Sling Media rolled out Slingbox Solo, a set-top box that lets you watch a home-bound HD source from anywhere in the world on a PC, Mac, Palm OS or Symbian mobile device. It's called "Solo" because it controls just one set-top box, instead of the four of its more-expensive Slingbox Pro brandmate.
The idea of a cheaper, single-source HD-compatible Slingbox is a great one. Before we got this Slingbox Solo, we'd been using a Slingbox Pro for a year, and its variety of inputs has proven to be way more than we've ever needed. (Really, why would we want to watch a DVD via the Slingbox? TiVo is all we want to watch remotely.) But this Slingbox Solo ($179.99), positioned in the Sling product line between the Slingbox Pro ($229.99) and the Slingbox AV ($129.99), hit that Goldilocks sweet spot: It's just right.
The Slingbox Solo carries on that Aztec temple-like design of the Pro, but it's about two thirds the width. If you care about such things, its shiny piano-black surface is definitely a fingerprint magnet, but after wiping it off with a microfiber cloth, it still looks sparkly, low-slung and sophisticated as it takes its place on our component rack.
Looking out back at the business end of the Solo, you'll see that even though it only handles one input at a time, there's no shortage of places to plug in. Whether you choose component, composite or SVideo, any source can be passed through so you can also plug it into your TV after that Sling magic has been performed on your video.
We plugged in our TiVo Series3 HD PVR, and the Sling Solo's setup, functions and quality appeared to be identical to the Slingbox Pro. Just like the Slingbox Pro, even though HD sources go into the Solo at 720p, as long as you're watching the signal over a high-speed home network they come out at 640x480 and then are stretched out to 16:9. That's definitely better than standard definition but certainly not HD.
Using the system over the internet, its quality ratchets down to 320x240 but is stretched out to widescreen. Away from the home network, its video looks a bit blocky and suffers dropouts here and there, but picture quality is mostly dependent on the speed of the internet connection. In both instances, the Solo's video looks just the same to us as the Pro model.
Solo is a worthy addition to the Slingbox line, and unlike the Slingbox Pro, requires no optional adaptor to get it working with HD sources. Sure, we would've liked an HDMI port on the back of this baby (also lacking on the Pro), but component video will just have to do. And forget sending HDTV all over the world with the Slingbox—until bandwidth in the United States reaches that of Japan or Scandinavia, the Solo's kind of sub-HD resolution for watching TV all over your house or on the road will be just good enough for now.
Incidentally, Sling is also announcing that Solo also works in Canada ($199.99 looneys), and the UK (Â£129.99), calling it the company's "first worldwide model." The company's also launching the Slingbox Pro in the UK for Â£199.99, and that's packing a DVB-T tuner and includes an HD connect cable.