New Slingbox M1 is smaller, less expensive and easier to use than before

Since it’s debut in 2005 the Slingbox has been the definitive place-shifting option.  It lets you watch and control your TV when you’re away from home just like you’re sitting in your living room.  The latest Slingbox is smaller, cheaper and easier to use.

Hardware

The Slingbox M1 is a little black box that sits among your entertainment gear.  On the back you’ll find an Ethernet port and composite and component inputs and outputs.  There is no HDMI support on the M1 which is likely due to the complicated copyright protections that are being built into HDMI.  None the less, a component connection still provides an HD signal that looks great.

Slingbox M1

Slingbox M1

What you notice by looking at the M1 is that it has a built-in wi-fi connection.  Finally you can use a Slingbox without having to run Ethernet cable to it.  Also, there is an infrared transmitter built into the box to control your cable box.  You’ll also get a IR transmitter cable just in case your cable box is on another shelf but in most cases you’ll be able to control your cable box without running this extra cable.  Nice touch.

Previous Slingboxes had very loud designs but the M1 will disappear into your entertainment setup.  As our cable boxes get smaller this makes sense and it looks sleek.

Setup

There are also big changes to the way you setup the Slingbox.  Previously it was a somewhat complicated process that had to be done via the software on your PC.  Now, you can do the entire thing on your smartphone or tablet.  The software will detect the M1’s wireless signal and guide you through the process of connecting it to your home network, selecting the proper cable equipment and setting up the software.  It took me about 5 minutes to go through the entire process on my Android phone.  I’ve been testing the Slingbox hardware since it launched and this is, by far, the easiest Slingbox setup yet.

Using Slingbox

Using the Slingbox M1 is simple.  Load up the app on your smartphone, tablet or PC and use the on-screen controls to control your TV as if you were sitting in front of it.  The video can look outstanding with a fast broadband connection on your device and at your home.  As the connection weakens, expect the video to get worse.  Most home broadband connections and smartphone 4G connections will work just fine.  You’ll also notice that controlling your cable box will be much more responsive on a faster connection.  Once the stream starts it seems to get better as it goes on.  Clearly the Slingbox is using technology to improve and adapt the signal as you stream.

On the desktop apps you’ll see a remote that looks exactly like the one you hold in your hand while sitting on your couch.  This makes it super simple to use since you likely already know which buttons do what.  The limited screen space on your mobile devices means that you’ll be forced to deal with remote buttons surrounding the screen.  There really is no other way to do this but it can be confusing until you get used to the layout.

In the end, watching TV via Sling is an easy and enjoyable experience.  The delayed response can be slow when navigating channels or menus but once you get the video stream going, it’s looks great.

Get ready to pay… twice

After you buy the Slingbox you’d think you’d be done shelling out cash but think again.  Sling will let you download the desktop app for Windows and Mac free from their site but the mobile apps will each cost $15.  I wish this wasn’t the case.  None the less, just make sure you factor that into the cost of the Slingbox.

Do I need a Slingbox?

This is the magic question.  Streaming video services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu are better than ever before so your favorite shows may already be available on your phone or tablet.  On top of that, many cable boxes including the Dish Hopper from Sling’s parent company already include streaming technology.  So some people may not need a Slingbox.  On the other hand, many cable companies offer only limited streaming of certain channels or certain shows.  The Slingbox gives you full, unfiltered access to everything you get at home.  You can also use the Slingbox with your AppleTV, Roku or other set-top box.  You’ll have to decide if there’s a hole in your mobile streaming options that needs to be filled by a Slingbox.  Slingbox gives you the “just like you’re in front of your TV” experience that many cable companies refuse to provide.

Overall

The Slingbox M1 is easily one of the best Slingboxes to date and it doesn’t hurt that it’s the least expensive one yet.  At $150 the Slingbox M1 gives you an easy solution to take all of your home entertainment with you.  While some people may find the Slingbox redundant in today’s cloud-based media world, for road warriors who want to watch local news (Good Day Colorado anyone?!?!), local sports and the rest of their home cable content on the go, there is no better solution.

The Slingbox M1 is available right now for $150.  Each tablet or smartphone app will cost an additional $15 from their respective app stores.


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