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Buyer Be Cautious with the New Slingbox 500

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I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Slingbox for some time. I love it when it works and, well, I hate it when it doesn’t. The reason previous Slingbox models would not work for me have to do with HDMI, HDCP (High-Bandwidith Digital Copy Protection) or SOC (Selectable Output Control) protection schemes. Content providers change these schemes as a course of business.. I’ve worked with I don’t know how many Slingbox techs to keep my system up and running, but the folks at Slingbox are somewhat at the mercy of the content providers who own the set top boxes. I’ll talk more on that later. Suffice it to say that when I saw that the Slingbox 500 had HDMI connections I thought this might finally solve my ongoing problem. Sad to say it did not.

Let me offer some context here. My TV set up is as follows. Comcast is my cable provider. From the Comcast box I run HDMI into a Sony Home Theatre setup for audio and then HDMI from there to the TV set. A part of my problem with the previous (and now the new) Slingbox is that the Sony Home Theatre device does not have in Snapshot 10:17:12 11:43 AM-2and out component connections. Doing some research, I’m guessing I”m not alone here. Previous editions of the Slingbox did not work with HDMI at all. There were no HDMI connectors on the hardware, so I always had to do some sort of work-around to use the Slingbox PRO HD and earlier models. Believe it or not, with some help from Slingbox techs, I was able to make things work. I won’t comment on the rat’s nest of cables that this left me with other to say that it gives new definition to metaphor of a rat’s nest.

The setup above all worked well until either Comcast or the Slingbox folks pushed an update through. Then I’d have to start all over again. This would happen about once every 3 months or so, and of course if Comcast is the one pushing the update, then you never know it is happening until things just change.

What I had hoped would be the case with the Slingbox 500, is that I could avoid all of this with the new HDMI connections. I was wrong and this is where you need to examine your existing AV setup before deciding to make a purchase. Yes, the new Slingbox 500 has HDMI connections, but as the Slingbox website and the setup instructions will tell you the Sling folks recommend that you use both component and HDMI connections simultaneously. Why? Because the copy protection schemes can change at any moment and cause the HDMI connection to fail.

After setting up the Slingbox 500 on Sunday (yeah, I picked one up the first day) I quickly discovered that there was a problem and Monday night I spent some time on the phone with Slingbox tech support. The end result in my case is that I either need to disconnect my Home Theatre device from my TV, or replace it with one that has Component in and out in order to use the new Slingbox 500. This would require and enable me to forgo HDMI entirely throughout the chain. My belief is that my Cable Box from Comcast comes with SOC preventing the Slingbox from working with both HDMI and Component connections. In fact, the Sliingbox site says that if you have a SOC set top box, you must use Component cables only. I tried to check with Comcast on this to see if there was another set top box available but, as you can probably imagine, I met with some pretty stiff resistance before I got a firm “no.”

Personally, I’m not keen on either option open to me, so I’ll probably be returning the Slingbox 500 this weekend. This is a disappointment because when I had previous Slingboxes working I really enjoyed being able to place shift my TV viewing to various parts of my house, or on my porch. I also enjoyed being able to watch my home TV at work on occasion.

The folks behind Slingbox make no secret that HDMI protection schemes are an issue. The Slingbox talking point on HDMI and digital copy protection is that they can’t control what the set top providers do and that licensing HDMI is too expensive. I can understand that to a degree. It has been quite some time since we’ve seen an update to the Slingbox hardware. During that time, Slingmedia has shifted their focus and a part of their new thrust is to enable you to hook up a drive to a USB port, and view pictures and home video. I’m sure there was a considerable investment there. From my perspective, I’d rather have seen Slingmedia use that investment to work through some of these digital copyright schemes. The alphabet soup that is HDMI, HDCP and SOC isn’t going to go away anytime soon, and if the Slingbox folks want to stay relevant in the long term, they’ll need to adapt.

I also think they would be well served in their marketing and on their website to be more specific about this. Yes, you can find the info on the website. But I would hazard a guess that many buyers don’t check out that info until after they have a problem in the setup. On the spec sheet it would be nice to see an asterisk that warns that not all set top boxes or AV setups will work, or a link that takes you to the page about HDMI and copy protection.

As I said, I’m a fan of the Slingbox hardware and service. If it works well with your existing system or you’re prepared to make some changes, it is an excellent way to view content from your TV in another location. But I think users contemplating picking up a new Slingbox 500 would be well advised to thoroughly read through the documentation on the website and to check out what their current AV system is capable of.

