Hands on: EchoStar SlingLoaded HDS-600RS review
25th Mar 2011 | 15:00
Freesat-toting mobile TV
EchoStar SlingLoaded HDS-600RS: Overview
Freesat and EchoStar have teamed up on a set-top box that allows you to watch live TV and recorded programming on your mobile device as well as providing a traditional PVR service.
The box itself has been designed to stand out rather than blend in – EchoStar says it's not one to hide away under the TV.
The design won't be to everyone's taste though – it's quite masculine and the abundance of red glowing lights will clash with certain decors.
Most of those glowing red lights are in fact touch-buttons for channel navigation, recording functions and volume control – the usuals.
On the left hand side of the front panel sits the LED display that lets you know what channel you're watching, and nestled next to that is the Sling light which lights up or not depending on how the box is being used; luckily you can switch this off.
A quick word, too, on the remote; you can't see it very well in this particular picture (below), but it has been split into three distinct sections for easy use; the top panel is for controlling the PVR function – record, rewind, play etc – the middle band is for navigating around the EPG and the bottom section has the number pad and traditional remote functions.
Another nifty inclusion is the +/- 30 seconds button, which allows you to skip exactly 30 seconds in either direction; great for those 'who's that guy? What's going on here? Why doesn't she turn around?' moments in which you miss the essential line that will prove important later on in the film because you're explaining simple plot points to inattentive fellow viewers.
EchoStar SlingLoaded HDS-600RS: On-screen
Anyway, enough remote-porn. Back to the box and on to the screen; when used as a traditional set top box, the FreeSling gives you access to Freesat's range of channels via satellite, including HD channels like BBC HD.
Using the Freesat EPG you can skip through the programming guide and build your library of scheduled recording – the box comes with 500GB of memory so room for around 100 hours of HD content and 300 of standard-def.
It's not just about PVR functions though, the box comes with a couple of additional apps, including the iPlayer app so you can watch VOD content too.
Here's where it gets interesting; we tested the FreeSling with an iPad. Now, it's not exactly free to use; once you've shelled out £350 for the set top box and had your satellite installed, you'll need to pay around £20 for the SlingPlayer Mobile app.
But it is pretty darn cool. Using the app, you can remotely turn the STB on or off, watch TV live, pause and rewind the scheduled programme, set things to record or watch recorded programmes on the iPad.
Unfortunately, only standard definition playback is available on the mobile device, but the fact that you can watch whatever's on your box from wherever you happen to be in the world is good enough for now.
The iPad (or whatever device you're using, we tried it with an Apple slate) can be used simply as the TV remote when you're at home if all those pesky buttons are too much for you.
Commands have a slight delay between being actioned on the iPad and carried out on the TV; none more so than when you're entering a channel number on the iPad keypad.
This, however, is intentional; the box uses adaptive rate technology (patent pending) which reduces the quality of the picture if the network you're using is slow. This means you might wait an extra second or two for the channel to change, but means you won't miss any of your programme due to judders and jolts in the network.
One annoyance in the core functionality of the box is that if someone in the household is watching television on the traditional set and someone is elsewhere using the mobile app, they can only watch the same thing. Fine if you live alone, but could prove problematic for anyone sharing a TV.
There's no Wi-Fi connection on the SlingBox so it needs to be wired up to Ethernet and therefore placed fairly close to your router.
Anyone who's used a SlingPlayer before will know how brilliantly convenient it can be when you're away from home, and the new Freesat-enabled EchoStar HDS-600RS is no exception despite the dual-use drawbacks.
We'll publish our full EchoStar SlingLoaded HDS 600RS review in due course.