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Slingbox M1 review: Place-shift TV with minimal hassle

Andrew Hayward | July 17, 2014
The idea of placeshifting live and recorded cable and satellite TV--that is, viewing the content on a display other than the one the box is connected to--is less novel than it was several years ago, let alone just a couple when Slingbox's last models debuted. Today, those who haven't yet "cut the cord" can access many of their favorite channels and shows on portable devices with a login and code, and some services even let you access live TV or your DVR's contents on the go.

With a solid Wi-Fi connection, the video quality is rather impressive. During testing on an Apple TV, the 1080p signal on my 46-inch LCD was nearly as crisp as watching live TV, and it never stuttered. You'll sacrifice a bit of clarity on a tablet or phone, and perhaps also on a laptop depending on specs, but so long as your Internet connection is reliable, you can expect a great image with very rare blips in the action. Tapping into a weak Wi-Fi signal or switching to LTE brings noticeable changes — a fuzzier image and potential pauses, which is the same as viewing any kind of Internet video.

Slinging is simple

As someone new to using Slingbox, what surprised me is how effortlessly something this seemingly complex functions in daily use. Sling used to rely on browser plug-ins to allow computer viewing, but now comes with a native PC or Mac app that is very streamlined and easy to use, while the iPhone, iPad, and Android apps feature a largely similar-looking UI that's best suited to each device's dimensions. For example, you can see the large remote facsimile on a tablet, while a phone screen just shows the necessary quick controls to help you maneuver through menus.

Curiously, however, the mobile and tablet SlingPlayer apps are all sold separately for $15 apiece — even iPhone and iPad don't share a single universal app. Sure, some users may not need mobile or tablet access, or even the ability to use one of those apps to send video to an Apple TV or Roku. But with how prolific tablets and smartphones are today, only allowing access via traditional computers out of the box (without paying extra) comes off as archaic.

On any platform, the SlingPlayer experience is straightforward enough to pick up on without needing to dig into tutorials and help — but be prepared for how sluggish flipping through menus can be. In my testing, it took a few seconds after pressing a button to see a result, which makes even scrolling through a DVR list a laborious process. And the live TV signal freezes up with each such input, which might make you hesitant to poke around too much. Wonderful as it is to be able to control your cable box from afar, that side effect proves frustrating at times.

The bottom line

Modern cable and satellite services may be chipping away at Slingbox's once-totally distinctive feature set, but the M1 proves a great entry-level option for placeshifting live and recorded TV without undue restrictions.

 

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