It's been a long time coming since Sling announced the super slim Sling Adapter at CES, and surprise, surprise, the first cable or satellite provider to make it available to its customers is Sling's sister company Dish Network. The Sling Adapter should be available for order at $99 by the time you read this, and with a single USB plug it will add Slingbox capabilities to your Dish Network 722 DVR. Dish was nice enough to send us one a tad early, which means you should click on through to learn all the wonders and sorrows of the device.
Dish Network Sling Adapter reviewSee all photos
The hardware and setup
There really isn't anything to this thing; it looks like a cheese grater with a single USB cable and an LED light that most Slingbox owners will recognize. There's no remote, no IR emitter, and no inputs, which is A-okay with us. It's small enough that you could slide it just about anywhere, but based on the shape, we assume it needs some air to stay cool.
The setup is just as simple. Now, any Sling device needs a network connection, but since Dish DVRs have a few features that require that already -- like Dish Remote Access and VOD -- there's a pretty good chance you're one step away from enjoying all your Dish content on the go. In that case, all you do is plug in the attached USB cable into the back of your DVR, and that's it. A message pops up on the screen to let you know setup is complete and you're done.
Software, usability and picture quality
Dish users are probably already familiar with the Dish Remote Access web site, iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch apps (BlackBerry and Android coming soon) and we have good news: the Dish Sling feature is built right in to all of them. This is good because unlike the Sling mobile Apps, it's free. (You can also use the Sling apps on every platform except OS X and PCs, if you like, and an update to the iPad app that adds streaming is coming soon.) Basically adding the Sling Adapter to your DVR simply adds a Play On Web button to the interface. This makes it simple to manage and control your DVR, as well as watch content on your mobile device, but fans of the Sling software might prefer using what they're used to.
Of course the real question is, is this better than just buying a Slingbox? The answer is absolutely. In fact it's much better: you can use the DVR's second tuner to watch live TV while someone at home watches something else, and you can directly access DVR content without navigating the DVR's UI via the Sling player's laggy on-screen remote. This might not be as rosy if you're using the TV 2 out of your VIP 722 or 722K, but at the most, it's no more annoying than any other Slingbox. The other small change is that there's an on screen indicator to make you aware that the Sling feature is in use.
Waiting for the stream to stop and start is still laggy, but that's true of any Sling experience, and the great news is that since you can find what you want to watch via the Remote Access interface, the lag isn't nearly as noticeable as trying to control the DVR's interface via an IR blaster. The HD quality is as good as any streaming we've seen on the local network -- the instructions state you need a 3Mbps connection for HD, and we saw streaming rates as high as 8Mbps, which looked great even at full screen.
We've loved Sling Media products since, well, forever, and the Sling Adapter could be the best one yet. The quality is awesome, the Dish Remote Access interface is enjoyable and accessible just about everywhere, it's useful for much more than just watching TV, and the setup couldn't be simpler. These points alone would make us recommend the Sling Adapter, but add in the fact that it only costs $99, which is less than half as much as the Slingbox Solo at $189 for a much better experience, and we're over the moon. It isn't all good, since the Slingbox we've come to love works universally, while the Sling Adapter only works with Dish Network's 722 and 722K DVRs -- and Dish also offers the ViP 922 that has Sling features built in, a 1TB hard drive and a far superior user experience than the older 722's design. The dream, of course, is that Dish is just the first of many to support and sell the Sling Adapter, but based on how crappy most cable and satellite DVRs are, we aren't holding our breath that that'll ever happen.