Slingbox 500 Review: Take Your TV Anywhere
The Slingbox 500 is a small box that connects to your cable or satellite box and streams your full channel line-up to mobile apps on the iPhone, iPad and Android or a computer.
Unlike online streaming services and cable apps, there is no limit to what shows and channels are available or limits on where you can watch. Anything that is available on your TV is available on the go.
There are some limitations, but the Slingbox is the best way to watch live sports on the iPad, iPhone and Android devices. It also offers access to your DVR and premium channels, so it’s possible to take your entire TV with you wherever you go.
The new Slingbox 500 is an upgraded hardware solution that includes HDMI and component inputs for streaming video at 1080P and built-in WiFi connectivity. It’s easy to install and we were watching live TV on our iPad and iPhone in a bout a half hour.
To set up the Slingbox, plug HDMI and component cables from the Slingbox to your HDTV. Slingbox recommends using both due to the copy protection on many cable boxes, that can cause issues in playback. HDMI did not work with our setup so we relied on Component inputs on the Slingbox and on to the HDTV. Here’s more on the Slingbox HDMI issue.
There is no need to set up relays to control the cable box as the Slingbox is able to send the IR signal out and bounce it off a wall to control a DVR, even if both devices are behind a glass door in an entertainment center.
The Slingbox 500 comes with a small remote that controls the player, though we didn’t use it after setting up the Slingbox since the watching is mostly done away from home.
The SlingPlayer apps are $15 a piece, and are not universal so plan on spending another $30 to watch on a phone and a tablet. Picture quality varies with the connection speed, but video was crisp and sharp on speedy WiFi networks and over 4G LTE on the iPhone 5 and iPad mini.
The apps offer easy access to controls and a guide to browse what’s playing on all channels. The iPhone app includes sparser controls, but still allows users to change channels and access the DVR. The iPad app pulls up a remote that looks like the one your cable provider includes with the DVR, so every button is available. This isn’t always easy to use on a touchscreen, but there are also touch optimized controls.
While watching on Slingbox, the TV it is connected to is under your control. This means that anyone watching at home is forced to watch the same program. During our testing this wasn’t a problem, but in a busy house it could create tension.
The Slingbox 500 served three main uses in our testing, live sports, live TV and DVR’d shows.
Unlike apps that only show specific NFL games or NBA games, any game available at home is now available anywhere. This is handy for watching a game while at the in-laws or even while shopping and on more than one occasion it came in handy for watching Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football in bed on the iPad.
We also used the Slingbox 500 and the iPhone app to watch live TV shows like the Big Bang Theory or Doomsday Preppers while waiting in the parking lot or stuck out of home.
Even though we have a Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video subscription there are some shows that don’t make it to these services. For these, the DVR and Time Warner Cable come in handy. The on-screen controls allow us to watch shows on the DVR and free on-demand programming on our phone or tablet. Savvy users could use this to cut out a Hulu Plus subscription. Navigating through the DVR list on the iPhone or iPad isn’t as intuitive as it could be, but that’s due to kludgy cable-box-software.
The Slingbox 500 includes a feature that allows users to stream photos to the Slingbox from an iOS or Android device, with support for videos in the future.
If something goes wrong with the cable box, router or Slingbox while traveling there is no way to fix it remotely, which is frustrating. Our Slingbox 500 didn’t exhibit issues while in for review, but an older model used by one of our writers was unavailable while he was on a trip. It would be nice if there was a signal to send that would reboot the cable box and the SlingPlayer just in case.
For a cheaper solution to mobile TV, with more limitations, check out How to Watch Live TV on the iPad & iPad mini.
The Slingbox 500 is the best way to watch live sports and live TV on the iPad, iPhone or Android devices, but the total cost of $330 for the box and two apps is a hurdle for casual users. The Slingbox 350 offers similar features, but no WiFi or HDMI for $210 with a tablet and a phone app. If you’re router isn’t near the TV, plan on spending another $50 to $80 on a powerline ethernet adapter.
The Slingbox 500 is available at Amazon and retailers like Best Buy.