How it works
We took the top-of-the-line Slingbox PRO-HD ($299.99; Slingmedia.com), which lets you watch high-definition content, for a spin. The standard-definition model, the Slingbox SOLO, costs $189.99.
The Slingbox device resembles a large candy bar, which you connect to your set-top TV box at home, as well as your high-speed Internet connection. In other words, the Slingbox is a liaison between your TV and broadband Internet service. You can also plug other components, such as a DVD player or camcorder, into the back of the Slingbox and control them remotely. (To change channels remotely, however, you must also place a small "IR blaster" in front of your TV receiver, near where you point your remote. The other end of the IR blaster plugs into the Slingbox.)
If you don't have your high-speed modem in the same room as your television, you will need to buy an inexpensive "network bridge," which uses your electrical outlets to connect the Slingbox to your modem in another room. A Slingbox-branded product called SlingLink TURBO (from $79.99) also performs this function.
Downloadable applications ("apps") also are available for multiple smartphone operating systems — namely, Apple's iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, as well as BlackBerry, Google's Android and Windows Phone 7 — so that you can watch your local, live TV on the handheld devices. Called SlingPlayer Mobile, each app costs $29.99.
You can install this software on as many computers, smartphones or tablets as you like, but only one computer can communicate with your television at one time.
Using the Slingbox
Changing channels works well by using the mouse to click on numbers (or your fingertips for smartphones and tablets), or you can easily create custom shortcut buttons that run along the bottom of the SlingPlayer software.
You also can pull up your television's electronic program guide (EPG) to see what's on the television and set the DVR to record. Video quality is good, especially with the Slingbox PRO-HD (over the SOLO), as it can handle up to 1080i high-def video streams.
Do note, however, that if others in your home are watching the same Slingbox-connected television, they will see the channels change on their television, too. Yes, you may find yourself fighting for the remote 3,000 miles away! For this reason, you might choose to install the Slingbox on a secondary television.
Another small beef: It's too bad the Slingbox models don't have built-in Wi-Fi, because many folks don't have their high-speed Internet connection in the same room as their television. It would've been a lot more convenient if the Slingbox could wirelessly join a home network.
Overall, however, Slingbox PRO-HD is an excellent compliment to your home theater — especially if you spend any time away for business or recreation. This product is ideal for "snowbirds" who flock to the south every winter. If you don't have a high-definition setup at home, the less-costly Slingbox SOLO is fine, but those who want better clarity will appreciate the quality of video delivered by the Slingbox PRO-HD.