versions.

There are a few things missing from the Pro-HD that would make it that much better. The lack of HDMI support was a bit disappointing but I wonder if this has something to do with HDCP. Built-in wireless would be a neat feature to have as well, but that would seemingly only complicate things. If wireless is a must for you, you can always set up a wireless bridge, but you may sacrifice some bandwidth. Sling Media notes that if you are using a wireless bridge, you may not be able to stream HD due to the amount of bandwidth required.

We couldn't forget to mention Sling’s beta website which could come handy if you are stuck somewhere without a notebook or desktop of your own. The site will let you watch your Slingbox's stream without a client software but using the browser-based SlingPlayer.

Mac users may be disappointed with the lack of HD support for their platform, but just last month at Macworld, Sling Media announced that they would be offering HD streaming for Macs via the browser-based SlingPlayer later in Q1. Even more exciting news from Macworld was their announcement of SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone using a standard network connection (3G and WiFi). The proof-of-concept for this application hit the net last June and has been at the top of many iPhone user’s wish list ever since. SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone will be submitted to Apple for testing and approval this quarter.

As for the SlingLink Turbo 1-Port, I honestly can’t recommend it after my testing. I was forced to unplug my lamp in the living room and even still, the speed of the connection versus a direct network connection was very bad. If you have no possible way to get a network connection to your Slingbox and wireless isn’t an option, I suppose this could work, but otherwise, save yourself the $79.99 and just run an Ethernet cable to the Slingbox.

As of this writing, the Slingbox Pro-HD is selling for $250 which is not too bad depending on the kind of use you intend to give the device. If you are on the road a lot and want to keep current with your favorite television programs or sports teams, the Slingbox Pro-HD is a must-have.