SlingBox Solo

January 14th, 2008

We all have things that we pay for each month; credit card bills, rent, mortgage, gas, electricity, etc. Now some things are more important than others such as rent. Your cable/satellite bill on the other hand is near the bottom.

One problem is that you generally only use your cable/sat when you’re at home. Also, if you have a set top box, they only work on the television they’re hooked up to. Here’s where the Slingbox comes in. With it, you can send the signal from your set top box to a variety of non-tv devices.

Right now the Slingbox works with Windows and Apple computers, Windows Mobile, S60, Palm devices with support for Blackberry, Apple iPhone and other platforms coming soon. There’s also a device called the Slingcatcher which lets you watch your Slingbox on TV’s (useful if you only have one set top box or want to watch your set top box in a different location that has internet access).

Now before I go further, the Slingbox works with all sorts of video sources, however, for me the set top box is the most useful thing to use the Slingbox with. It also supports DVD players, Tivos, camcorders, VCRs, etc.

If you’re familiar with Slingbox’s other offerings I would describe the Solo as a high def compatible version of the Slingbox AV. High definition compatible meaning it can accept high def signals (it only streams in standard def – 480p).

On the back, you get 2 sets of the following connectors: 2 RCA in for sound (red and white), composite video (yellow), S-Video, and component video (green, blue, red). One set is for signal in while the other is for signal out.

There’s also a power connector, network, a mysterious USB port (for ‘future’ use) and a IR blaster connection port. The IR blasters are used to send commands to your various devices.

You connect your video device to the Sling Solo’s ‘in’ connectors and then pass the signal through using the ‘out’ connectors. Next you connect the Sling Solo to your network using the network connector. If you’re place isn’t wired for this you can get Slinglink ethernet over power adapters. You can also use a WiFi bridge but WiFi tends to be less reliable for video streaming. From there you connect the Sling Solo to your router and then from there it’s out to the internet so that you can view it when you’re out.

Sling Media includes very detailed instructions on how to configure your router. They’re pretty good when it comes to having instructions for virtually all routers so it’s not that daunting a task if you’re not tech savvy. Just read carefully and make sure you know your router’s password.

While you still can’t stream video in high def quality remember that unless you’re using the Slingbox at home, high def streaming isn’t that relevant yet since most home connections don’t have a fast enough upload.

The Solo supports bit rates of up to around 8 mbps. I’d say you need about 3 to 4 mbps before the quality maxes out. There is little difference between 4 and 8 mbps.

You view the Slingbox with a program named Slingplayer.

I tried the Solo with some computers (a desktop, laptop and a mac), a S60 device (Nokia N95-3), HTC Touch (CDMA one on Bell) and a HTC TyTN. Now remember that mobile devices have lower resolution screens, less powerful processors and in general slower internet access. Most mobile devices are probably incapable of handling higher bit rates. My source was a Motorola DCT 6416 HDTV PVR which was connected via component video (component video cables not included – boo!).

While I didn’t look extremely carefully, I didn’t notice a drop in quality when I placed the Sling Solo between my PVR and my TV.

I tried Slingplayer on my desktop computer that’s connected to my Slingbox via a gigabit network which can handle a full 8 mbps stream with no problems. On my laptops that are connected via wifi (802.11g) I was getting around 2.8 mbp which is probably my wifi network’s limit.

On the computer Slingplayer works well. The image quality is good and you can run it in a window that’s always on top, dock it to the left or right of your screen or run it in full screen mode. You control your device via an on screen remote. There’s a favourite channel feature so that you can switch to them with one click.

Now the Slingbox streams signals over networks, because of this there’s always a time delay. You won’t notice this until you’re trying to change channels or operate your cable box’s menus. Depending on how fast your connection is, the delay ranges from mildly annoying to ‘seems like an eternity’. I found that the stream would skip when I opened up the programming guide.

By default the Slingbox adjusts the bit rate depending on how reliable your connection is. If things are really bad, the Slingbox will sacrifice video quality so that you can still hear the stream. You need around 200 to 300 kbs to get a usable stream.

If you want to use the Sling Solo with your mobile device you have to fork out 30 bucks USD for the player. If you switch devices you can update your profile online so that you can transfer the license to your new device – even if you switch from one platform (say Windows Mobile) to another (say S60).

On my n95-3, there was a problem displaying the video in with the correct aspect ratio. Slingplayer Mobile has 2 different aspect ratio settings; normal and letter box. Normal would display the 16:9 frame in a 4:3 frame (so everyone becomes skinnier and taller). The image ratio was fine in letter box mode but there were empty spaces on either side. I tried my n95-3 with my SlingTuner and the aspect ratio was perfect so I think the Solo has some issues with my HD tuner. Video quality with the Tuner was great. It’s smooth and looks good. I wasn’t able to view the bit rate the n95 was getting but I’d guess it’s around 1 mbps.

You have access to all the controls you would on a computer but many take a couple of button presses to access. The menu responds quickly but there was a 5 second delay if you send any commands to your device. I also found the video would sometimes pause when you do this. Slingplayer will stop if you try to run another application while you’re watching something.

The Solo worked okay with my TyTN when connected via WiFi. I noticed the same aspect ratio problems as I did with the n95-3 (which re-enforces my theory that the Solo is to blame). The menus are easier to access because the TyTN has a touch screen but I found the TyTN lacked the n95-3′s horsepower. While the n95-3′s video was nice and smooth, the TyTN seemed to struggle at times and things would get slightly jerky at times as well. The TyTN also had big problems when you switch orientations. I’m guessing the bit rate is around 300 or 400 kbps. You can listen to the Slingbox when you use other applications but the TyTN slows down so much there’s no point to this.

The CDMA HTC Touch I tried did not have WiFi but it did have a faster processor. Unfortunately I still found that Slingplayer was kind of choppy at a lower resolution. At first I thought it was due to the fact that my EVDO connection isn’t as fast as my WiFi’s but doing things like pulling up the programming guide, changing orientations, are still slow.

If you want to use the SlingSolo with your mobile phone, make sure you have a HSDPA or EVDO capable phone and network. It won’t work well with EDGE or 1xRTT networks.

There isn’t too much new to say about the Sling Solo. It’s a nice upgrade from the Sling AV. The real changes are in the options you now have to view your Slingbox; you now get S60 support, Sling Catcher, Clip and Sling, etc.

The real appeal of the Slingbox is that allows you to make better use of your stuff that’s normally chained to your TV. It also allows you a chance to give your mobile phone’s unlimited data plan a workout.

Discuss this review at HowardForums.com
Written by Howard Chui 1.14.2007
This article may not be reproduced without the the author’s permission.

Entry Filed under: Phones

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