Most of us no longer solely consume out media, like TV shows and movies, sitting down at home. Increasingly we’re watching on the go; while waiting for an appointment, on the bus or train or at the airport, or even at the office on a lunch break. That’s where Slingbox can help. It allows you to watch shows from your home’s cable or satellite box, remotely, on nearly any device, and almost anywhere.
What’s a Slingbox and what can it do for me?
Slingbox is a peripheral device which you connect to your PVR/DVR or cable box in your home which then allows you remote access to that TV and all its content via a cell phone, tablet or computer. As Slingbox explains it, “imagine having access to your favorite shows and channels – on any device, in any location. With Slingbox, you can watch live cable or satellite TV, video apps, recorded shows, and on demand shows on your phone, tablet, and computer. Anywhere in the world. Literally. We are, literally, using this word in its proper context here.”
What do I need to make it work?
You need cable or satellite TV service for starters. Slingbox device will do nothing for you if you’re not paying for cable, or satellite TV services from a provider in your area. If you’re the cord-cutting type, this device won’t help you.
You’ll also need in-home wifi. Explains Slingbox on its website, “your Slingbox connects to your home network (via WiFi or Ethernet) and sits between your cable or satellite services set-top box and your TV. The TV signal comes in from your set-top box and your Slingbox slings your TV programming to any of your devices, anywhere in the world. You can even watch or control your DVR. Or even use a streamer to watch your TV on a second television. Get the most value from your cable or satellite subscription with a Slingbox.”
Testing the Boxes
Installing and Configuring the Slingbox M2
I started with the installation of the M2 on an older TV and older cable box in my rec room.
If you’re the type who’s easily intimidated, you might not love the Slingbox set up experience. The box, while small has a nest of cables inside, and it makes it look much harder than it really was.
I highly recommend pulling your PVR/DVR out fully to get a good look at the back. I spent a few frustrating minutes thinking I didn’t have the right inputs in the rear of my cable box, and that I’d be unable to hook up any Slingbox. Once I had a better look by pulling the box out, I found what I needed.
There are two options for connecting the Slingbox. If you have an HDMI-capable TV, it’s super easy (we’ll see in a monument when I cover the Slingbox 500 on my newer TV). The other option is to use AV cables (those red white and yellow ones) also known as RCA connectors. Those are the cables I needed for my installation on the older equipment.
It’s worth noting I initially had the connections hooked up wrong, so the Slingbox was unable to get a video signal or properly connect to the app. I went through the handy in-app troubleshooting steps, but to no avail. (Because I had it hooked up wrong in the first place. Eventually, I tried to use Slingbox’s “Click here for Tech support” option in the app, but it didn’t work either.)
The app was easy to use and install. Once downloaded from the Apple App store, it was a simple matter of setting up an account. The the app wanted to do a firmware update, something that’s quite common nowadays for even new gadgets and devices. However the firmware update took more than 15 minutes. And even then, the app appeared to still be stuck installing it. Eventually I realized the update was doing nothing and was hung up in some kind of infinite loop. So I closed the app and restarted it, but then had to restart the firmware process from scratch. I tried that two more times before re-entering the app again and realizing that, somewhat randomly, it had taken the software update. A frustrating time suck, and a bit of a bug for Slingbox to be aware of.
Eventually I called in to get some tech support, and the helpful gentleman asked me to double check the connections in the back, and I realized I had it wrong. Once they were input correctly, and a quick app connection later, we were in business.
Installing and Configuring the Slingbox 500
The Slingbox 500 is a sexy package right from the start. It’s made from a long rectangle that’s been essentially twisted forming it into almost a bow tie shape. It looks really fantastic in your hand, though I imagine some people might find it maddeningly annoying that they cannot stack anything on top of it thanks to its torqued shape.
I like that it comes with both a remote control and an included HDMI cable, something many many many peripherals do not include.
I elected to install this Slingbox on a newish TV and cable box combo in my media room. Following the diagrams provided to hook up the Slingbox 500 was easy, and it was connected in no time. Then, when it came time to set up and configure the box I hit a problem.
The 500 seemed not to be receiving information I was inputting via the included remote. I rang customer service for help, and after a few quick questions and some tests, we determined that the batteries which were provided with the Slingbox remote were actually dead. I popped some fresh batteries in the remote and then it worked just fine, and the set up was completed very quickly.
