Sling Media Slingbox 500 Media Shifter Page 2
Picture and Streaming Performance
Picture and sound quality, as well as streaming performance, were not consistent when I watched at different times on the SlingPlayer app because they are affected by connection speeds. When the Slingbox 500 is set to automatically detect the streaming quality, a slow connection will cause it to drop to lowerresolution standard quality (SQ). If the connection isn’t fast enough, forcing a high-definition stream will result in stalling, buffering, artifacts, and more.
Beyond the need for fast download speeds while streaming away from home, you’ll need a fast connection between your Slingbox 500 and the device streaming the content every step of the way. To test the Slingbox/SlingPlayer, I started with a Netgear R6300 dual-band (2.4-gigahertz and 5-GHz) router that’s recommended for home theater streaming. My Internet connection can upload at speeds averaging 6 megabits per second—Sling Media recommends a consistent upload speed of 3 Mbps. The local AT&T 4G network has download capabilities up to 6 Mbps (an LTE cellular data network would be even faster).
Connecting to the Slingbox 500 from my iPhone and iPad over the AT&T cellular data network was successful. While I was a passenger in a car driving on the highway, I was able to watch a recording of Survivor over 4G. The picture quality was excellent on my iPhone 5’s retina screen, and there were only a few short stalls as it started to stream. The SQ setting was adequate and better because it uses less data in my limited plan. Likewise, using the local Starbucks’ free Wi-Fi, The Big Bang Theory looked good in HQ (highdefinition) quality streaming to my iPad 2 and to my Mac 13-inch laptop.
I tested streaming from the Slingbox 500 to both a Boxee Box and a WD TV Live media player. The results were wildly inconsistent. The Slingbox 500 can connect to the 5-GHz band where there is less traffic and interference. In the evening, when only one other person in the household was connected to the router/Internet, the SlingPlayer app on both media players streamed in beautiful high definition with no artifacts. Although there were occasional half-second halts, the TBS HD movie I was streaming (OK, it was Valentine’s Day) went smoothly. Both media streamer SlingPlayer apps could be controlled by using corresponding buttons on the Boxee and WD TV Live remote controls or by clicking an onscreen command. When streaming was at its best, button presses had less than a second lag time before my cable box would pause, rewind, navigate right and left, and so forth.
Unfortunately, at other times, when there were three family members also streaming on my home network, the experience was far less stellar. In fact, during busy periods on the network, the experience was completely unacceptable. I made repeated attempts to watch a DVR recording of The Good Wife to the Boxee Box. During the times when the in-home streaming speeds were slower, the Boxee Box not only reduced streaming to minimum quality, it still had artifacts, the videos sped up and slowed, it lost lip sync, and it never settled down. At all but optimal streaming times, button presses were also painfully slow to react—in fact, at its worst, the Slingbox 500 took over 6 seconds to respond when I pressed the arrow, pause, rewind, or fast-forward keys on the Boxee Box or WD TV Live.
The best way to stream to another TV was when I used the SlingPlayer on my iPad 2 or iPhone 5, then mirrored to an Apple TV using AirPlay. Streaming was consistent, there were no stalls, and the button taps reacted instantly. The picture quality from the iPad had less compression noise than the iPhone stream, but both were acceptable.
The Bottom Line
If you want to take your DVR with you, or you want to stream your cable or satellite around the house, the Slingbox 500 may be the answer. But the Slingbox 500 is more about convenience because you can’t rely on its consistent performance. If you don’t have the patience for occasional poor buffering and dropouts, the Slingbox 500 is probably not your best solution. On the other hand, if you anticipate using it mostly during quiet traffic periods on your network, Slingbox remains the only all-access pass to your regularly watched and recorded shows.