Warner Crocker is a professional theatre director, producer and playwright and also a Tablet PC enthusiast. He is also a Microsoft MVP for Tablet PCs. Send email to Warner. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+

16 Comments

  1. Cuthbert

    10/18/2012 at 12:34 am

    all you seem to do is but a piece of tech, then complain about it. here’s some advice, don’t buy anything, because all you do is moan like a old lady

  2. Minty Trebor

    10/18/2012 at 3:41 am

    I’ve been using a HDFury2 (www.hdfury.com) and an active hdmi splitter since 2009 for exactly this purpose (sling hd with comp inputs from a HDMI-only sat set-top box). Never had one issue with HDCP, even with pay per view etc. This might be the solution you need….?

  3. ernie

    10/18/2012 at 8:33 am

    Warner, how about connecting HDMI directly to the TV then using fiber optic audio cable (toslink) from the TV to the home theater? this way you can use the home theater audio for anything you connect to any of the TV inputs. (play station, apple tv, tivo, comcast box, etc).

    I have a tivo premier and I’m thinking on buying the slingbox 500.
    I’m thiking of connecting HDMI and component from the tivo to the slingbox, then from the slingbox hdmi to the TV. The audio from the TV is going out to my home theater with a toslink cable.

    I also have an HDMI output from the home theater to the TV for blueray disks.

  4. Sean S

    10/18/2012 at 9:20 am

    I’m considering buying a Slingbox and after reading your post, am not sure if I should proceed at this time. I also have Comcast cable. I have two HD boxes in my home: One 4 years old and the other fairly new (no ‘real’ audio system attached to either).
    Not sure if any of that info makes a difference but would be curious to get your opinion. Should I invest my time and energy into this?

  5. Kimora Anderson

    10/18/2012 at 12:29 pm

    my best friend’s sister brought home $21655 past week. she works on the internet and moved in a $344800 house. All she did was get fortunate and apply the directions given on this website DOMAIN.com

    • Steve

      12/01/2012 at 6:21 am

      Sounds stupid jerk

  6. Ricky Rios

    10/18/2012 at 3:22 pm

    The only thing I’ve seen working through HDMI is my directv receiver. Still doesn’t do premium channels. My TiVo box will not let anything play through slingbox.

  7. Rob

    10/18/2012 at 7:33 pm

    I use HDMI and Component connections at the same time with my Comcast STB. My HDMI cable connects to my home audio system (3 HDMI in and 1 out to TV) and my component cables connects to my Slingbox (I don’t attach the Component from the Slingbox to the TV, lessens up the clutter), I can watch exactly what is on my TV at the same time someone else is watching it on the Slingbox with no problems. Cable box is a DCX-3400 by Motorola from Comcast, but I have been able to do it with previous DVR’s from Motorola in the past with Comcast.

  8. Rick DeHaven

    10/18/2012 at 7:39 pm

    In general I use component cables when a Slingbox in involved. But I have also used a component/HDMI converter with success. I used component out of cable box, passed that through the Slingbox, then converted it to HDMI and on to the TV. The box had both analog and digital audio out.. I sent the analog to the Slingbox and the digital to the HDMI converter to keep the 5.1 sound.

    • Rob

      02/09/2013 at 1:46 am

      You don’t need to attach the Component from the Slingbox to the receiver just HDMI.

  9. Jonathan

    11/11/2012 at 1:28 am

    Buy one of these converters http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=101&cp_id=10114&cs_id=1011405&p_id=5369&seq=1&format=2 . Output from your DVR with optical audio and a HDMI/DVI cable, these will both plug into the converter and the converter outputs a single HDMI with audio and video and no HDCP protection. All the converter is doing is putting the video from the DVI cable and the audio from the Optical cable back into a single stream, but in doing so it removes the copyright protection.

  10. carl

    01/04/2013 at 1:36 pm

    Comcast is truncating bandwidth and bitrate so after several minutes your sling box 500 sot[s working. Cablevision’s scientific atlanta set top cable box automatically cuts out composite and component cables when an hdmi cable is attache. I am playing musical chairs with Digital Media in the Phillipines and Slingmedia technical support. No one wants to take my Slingbox back because it doesn;t work as described. Each suggests I call the other. Caveat Emptor. Don’t expect to be able to get any money out of these people short of suing.

  11. Chris Carr

    10/15/2013 at 11:51 am

    Two words: Cable Card. Buy yourself a Cable Card device such as a TiVo or HDHomeRun Prime and free yourself from the Cableco’s STB. Not only will you own the box, but they are way better than the outdated pieces of c**p that most cable companies lease you.

  12. Char

    03/20/2014 at 7:00 pm

    I am running into the same problem with copyright asking me to replace the HDMI with component cables. My only problem is the directv box located in the room has HDMI only. I tried to use a splitter (HDMI to component) but still receiving the same message. The converters mentioned above such as monoprice and HDfury will bypass and resolve this issue?
    Thanks!

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