How you get your TV shows
To watch TV with the Slingbox “Slingplayer” app, you simply open the app, choose the box you want to access (because I was testing two, I had a choice) and from there you can view the TV guide, surf channels, or even access recorded shows.
Not for multiple viewers in different rooms
It’s probably important to note that when you take over remote access of a Slingbox, you are actually messing with what might be displayed on screen on the set itself. I decided to access the Slingbox 500, but as soon as I did I ended up taking over control of that television from my husband who was trying to watch golf. A holler from the media room let me know that! In this case, I ended up watching the other Slingbox. So, if you think this box might provide a way for three or four people in the same household to all watch TV at the same time on different devices, that’s not how it works. Instead it’s all about remote access:
“The desire to watch sports internationally was one of the inspirations for developing Slingbox,” the Slingbox website explains. “So you can keep up with every team from the World Series to the Super Bowl and every game in between, live or pre-recorded programs, kids’ shows, your guilty-pleasure shows, and live hometown news while you’re traveling.”
Slingbox also notes their device is optimal for snowbirds, college students, frequent travellers or parents on the go.
Your Satellite or Cable box MUST stay on
I noticed in some testing that I couldn’t get access to the Slingbox at some times. On inspecting the Slingbox itself, I realized that the cable box was shut off. Once I turned it on, access to the Slingbox via the app was nearly immiediate. So it’s important to remember, if you’re travelling, or know you’ll want access from away, make sure your cable or satt box is on when you depart.
Another confusing situation for me was when I tried to access one of the boxes, but all I could get was the Shaw cable screensaver. I thought there was a problem with the cable box/PVR, but some minor detective work and I realized I could wake the box up (because it was still technically ‘on’) by just resuming use of the Slingbox by hitting ‘play’.
Other testing notes
Accessing both Slingboxes was easy and I had no trouble getting connections. For the most part there was no hang time or “connecting/buffering” issues while I was watching TV. The only delay I noticed was that there’s about a 3-4 second delay in pressing the buttons on the app (to change the channels or select a program), and in the Slingbox making the change on your phone or tablet. Once I noted that, I just made a point of slowing down and being more deliberate when I used it.
I also tested the Slingboxes by accessing them remotely from a different province. They worked perfectly. I just accessed the box via my cell phone and was able to watch TV from thousands of miles away.
I also really enjoyed being able to access the full catalogue of my PVR’d shows from anywhere. I found myself most often watching them up in the kitchen while cooking, by using my Roku Streaming Stick to retrieve the Slingbox signal.
The difference between the 500 and the M2
Essentially both boxes worked the same for me. The 500 is more expensive, but according to Slingbox is has more features:
In my opinion, these features are not worth the extra money. Save yourself some cash, unless you’re a YouTube junkie, and pick up the M2.
Using your Slingbox with Roku
I really loved this feature. The interface between Slingbox and Roku Streaming Stick worked great. Basically the Roku works as a remote access point. It talks to the Slingbox and retrieved all our programs and info. You just load the Slingplayer channel on the Roku stick, then go to the Slingplayer app on your phone or tablet. Choose what to watch, then select the streaming button to have it play out on your Roku-connected TV. It’s really easy.
App has ads, free if you want to pay
The Slingbox app is free, but it should be noted there are pop up ads. The ad-free version costs $16.99. This is one aspect of Slingbox I really disliked. If a customer is already paying handsomely for your set-top box, why charge more for a positive, ad-free experience? It also appears the ad-free “Slingplayer for iPad” version ALSO cost $16.99. So if you want ad-free versatility via multiple devices, it’s really gonna cost you!
The Coles Notes
While these boxes were a bit intimidating to set up, once I got into it, it was okay. The app was very easy to use, and once I got used to the several-second lag, it was easy enough to navigate.
The versatility of being able to access cable TV from elsewhere (either inside your home, or while away) was handy, though there are limitations. Mainly because if you live in a household with one cable box and/or one Slingbox, and more than one person, you’ll be competing with them to access the box.
While I didn’t find the ads on the free Slingplayer app overly annoying, I really dislike the fact you’ll need to pay $17 for every device you want the ad-free Slingplayer app for. That feels like a significant gouge.
I’m kind of on the fence about this device overall and whether I’d get one myself. I think it’s neat and handy, but it’s expensive and has limitations. If I did get one it would certainly be the less expensive Slingbox M2. But I’d love to hear you personal experiences with the Slingbox.