For the past few months, I’ve had the SlingPlayer Mobile iPhone app installed on my iPad. With the exception of “emergencies” (needing to record a show when I’m on the go, etc.), I never use the app. For me, the 15 frames per second and pixel-doubled image were unwatchable. By nature, I’m a videophile and demand only the best picture possible. Though it’s taken much longer than initially believed, Sling has delivered a native iPad app which works with the two newest Slingbox models; the Solo and Pro-HD.
For all intents and purposes, the app works as advertised. Regardless of Slingbox model, the new app streams video in 640×480, which is standard definition (VGA). A number of other hands-on articles and reviews claim the app streams in HD– this is not the case. If you’ve been using the standalone application on a Mac (a program which is no longer actively supported), you’ll be familiar with the resolution, as 640×480 is highest the application can stream.
On the iPad’s near 10-inch screen, the video quality is stunning. The signal is mostly free from artifacts on the HQ setting, and still relatively clean on the SQ setting. Either way, it’s light years ahead of the iPhone application.
The app comes with a channel guide, which comes in very handy. In the past, casually flipping through channels was a terrible experience on Slingboxes due to the unavoidable lag of the technology. The new channel guide eliminates much of that inconvenience with a simple, clean channel listing that provides the name of the station, it’s icon, and the name and description of the show currently playing. It’s very useful, and makes channel browsing enjoyable.
Local network streaming works without a hitch (with the occasional need to “buffer,” which happens very, very infrequently.), and depending on the speed of an outside network, SQ streaming works consistently. On every outside network I’ve tried (coffee shops, fast food chains– averaging 1.5 Mbps download speeds) HQ streaming is not possible. On a fast connection, I’m sure it would be, but realistically, I’m not sure how many public WiFi hotspots have data speeds in excess of 2.0 Mbps. The same is true of 3G performance. Depending on signal strength and network congestion, expect the video signal to look slightly better than the iPhone app, pixel doubled, on a fast WiFi connection.
Like previous mobile applications Slingplayer Mobile for iPad comes with a number of aspect ratio controls, the ability to add favorite channels and switch Slingbox devices.
The app’s user interface is stellar as well. Navigation is simple and intuitive, especially given the number of options at the user’s disposal.
That’s not to say the app is perfect. There are a number of issues that range from irritating to almost “dealbreaking” for certain niche uses.
On numerous occasions, I’ve had difficulty transitioning from a standard definition signal (one of the lower channels on basic cable) to it’s high definition equivalent. While the app doesn’t freeze, I am presented with distorted signal and a spinning wheel that stays on the screen indefinitely. Disconnecting and reconnecting the app from the Slingbox resets everything, and the picture returns to normal.
I’ve also, on occasion, had the app crash upon startup. It happens infrequently, but often enough to become slightly irritating. I haven’t ever had the app crash while streaming.
But, those issues are small next to my biggest complaint– frame rate. Though it’s impossible to tell exactly how many frames per second the app is running, it’s definitely not running at the full 30FPS (if I had to eyeball it, my guess would be between 20-25) The majority of the time, the choppiness is not noticeable. However, when watching sporting events, or “mockumentary-style” shows (Modern Family, The Office), which rely on smooth, handheld camera use, the jerking picture can be distracting enough to want to finish the show on a computer or TV. In short, when it’s noticeable, it removes the user from the experience. Hopefully, this is something that can be solved in a future update.
Even with the few issues, Slingplayer Mobile for iPad is tough to beat for everyday use. Everyone with a recent Slingbox, iPad, and $30 should give the app a try.
February 11, 2011