Sling Media Slingbox M1


Watching live television on your mobile devices should be a no-brainer feature by now, but it's still a limited and often complicated endeavor. You can stream live over-the-air TV with a tuner/DVR like the Tablo, or you can rely on the place-shifting services offered by various cable and satellite companies—which are often hamstrung by individual networks' content restrictions, with the exception of Dish Network and its Editors' Choice-winning Hopper with Sling).

Another option is to use a physical place-shifting device like Sling Media's Slingbox (which uses the same technology that powers the aforementioned Hopper with Sling). The Slingbox was one of the first place-shifting television devices, and its most recent iteration, the Slingbox M1, is the best so far. At $149.99 it's the least expensive Slingbox yet, and the addition of Wi-Fi makes it incredibly flexible to configure. It's a solid upgrade across the board from its predecessor, the Slingbox 350, and earns our Editors' Choice. Just keep in mind you'll still have to pay an extra $15 for each mobile app.

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The Slingbox M1 measures 1.7 by 7 by 4.3 inches (HWD) and weighs 13.9 ounces, making it the smallest Slingbox device so far. It eschews the blocky, textured design of the Slingbox 350 in favor of a more curved, glossy, Dish Networks-like look. It's a slightly rounded trapezoid with a glossy black front panel that holds power, network, and status indicator lights. The side panels are a smooth matte black, and the top panel is textured and vented, bearing the Slingbox logo. The back of the M1 holds component video inputs and outputs, an Ethernet port, a 3.5mm IR blaster port, the power port, a WPS button, and a pinhole Reset button.

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Like most previous Slingboxes, the M1 requires a component video connection to get a picture. This isn't as advanced as HDMI and requires five jacks (often bundled into one or two cables) rather than one, but still supports 1080p video. HDMI signals are almost always encrypted through HDCP, preventing the picture from being split or shared. Component video is an analog connection, and doesn't have such a limitation. As long as your cable or satellite box has a component video output, this shouldn't be a problem and it won't even be noticeable after you first set it up. If you want an HDMI connection, you'll need to get the more expensive Slingbox 500 (now renamed as the SlingTV), which can handle HDMI and offers an on-screen menu system that will receive expanded content in August. It's twice the price of the M1, though.

Besides the lower price, the biggest change to the M1 over the Slingbox 350 is the addition of Wi-Fi, a feature the Slingbox 500 and SlingTV shares. It can connect to your home network with its dual-band Wi-Fi radio if an Ethernet cable is too inconvenient (which it easily can be, if your router isn't near your cable or satellite box). A wired connection will still provide the most consistent, high-quality stream, but the Wi-Fi option greatly expands the M1's flexibility of placement and setup.

Simple Set Up, Watching Live TV
Configuring Wi-Fi is almost as easy as just plugging the M1 into your router. You can directly connect by pressing the WPS button, or use the iOS, Android, PC, or Mac versions of SlingPlayer to input your network information. After that, all you need to do is register a free Slingbox account and you can access the Slingbox M1 through any Internet connection.

Sling Media Slingbox M1

If you want to watch streamed live television on your PC or Mac, you're covered by the Slingbox M1 straight out of the box with the free SlingPlayer Desktop software. If you want to watch it on your mobile device, you'll need to spend a bit more. The iOS and Android versions of SlingPlayer are $14.99 each, which seems a bit high to add functionality that should come with the device itself. On the other hand, even the total cost of the M1 and the app is less than the Slingbox 350 on its own, and that required the paid app as well. Still, if you want to watch your cable or satellite service on your smartphone or tablet, mentally prepare yourself for at least a $165 purchase rather than just the $150 on the M1's price tag.

After a very fast setup, the M1 worked flawlessly. It streamed high-definition video over the Internet through Wi-Fi, letting me pick it up on both SlingPlayer on an iPad Air and SlingPlayer Desktop on my PC. Both programs offered a full program grid and emulated remote control commands to the connected Dish Network Hopper, thanks to the included infrared remote. The remote commands lagged a few seconds, and it often took another few seconds for the stream to catch up to any changes in quality settings, but that's normal for all place-shifting hardware.

I flipped between Good Eats on the Food Network, Aladdin and the Death Lamp on SyFy, and Star Trek: The Next Generation on BBC America, all of which came through in HD. The Slingbox M1 sends IR commands to the connected cable or satellite box as if they were remote commands, so whatever you watch over the Slingbox will be what's on the connected HDTV. If you just want to access your live television when you're away, this isn't a problem, but don't expect to be able to watch something different from whatever your family is tuned to while they're on the couch. Like with other Slingboxes, this can potentially make fighting over who has the remote an international incident.

The Slingbox M1 is the least expensive and most flexible Slingbox yet. It doesn't bother with an on-screen menu or any sort of HDTV content portal like the Slingbox 500 (now the SlingTV), but at $150 it doesn't need to. Even with the extra investment for the mobile SlingPlayer software, it's a bargain for getting your cable or satellite service anywhere you go without additional subscriptions or fees. The lower price and addition of Wi-Fi earn it our Editors' Choice.

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