On holiday in Afghanistan? Want to watch a bit of Total Wipeout in HD? Sorry, pal, no can do. Unless you have a ‘Slingbox’, that is.
If you haven’t heard about Sling kit, the idea is simple. Connect the box to your aerial or cable/Sky box as well as to your router, then you can log-in anywhere in the world, and watch your content just as if you were sat in front of the TV at home.
The Echostar HDS-600RS, however, cleverly helps eliminate kit-rack clutter by including twin Freesat HD tuners and a 500GB hard drive.
This futuristic-looking box has light-up, touch-sensitive buttons and an easy-to-read LCD on the front panel, while round the back you’ll find an HDMI output, Scart sockets for a TV and video recorder, optical audio connection, stereo phono sockets, a USB port, two LNB dish connections and that all-important ethernet socket.
There’s no wi-fi on board. If your router’s in a different room, we (and Echostar) suggest using a powerline kit. Rounding off the package is a nice-looking learning remote.
Set-up is an easy five-minute affair. Enter your postcode (so you can receive relevant local stations), wait for the Echostar to find the channels, and that’s it.
Delve into the menus, though, and you can get geeky with picture and sound settings – always a plus.
Crisp Freesat HD pictures
Get it all up and running and the news is good. The Freesat HD picture is crisp and clean, with solid, well-tracked motion even in fast-paced scenes.
It’s a big leap from the Freeview HD on our reference Panasonic set. Colour is a little vivid, but it’s balanced by decent contrast and a nice line in skin-tones.
Sound could be a little better (it has a slightly compressed feel) but it’s not a major gripe. The same is true for standard-def: it’s a stable all-round performance.
The PVR functions are simple to use, with easy-to-navigate menus and the ability to series-link programmes. Recorded shows are indistinguishable from their broadcast counterparts in both HD and SD.
So, back in Kabul, how do you get your fix of Don’t Scare The Hare? Simply log in
to your Slingbox account on a computer or launch the mobile app, and the box
will boot up back in your living room.
Decent broadband is essential – and we don’t just mean download speeds. Since
the box sends video out to you, you’ll need a minimum of 600kbps upstream
for watching on a PC, and 150kbps if you’re using a mobile are a must.
Anything less and the menus get hard to read.
Virtual remote control
The desktop version gives you a virtual remote control, via which you can access
all the menus, library and EPG functions as you would at home.
It can get sluggish, but not frustratingly so, and for us the novelty and convenience outweighed any stalling.
The Mobile app is a little trickier: it relies on overlaid buttons and menus, so things can get cluttered when you’re browsing the EPG.
We’d prefer a text-based interface; then you could just tap items on the touchscreen. But again, once you’re used to it, it’s no nightmare – and it isn’t Echostar’s fault, as the company didn’t design the app.
Fast broadband is essential
With all forms of remote viewing, picture quality depends on your home broadband – but users blessed with fast connections can enjoy crisp, clean video and sound.
You can also access BBC iPlayer. The interface isn’t as polished as some, but the picture is good; you get different quality settings depending on your connection speed.
As we write this, ITV Player isn’t available – but Echostar says it’s coming.
We like the HDS-600RS. The mobile side needs work, but it’s no biggie. The system offers a unique way to watch your content, and it’s a great Freesat HD PVR, too.