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Slingbox Pro networkable TV tuner

Tuner sandwich

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That's irritating and so was the relatively poor picture quality we got from the internal tuner, particularly since the image quality from both the other video sources was so much better.

The tuner - or the video encoder its signal is passed through within the Pro - makes the image look like it's rendered as a series of vertical lines. We saw lots of jaggies - text particularly - and side-scrolling news tickers appeared to flicker in and out of view. We got this even when we reduced the windows down to a minimum 320 x 240. Smaller windows sizes made for better photography, but text was just as bad as before.

Slingbox Pro - tuner image (full size)
Newsnight via the Pro's own tuner
Full-size image

Compare that to the composite-, component- and s-video images, which were of comparable quality to those sent out by the Solo and, once again, very watchable, even when blown up to full-screen 1440 x 900. The pictures aren't HD resolution, and in fact less than standard-definition, but they are perfectly clear. This makes the inferior look of tuner-sourced pictures even more disappointing. For all that Pro branding, this Slingbox's tuner output is no better, we'd say, than the original's was.

Slingbox Pro - composite image (full size)
Newsnight via the Pro's composite-video port
Full-size image

The two images above show the differences: the caption is much clearer through the composite input and the vertical lines of the railings much clearer.

Bandwidth isn't the issue: with the composite connection, for example, we got streaming data-rates of well over 4000Kbps, down slightly on what we experienced with the Solo, but that could be a variance in the wireless networking conditions between the two tests. The picture from the tuner never went above 2400Kbps, no matter what size window we used.

Sling Media Slingbox Pro HD Connect
Jaggies-R-us
Click for full-size image

Setting the Apple TV to output at, first, 720p and then 1080i yielded similar data transfer rates as the tuner, but the pictures was more like the one from the composite- and s-video feeds than the one from the built-in Freeview pick-up.

Consequently, we found it much better to watch TV through our set-top box, which makes us question why have the Pro rather than the Solo. We thought the ability to use multiple sources and the presence of a digital tuner would cause us to rate the Pro above the Solo. We're not so sure now, especially if your TV has an integrated tuner - do you need three?

Verdict

There's no doubt, the Slingbox Pro is, like the Slingbox Solo, an amazing way to beam TV shows around your home - multi-room video, anyome? - and even out across the internet, and it does a fine job with SD and HD video fed in from your other set-top boxes and players.

However, the disappointing picture quality produced by the Slingbox Pro's built-in digital TV tuner rather spoiled the product for us. Any product labelled 'Pro' should deliver better-quality pictures than this, and while the device does allow for more, simultaneous links than the Slingbox Solo does, we have to say that the newer machine is the better of the two.

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Slingbox Pro networkable TV tuner

Disappointing digital TV performance weakens and otherwise wonderful gadget...
Price: £200/$230 RRP

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