For many TV fans, a DVR is a “once with, never without” kind of device, with cable and satellite companies (and firms like Tivo and Moxi) offering expanded DVR feature sets and additional programming services. Being able to watch your favorite TV shows whenever you like is proving to be an increasingly attractive proposition, as DVR penetration in the U.S. at the end of 2009 was estimated to be around 36%, and that number continues to rise.
Being able to watch your favorite shows wherever you like is the reason Slingbox was born, and their PRO-HD model allows you to access the content on your HD DVR or tune into your favorite HDTV show in real time from just about anywhere there’s a broadband internet connection. You’ll also need a broadband connection at home for the Slingbox itself, obviously. Sling Media also provides apps that allow TV and DVR viewing on a number of smartphones, including popular types such as the iPhone and the Blackberry, and the SlingPlayer software can handle other source devices, such as media center PCs and even DVD players.
For those with a conventional (non-DVR) set-top cable or satellite box, the SlingPlayer app provides buffering, allowing pausing, rewinding and fast-forwarding, just like a DVR.
Essentially a pass-through device, the PRO-HD is wired between your main video source (cable box, satellite box, DVR) and your HDTV. For HD signals, there is a single component video input and output. There are also stereo audio inputs and outputs, as well as a coaxial digital audio input and output. An RJ-45 jack connects the PRO-HD to your home network, or to an external adapter if a wired Ethernet connection isn’t handy. Sling Media sells powerline Ethernet adapters for this purpose, but those are also widely available from computer equipment stores, as are wireless network game console adapters that will also do the job.
The lack of an HDMI input and output should pose no grief for those who have their HD set-top box connected to the TV with an HDMI connection, as most such boxes allow for simultaneous HDMI and component video output. Simply keep the HDMI connection as is, and connect component video and stereo audio to the PRO-HD’s inputs.
There is also an RF input/output pair for the PRO-HD’s internal TV tuner, which allows live TV viewing with broadcast and non-encrypted (ClearQAM) cable signals. That’s handy if you want to watch a show from afar and someone at home is using the cable DVR at the same time (though you’ll need an inexpensive RF splitter to make that happen).
To control one or more source components, the PRO-HD comes with an IR “blaster” cable with four IR transmitter heads, intended to be placed near the front panel IR eye of each box.
On Screen Display
You’ll need to install a small plug-in on your home computer’s internet browser to get things going, and create a free SlingPlayer account. I tried it with both IE 8 and Firefox. Once installed, the software finds the PRO-HD on the home network, and lets you identify the brand and model of your set-top box or DVR. Then, with the SlingPlayer account activated, you can stream live TV and access programs recorded on your DVR anywhere on your home network, or from a computer connected to broadband internet anywhere else. Sling has free plug-ins for both Windows and Mac computers. You can give the Slingbox a unique name, as you could certainly have more than one in a home with multiple set-top boxes and/or DVRs, and access any of them by name (for example, Den, Theater, Bedroom, etc.) from afar.