EchoStar’s Sling Media is launching its first new Slingbox hardware since 2008, featuring an unusual industrial design, support for 1080p “full” HD and the ability to fling personal photos and video to TVs, tablets, PCs and smartphones over the Internet.
The company is introducing two revamped Slingbox models, slated to go on sale Oct. 14: The Slingbox 500 (pictured above), with a list price of $300; and the Slingbox 350, listed at $180.
Both products support up to full 1080p HD-quality streaming of live or recorded TV programming and Ethernet connectivity. In addition, the 500 -- which looks like a conventional set-top box that has been twisted in half -- includes HDMI inputs and outputs, plus dual-band Wi-Fi.
The Slingbox 500 also will expand beyond TV: It includes the ability to receive content from smartphones or other storage devices and display it on the TV, or place-shift it to other devices. Initially, the device’s SlingProjector feature will be able to share photos taken on a smartphone onto an HDTV screen. In a few weeks, Sling plans to provide the same support for video, although it will not work with DRM-protected media.
The company is hoping the new features will expand the allure of Slingboxes beyond the “sports fans and techno-geeks” who have been the product’s core constituency, Sling vice president of marketing Jay Tannenbaum said.
“Even if we stretch the target 10%, that will be a big win for us,” he said. “The big story is HD, HD, HD… which along with simplified setup and ease of use will lower some of these barriers.”
The two models both include integrated IR blasters, whereas previous Slingboxes required external ones to be affixed to a cable or satellite set-top. According to Sling, the integrated IR emitters are able to bounce the signal off ceilings or walls to communicate with a set-top.
Sling also is trying to turn heads with the odd industrial design of the 500 model. “We felt we needed a departure from the trapezoid,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s going to be arresting. It’s going to cause some controversy.”
The new SlingProjector media-sharing feature of the Slingbox 500, as with other consumer-electronics devices on the market, could allow users to easily view pirated content on a big-screen TV. Asked about this, Tannenbaum responded that the product will enable access to “the content people care about most.”
Sling executives emphasized that the Slingbox 500 does not circumvent the High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) content protections included in HDMI. “We are not ‘cracking’ HDMI with this implementation,” Tannenbaum said. The company does recommend customers using HDMI also hook up a component-video output from a set-top box to the Slingbox, so that if content is HDCP content-protected the video can still be place-shifted.
Along with the two new Slingboxes, the company is releasing a redesigned suite of SlingPlayer browser and mobile apps. Sling is cutting the price of the apps for Apple iOS, Android and Windows Phone in half, to $14.99, as part of a special launch offer.
Sling has not disclosed how many Slingboxes it has sold to date. The 350 will replace the Slingbox Solo, and the 500 model will supersede the PRO-HD, which supported up to 720p HD.
Separately, Sling said it is continuing to hold discussions with cable and satellite TV providers to “Sling-enable” set-tops, through silicon developed in partnership with Broadcom and ViXS Systems. Dish Network, EchoStar’s sister company, is the only pay-TV operator that currently offers Slingbox-based products.