As I mentioned in my review of the Dish Network Hopper whole-home HD DVR, I didn’t receive a Sling Adapter as part of my installed system, but intended to order one soon. After reading that, the folks at Dish were kind enough to send one over for me to test out, and after spending a few days with it, I thought I’d post a few first impressions.
Firstly, setting up the Sling Adapter is about as Plug and Play as any device I’ve ever used. The back of the adapter has a built in USB cable, which plugs into one of the Hopper’s two USB ports. If you’ve already set up a Dish.online account and downloaded the Remote Access app, you’re done. That’s it.
I’m not wholly unfamiliar with Sling products. I spent some time with a standalone SlingBox a few years back, and although I loved it in concept, I didn’t like the fact that it relied on the video output of my DVR, and effectively took it over when accessed remotely. The Dish Sling Adapter, combined with the Hopper box, works differently in that, as I said, there’s a direct USB connection only, and when you’re access the Hopper via iPhone or iPad (the only two devices I’ve tested), you’re tapping into one of the Hopper’s tuner’s directly. In other words, if I’m on the road and accessing a live broadcast, and my wife turns on the TV and brings up the Hopper’s tuner list, she’ll see the Sling symbol next to one of the tuners and know that it’s in use. Or, more realistically, she’ll just start changing channels, oblivious to the fact that the Hopper automatically selected one of the two available tuners for her.
The downside is that streaming video is a little laggier than I remember it being. If you’re wondering, no, Auto Hop doesn’t work via the Sling Adapter. I wouldn’t expect it to. But when I’m watching a DVR’d show remotely, I’ve had to develop a bit of patience when pausing, fast-forwarding, or rewinding. It takes in the vicinity of five seconds or so for a Skip command to register, and if you press another command–Pause, Skip Back, whatever–in those intervening seconds, things get a little erratic. I’ve honestly gotten to the point where I’ve given up on precision navigation; when a commercial pops up, I’ll hit the Skip button a couple of times, and just deal with a commercial or two before the show resumes. Otherwise, I might skip too far, end up having to skip back, and end up completely confused as to where I’m at.
That said, for movies, or cable shows with no commercials, I’ve found the whole Sling Adapter experience to be incredibly nifty. Video quality is great on a reliable WiFi Network, and on 3G, with four or more bars, it’s also as smooth as any other streaming video service I’ve used–Netflix mostly. Drop to three bars or less on 3G, though, and more often than not I get a signal error. And on public WiFi spots–Starbucks, mostly–I’ve found it necessary to drop down from HQ video to SQ.
On the whole, navigation is easy and intuitive — more so on the iPad than the iPhone, owing to the former’s larger screen. On the iPhone, when you select the DVR, you’re thrown into a list that includes everything, including PrimeTime Anytime recordings, whereas the iPad lets you pick between PTA and Recordings, as well as browse your scheduled recordings and timers, as well as check for DVR conflicts.
Is the Sling Adapter perfect when used in conjunction with a Hopper system? No, it’s not. For me, though, the few hiccups are easy to overlook, and given that the price is now $49, it’s well worth the money (especially when you consider that a standalone SlingBox costs many multiples of that price). Is the Sling Adapter in and of itself reason enough to migrate to a Dish Hopper system? No, not that, either. (Although there are any number of other reasons to do so). But if you’re a Dish subscriber and want to access your shows on the road, this one is kind of a no-brainer.