When the Slingbox first launched two years ago in the US, we could see its potential but expected the average consumer to be bemused by it. In fact, half the battle that Slingbox maker Sling Media faces with its central product is getting consumers to understand what it does and what's cool about it.

For the unitiated, the Slingbox is a media-streaming device originally aimed at enabling users to access their home TV and other media content from afar over a broadband connection. It’s moved on apace since then, but the basic premise remains the same: tricky to sum up but pretty cool when you see it in action.

Because of this, it came as some surprise to learn 100,000 Slingboxes were sold in its first half year. While Sling won't divulge more up to date sales figures, the company is being bought for a rumoured $38 million, is launching its second and third generation models and expanding its application on mobile phone handsets to the BlackBerry (and possibly even to the iPhone, in time). All of which suggests there's quite some interest in the Slingbox.

Setup isn’t hard. Install the software, attach the devices you want to use the Slingbox Pro with: DVD player, PVR and so on and wait for the Slingbox Pro to acknowledge them. You may need to set up port forwarding.

The Slingbox Pro offers four sets of AV in and output connections – we’re talking component video and S-Video, mind, with HDMI connectivity offered via a trailing HD Connect dongle that attaches to the HD component port on the bright red Slingbox itself. This may seem strange given that the main selling point of the Slingbox Pro (particularly for early adopters who bought the original – aka Classic – Slingbox and are hoping to add their HD devices to the streaming mix).

Consider this, however: including a native HDMI connection with the Slingbox Pro would have meant Sling would also have needed to make some sort of content protection provision (HDCP) in order to keep on side the media companies that create and own the content we punters want to ‘sling’ all over the shop so we can view it on demand, no matter our current location.

Instead of a direct HD connection, therefore, you can stream your HD content from the Slingbox Pro to your PC or laptop screen. Along the way, it will have been compressed in order to make this viable. Sling says video codecs have been noticeably improved for the Slingbox Pro and with the average UK household now able to stream at between 4Mps and 5Mbps, its top-end 8Mbps performance ought to be able to take advantage of this. The Slingbox Pro is still limited to 640x480-pixels and the SlingStream software has to downsample 720p, 480p and 768p content.

The Slingbox Pro ‘s playback is widescreen where appropriate and, as with previous Slingboxes, the onscreen remote control mimics that of the device on which the video you’re viewing is housed.

And since you’ve got at least four means of attaching your Slingbox Pro to media devices, there’s every chance that at some stage one of those devices you want to hook up will be an HD one. Still, this won’t alter the fact that you’ll still have to call home to ask the kids to stick your well-worn copy of American Pie in the DVD player so you can watch it from your hotel room in Beijing.

As well as viewing what’s on now, you can use your Slingbox Pro software to control your PVR (personal video recorder), satellite TV set-top box and to access the recorded TV, video, photos, video stored on them. The Slingbox Pro itself still has to be physically attached to the broadband router (it isn’t a Wi-Fi device in its own right) but you can access it from a Wi-Fi hotspot or even a Symbian S60 mobile phone or Windows Mobile 6.0 handset.

We hooked our Slingbox Pro up to a Mac and an Apple TV and were able to access our iTunes library as well as changing channels and imposing our selection of TV programmes on some rather surprised guests who had dropped by. The Slingbox Pro works with PCs too, of course, and we were also able to use it remotely on a Windows XP laptop.

Used outside your own network, you’re at the mercy of the Slingbox Pro’s upstream broadband connection rates available to you: an absolute minimum of 256Kbps makes for acceptable viewing. At home you’ll be able to use a HomePlug (or a SlingLink – the Sling Media take on powerline networking).

Slingbox Pro: Specs

  • Media streaming device
  • 1 network cable
  • 2x antenna cables
  • RF splitter
  • S-Video connector
  • HDMI cable
  • AV connector
  • AV cable
  • eight: xxxg
  • dimensions: 416x79x254mm
  • Media streaming device
  • 1 network cable
  • 2x antenna cables
  • RF splitter
  • S-Video connector
  • HDMI cable
  • AV connector
  • AV cable
  • eight: xxxg
  • dimensions: 416x79x254mm

OUR VERDICT

There are two key things you need to know about the Slingbox Pro: it supports high-definition and it comes with a built-in TV tuner. For the latter, you’re paying £70 more than for the Slingbox Solo but you can also use the Pro with four separate devices and access content from any one of them remotely. If you’re the sort of person who consumes video, TV and music like it’s going out of fashion or want to offer the widest possible variety of viewing options to everyone in the household – including access to your Sky HD box – you’ll understand exactly what’s so cool about it.

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