It's hard to believe that a product line as new as the Slingbox is so mature. This is part of the reason why when we first got our hands-on the new Slingbox Pro HD, there wasn't much to say except that we still like it and even more so now that it can stream HD. But once we had another month or so to toy around and get a little more acquainted with it, we discovered a few more HD related items that weren't there in previous renditions. And so here we are with the Slingbox Pro HD addendum, which among other things includes more extensive testing of the HD streaming feature over the internet, and more importantly the newly added internal HD tuner. Sure, HD component capture is way more useful, but there are still plenty of applications for an internal ATSC and QAM HD tuner.
The new internal ATSC and QAM tuner
Although not everyone agrees that an internal ATSC and QAM tuner is useful if you have component inputs, we do. For starters, it adds another source to bring the Slingbox Pro HD up to three, but also it makes the thing useful without the need to rent a STB from an HD provider. We were really happy with the performance of the ATSC tuner, it didn't have any problems locking into the stations in our area and the guide data in the Sling Player 2.0 software matched up perfectly. We wish we could say the same thing for the QAM tuner, though.
Not only did the scan take forever, but although it obviously recognized all of our channels, it didn't match the channels up with the guide. So every single channel shows up as 10.1 "No Guide Data." And then, to add insult to injury, there is no way to match up the channels manually. This isn't our only gripe about the new guide feature though -- the other real issue is that the favorites feature is pretty useless. First off, we should be able to edit which channels show up in the guide at all, but we could at least accept the favorites as they stand if they were made the default option when you tune in for the first time or change sources. The only other problem we had with the internal tuner was the fact that we are forced to choose from ATSC, QAM or analog; and switching between the three options requires a rerun of the Setup Assistant. Ideally we'd be able to mix and match at least two of them to improve the variety of channels available -- like QAM channel 10.1 and analog ESPN, for example.
Aside from the audio video sync issues we mentioned in the initial review, the quality of streaming HD over our local network looks great at about 5Mbps. Unfortunately, the results streaming over the internet weren't as hot. We know, we know -- the internet can be slow, but our isn't. In our tested environment we were lucky enough to have FiOS's 20/5 service and see 5Mbps of upload throughput on a regular basis. Of course we understand that the speed of our link, and the end to end throughput on the internet are two things entirely, but perhaps we're just a little too spoiled by the Slingbox. Let us explain.
While one of the most impressive things about the Slingbox is its ability to make the most of the throughput that you do have, when it comes to HD, things aren't as good. For whatever reason, you have to manually set that you want to stream HD over the internet -- which is anything but intuitive -- but when you do this and your throughput drops, rather than just switch to SD, the viewing experience gets unacceptably choppy. Sure, we can go into the settings and set it to stream in SD, which certainly does the trick, but that is hardly the Sling Media experience we've come to love. That being said, streaming HD over the internet is pretty cool and we found that if you can maintain at least 2Mbps of throughput, the experience is very enjoyable -- though we are still a little annoyed that the HD streaming is Windows only. The only other disappointment -- that is apparently coming soon -- is streaming HD to the Sling Catcher, which is currently VGA only.
The good news is that every one of our issues with the Slingbox Pro HD are with its software, and based on Sling Media's track record, we'd be very surprised not to see them resolved in short order. But honestly, we're really splitting hairs here -- after all, we're still amazed that it's possible to stream quality HD over the internet using affordable connections from everyday providers. So there's still little doubt that the Slingbox Pro HD is a must upgrade to any true HD snob.