Sling Media Slingbox M1 by Sling Media
Sling Media Slingbox M1 [並行輸入品]
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Slingbox now with Ads
I don't usually put updates on the top of my reviews, but this one fundamentally changes the viewing experience for a great portion of the slingbox community. Since this month (March 2015), Slingbox decided to push banner ads to users of both Slingplayer for Web and Desktop Slingplayer (These are the free viewers that probably 99% of people use). The introduction of ads has been a great shock to the user base, especially those who have been using the product ads free for years until now. Ads appear when first starting up (similar to other services such as YouTube) giving you an option to skip after a few seconds of viewing, then in normal screen mode(i.e. not full screen mode), ads appear on the bottom of the screen and change the new layout of the screen such that the actual viewing screen size is smaller. In full screen mode, the ads are not present. (See my pictures posted below which demonstrate both Normal mode and Full screen mode). While the new ads are universally disliked, they are clearly implemented to enhance the Slingbox revenue stream and their addition has met staggering levels of recent dissatisfaction (See all new 1 star reviews on Amazon). I personally also found the ads highly distasteful and the management decision to add them regrettable.
Please continue to read the rest of my review as there are many reason why if you need this technology Slingbox is still likely the way to go. For me it is still the only feasible solution for my situation, so I have no choice but to suffer the ads. On a positive note, I would add that this change makes an easy target for competitors to differentiate themselves.
Original Review (9/20/2014)
Long time slingbox user here. My family are loyal users and have logged significant hours on place-shifting products from sling. My Slingbox is located in Japan so my wife and I can watch daily japanese broadcast TV. We stream 1080i content recorded on a DVR in Japan and watch it at our home in Los Angeles.
Background on Slinging
For those new to this technology, slingbox allows you to stream video data (cable tuner, DVR, TiVo, Bluray, etc) from where-ever the box is located via the internet to a computer, HTPC, GoogleTV enabled device or smartphone (app sold separately). Note the absence of direct to TV option, more on this later. Useful (essential?) for frequent travelers, college kids at the dorms and vacation homes to watch paid TV packages at home. Also works internationally for ex-pats, foreign exchange students and people stationed abroad in the armed forces, to watch TV from "back home".
Surprisingly there have been very few players in this interesting market segment, and Slingbox has remained ahead of all of them since they got in the business years ago. The company has a loyal base of users, but has been plagued by customer service issues, poor support of legacy products (Slingcatcher) but most glaringly the lack of a ready solution for slinging media to a regular TV. While I wasn't overwhelmed by the Sling Media SlingTV (Slingbox 500)(released in 2012), which I found to be an overpriced device for what it did, Slingbox responded with the M1 which performs all the same essential functions well and at a much improved price-point.
How do I sling to my large screen TV?
There are some options in this area, but none of them are very good. Slingbox develops a free SlingPlayer for PCs & Macs which runs thru a browser(non-M1 devices) or stand alone Mac/PC application(M1 only). This has been the best supported and most stable way to viewing content, which is why many customers continue to watch Slingbox on a PC or HTPC(what I use) connected to their large screen TV. (Although I'm not a huge fan of the new ad banner with the browser app, you don't see it on full-screen mode.) Other options for viewing on your TV include Roku, AppleTV and Google Chromecast, BUT none of them can run SlingPlayer by themselves. They all act as receivers for the smartphone/tablet SlingPlayer app (sold separately). I'm sure once an App Store is available for AppleTV, there will be an app to purchase, but there have been no announcements for such a change, only rumors. While some people don't mind the smartphone app to TV via device(either AppleTV, Roku or Chromecast), it is far from being an ideal setup. Imagine a household where several people want to use watch the slingbox, only people that have the smartphone/tablet can turn it on, so it lacks 100% availability (unless you are a single bachelor). While it does work, it requires multiple devices running different applications which is too complex of a setup and inherently prone for trouble. Therefore it lacks inherent reliability because there are more things to break. Idealy, there should be one device (box or dongle) always near the TV that can be operated by anyone who grabs the remote. You shouldn't need a phone in your pocket to do this. (Slingbox, if you're listening, consider bringing back the SlingCatcher!)
Mobile viewing (get ready to fork over a little extra)
The app for smartphones is $15, and has greatly improved since its original release. As you might guess there is much stir among customers about the extra $$$ to watch on a mobile platform. I'm not as bothered by the extra charge as it works well. Think of it this way, even if it were "free" with purchase, you are still paying for its development(the money to hire programmers has to come from somewhere). Now you are given an option to purchase it or not. Folks who don't need it, end up paying less. Overall, for $150 you are already getting a pretty amazing piece of equipment.
