For people who don’t want to leave their own content behind when they hit the road, the Slingbox has been a trusty solution for a number of years now. It’s a piece of hardware that sits between your television and a multimedia device. Once connected, you can stream video over the internet, including to your Android device (using the SlingPlayer app, currently available for $14.99 for both phones and tablets). When you’re on the road, you can tap into an online programming guide, so you know what’s on if you’re streaming your cable or satellite box.
Sling Media is now offering two new models of the Slingbox hardware.
The rectangular Slingbox 350 is the more basic (and at $179.99, more affordable) of the two models, using composite or component cables to connect your multimedia device through to your TV, at up to 1080p. It connects to your home network using Ethernet, so you’ll want to place it near your router unless you have a powerline networking option handy (or a really long Ethernet cable).
The more fully-featured (and uniquely-shaped) Slingbox 500 ($299.99) comes with onboard WiFi and also allows you to connect to your devices using HDMI. It’s worth noting, though, that not all content will stream over HDMI thanks to HDMI’s built-in digital copy protection.
That means if you’re trying to watch a TV channel that has anti-copy encoding in the signal, it won’t stream over the HDMI connection through to the Internet. Likewise, if you’re trying to stream content from a Blu-ray player, chances are that movies won’t stream over the net, either.
That limits the usefulness of actually having HDMI onboard, but since the Slingbox 500 also comes with composite and component connectors, there’s always a backup plan…it just won’t be at the same quality level.
(Unfortunately it also means that if you’re doubling up with both HDMI and composite on the same device to make sure you don’t lose access to the copy-protected channels, you also lose the ability to hook up a different device to the composite input, and then toggle between different media devices).
The Slingbox 500 also features SlingProjector, which allows you to push photos directly from your Android device when you're on the same network as your Slingbox. (A video tab currently appears in the SlingPlayer app, but video streaming isn’t supported yet. It says video is coming soon, though).
Something that’s worth paying attention to, if you’re considering the Slingbox/Slingplayer combination, is the bandwidth required, both on your home connection, and on your Android device’s data connection.
If you have a slow upload speed with your home Internet service, video viewing may be dicey while you’re on the road. The same goes for trying to view the content on your Android device, if you’re trying to do it over data: if you don’t have a fast connection, it may stutter and stop while you’re on the road.
You’ll also want to beware before streaming too much content directly to your device, because it may cost you a lot of money at the end of the month, if you don’t have a decent data plan. Better to stream using Wi-Fi whenever possible, for both the video performance, and your wallet.
Both the 350 and the 500 models are new, but if you have a slightly older model of Slingbox, you may still be able to download the app for your Android device and stream away, as the Slingbox Pro HD and Slingbox Solo models are compatible. (While you may be able to use the app with older models of the Slingbox, it can apparently be a bit tricky to get it working, and it’s not officially supported by Sling Media. You may want to save your money for the app, if you’re running on of the older models.)