The interface itself is minimally-designed (see screen capture), and has a nifty on-screen remote control (pictured is the Dish 722 HD DVR’s remote), which can be turned on or off as needed. The app allows for both windowed and full screen viewing.
Most importantly, the interface features video quality adjustments that allow you to throttle down the bitrate in order to obtain the best picture quality for the device you’re viewing content on, or if there are bandwidth restrictions such as one might experience at a crowded Wi-Fi hotspot.
The PRO-HD was connected to a Dish ViP 722 HD DVR via the component and stereo audio connections, and to a 46” 1080P LCD HDTV. I compared the picture quality of the component signals passing through the PRO-HD to a simultaneous HDMI connection to the set, and found virtually identical picture quality, indicating that the PRO-HD is non-injurious to the signals passing through it.
I then played a previously-recorded HD episode of my favorite cop drama Southland, now just into its second season (NBC’s loss is TNT’s gain, I say) on my desktop PC, which is a fairly ordinary HP computer running Windows 7 Home Premium, with a dual core Intel chip and a video card equipped with an Invidia GeForce 7600 processor, connected to a Samsung 22” widescreen monitor with 1680 x 1050 resolution.
The four settings (Minimal, Good, Better, Best) provide a wide range of picture quality adjustment. With the Best setting, there’s an additional checkbox for HD Streaming, which provides the highest overall picture quality. That was certainly the case when I viewed HD shows on my desktop PC, which was connected to the PRO-HD over a standard 100 Mb/S wired home network. At that setting, the display showed a bitrate of around 8 Mb/S for the HD show I watched, and the picture was wonderfully crisp and fluid. The initial bitrate was quite a bit lower (by about half), but within a few minutes, the app had steadily throttled up to the higher rate. Even though my PC is a little under-powered compared to the minimums as posted on the Sling website, it had no problem delivering a satisfyingly sharp picture and clear sound.
I then fired up a four year old Compaq laptop that I now use only for calibrations. While it’s somewhat slower and a tad under-powered by today’s standards, it’s still more than speedy enough for what I need. Equipped with a 1.86 GHz AMD Sempron processor and 1.25 GB of RAM, the laptop runs Windows XP and has ATI graphics to power the LCD display. At the Best setting with the HD Streaming function activated, the Compaq struggled to keep up (stuttering audio, dropped frames), so I switched off the HD Streaming function (but left it set at Best). In both windowed and full screen modes, the picture smoothed out considerably, and looked and sounded just fine. After a few minutes, the bitrate settled at around 4 Mb/S. I got the same results with both wired and wireless (802.11g) connections to my home network (the wireless connection provided a typical 56 Mb/S bitrate to the laptop).
Next up for testing was a new (only four months old) Asus Eee PC netbook running Windows 7 Starter, equipped with 1 GB of RAM and Intel’s 1.66 GHz Atom processor. While I’m overall quite satisfied with the little Asus so far, upon reflection I think I should have shopped around a little more or perhaps waited a bit, as it wasn’t until sometime after I bought it that I read reports about the relatively anemic integrated Intel graphics that it’s equipped with (the latest netbooks equipped with Invidia graphics chips are reputed to score much higher in that department).
So I wasn’t surprised that at the higher settings (with both wired and wireless connections) the Asus struggled mightily, delivering a picture that was so choppy that it was virtually unwatchable. I had to dial down the resolution to the second-lowest setting before I was able to view it in full screen with no choppiness. At that setting however, the resolution clearly took a hit, and wasn’t even close to DVD quality, with obvious softening and very visible jaggy artifacts that made on-screen text difficult to decipher.