Some notable observations:
Deep breath...you CAN actually do this now! This process was notorious for causing new users grief. Configuring your firewall to play with Slingbox was no small task. After much time, Slingbox has now recognized and devoted resources to this issue and has finally made the process much easier, nearly plug and play. You no longer need to be a network whiz to get setup, as the out-of-box setup is now a virtually painless process. Directions are far more straight forward. It will require downloading an Mac/PC application (web setup is no longer supported).
Nothing new here, as the previous quality of the Pro-HD, 350 & 500 was already excellent. I stream HD quality from Japan fairly consistently. It is important to realize that what the slingbox does is create a point to point tunnel thru Internet. Therefore while it is critical to maximize the upload speed at the source and the download speed at the remote site, you are still subject to all the routers and traffic along the way (imagine in my case the data going from Japan to US: there are many transition networks between the 2 ISPs that I buy my connections from). I am at the mercy of other internet traffic (a network, not a slingbox issue) but if I can maintain a 2K link, the HD comes in nicely! Keep in mind you will need a good upload speed from where the slingbox is placed, as this component of the network is most often the bottleneck, rather than the download speed of the place where you are actually watching the stream.
While the 500 claims to have this capability, it's implementation is a sham. Content can be blocked at the will of the provider from being sent over the slingbox. That kind of uncertainty is the real downfall of the 500, which I talk extensively about in my review of the 500. Sling Media SlingTV (Slingbox 500). (Mine is one of the top reviews.). I will not rehash my argument here, but the bottom line is that the video capability of 3 cable component video(aka RGB cables) is just as good as HDMI but without any possibility of encrypted streams (encryption protocols don't exist in analog signals). See the Wikipedia specs for component video to prove it to yourself, or try it out and compare as I have. The only real downside of component is minor: the need for more cables and plugs (3 video + 2 audio versus the one for HDMI). Seriously, no big deal. Even with the 500, I decided to go straight for the reliable component cable connection and I've never been disappointed with the quality. The M1 doesn't disappoint with this setup either. Note that it is preferrable to have a 2nd cable box dedicated to the slingbox, that way remote viewing won't disrupt anyone at home from seeing what they want to see.
Should I get it?
If you are new to Slingbox, I strongly recommend the M1, as it has a fine engine for transmitting 1080p data and also includes Wifi capability like the Slingbox 500 at a significant fraction of the cost. While I would still suggest using Ethernet(if available) for improved reliability, the Wifi option is nice to have if you find you need it. The M1 is a solid device that works well and is reasonably priced. However, if you are a current user with a Pro-HD, 350 (or 500 for that matter), there is very little gained by getting this model, and you should pass on upgrading. Besides the Wifi(which again, use only if you have to) there is no point in upgrading. Folks with Solo and older version (Pro, AV and Original models) will see noticeable performance gains and should consider upgrade. Most other feature are identical in form and function.
4 stars overall. I give a solid recommendation to buy this if you are new to slingbox. However if you already own a Pro-HD model or greater, there is little besides the wifi that is new. It's a good piece of gear, but not really an upgrade other than wifi.
I will update my review as impressions change. I have also read all the 1 and 2 star reviews here, and while I recognize that no product can please everyone, many of these reviews are unspecific or unfair. While that is just my opinion, I invite you to see those reviews too and judge for yourself. Feel free to ask a question below.
UPDATE 3/13/2015: I decided to upload some images of my current setup. The Slingbox M1 is my primary unit but I still use my Slingbox Pro-HD for backup (or to have a second stream). I use a couple of 5V USB fans to ensure everything stays cool. I use a locally bought Toshiba D-TR1 tuner with external hard drive for DVR capability. I also have an old Dell laptop that I use as a maintenance PC which I log into remotely (can be done by several methods but I use VPN). Everything is secured to a custom rack that is rated for 8.0 magnitude earthquakes. (Of course if there is such an earthquake there will be bigger problems, but at least this won't be a projectile!)
I'll gladly update my review back to 5 stars if they revert to the previous software minus ads.
They've removed the M1 from the web interface so there can be no ad-blocking.
The old (ad-free) Slingplayer desktop app which I've used for years, will not allow you to connect to the M1.
If you want the phone (phablet) app... you have to pay $15. If you then want it, (on your SAME ACCOUNT), on say a Nexus 7... you have to PAY again for the TABLET app -- another $15.
Even the APPs for the phone and tablets have ADs... ironically, a large banner ad selling you the M1 !!?!?!????
Been a supporter of Sling products since their inception... I'm done. Selling my old Pro-HD units too out of disgust for the company.