When Slingbox first launched, placeshifting, as it quickly became known, was a technology to watch out for. Everyone got excited about the idea of using the internet to stream video from their home recorder.

Even Sony tried to jump onboard with its own short-lived implementation. Sling found a niche of sorts, but never went mainstream. People started to watch YouTube instead. Now the concept is back, hitching a ride on the coat-tails of a 500GB Freesat+ recorder. The result is the HDS-600RS reviewed here – the world’s first Sling-loaded PVR.

Distinctive design

As with previous standalone Sling-based products, the design of the HDS-600RS is unconventional. I rather like it, but accept it won’t be to everyone’s taste. The distinctive sloping sides and indentations are accentuated by a line of red soft-touch controls dominating the fascia. The rear of the unit is more conventional. Here you’ll find two satellite F-connectors, twin Scarts, an HDMI out, Ethernet, digital audio and stereo phono audio outputs. The receiver actually has two USBs, one of which is very visible on the front panel, but they can only be used for firmware updating.

The user interface is simple, but elegant. Hitting the Sling button on the remote pulls up the main menu, a neat graphical navigation bar which takes you to TV listings, favourite channels, library recordings, general settings and apps (the latter cupboard is a little bare).

As with any current Freesat receiver, you can access BBC iPlayer. It lurks on channel 901 and is also accessible via the Red button. At some point this will be joined by ITV Player. However you must have your box online via Ethernet to get it.

Usability is good. The Freesat EPG itself offers a standard genre shortcut in addition to the main channel guide. There’s a short pause when you move to the TV listing as it builds each channel list. There’s no Live TV thumbnail window with the TV listings, although audio does continue underneath. Conveniently, the remote controller itself is smart enough to be able to clone the control codes from your TV’s handset.

The HDS-600RS has a 500GB hard drive, and given the dearth of HD programming currently available on Freesat, this is going to enable you to timeshift a lot of shows (around 300 hours of SD-quality content). Image quality from Freesat’s channel bouquet can be uneven, as there are a fair few channels using a limited bitrate. However, this is balanced by some decent SD channels and a smattering of much nicer hi-def content (from BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, NHK HD).

So far, so PVR – what makes this box interesting is the Sling integration. Echostar calls it ‘TV anywhere’. Clearly, having placeshifting functions built straight into a set-top box is an inspired idea. It means you can watch live TV and what’s recorded on your HDS-600RS from either a PC or laptop, or a mobile iOS/smartphone device, without having to hook up extra gizmos. Basically, you can tune in anywhere there’s an internet connection, be it from your bedroom or a hotel room a continent away.

To test the box’s remote viewing option, I used an iPod Touch and the SlingPlayerMobile app, which sells for £18 on iTunes. It’s a high premium to pay, but is central to the appeal of the unit.

Taking control via this app proves a little bit clumsy; it doesn’t have the best interface and the lag between command and execution can be confusing (trying to conduct a Search on the BBC iPlayer proved all but impossible). But the novelty of catching up on the previous night’s recorded TV in a wi-fi hotspot should not be underestimated.

Fuzz factory

Although I used an iPod Touch, there is an iPad app as well. Frankly, the smaller screen of the Touch struck me as the better option, because picture quality streaming from the box is merely functional. The Sling system adjusts its video coder based on the speed of your net connection, but even uploading from a fibre optic network, I found the picture borderline fuzzy.

This generally unpolished video performance is largely unchanged since the last time I encountered a Slingbox, so while I’m sure things have progressed significantly under the hood, it’s still a disappointment.

As a standard PVR, the HDS-600RS is absolutely peachy. Picture performance on the box (both live and recorded) is perfectly acceptable, and it’s easy to use. However, it’s the integration of Sling’s ‘TV anywhere’ tech that really makes it stand out from the crowd.

If you’re looking for a Freesat recorder with a difference, then the HDS-600RS delivers. Wherever you happen to be.


HCC VERDICT

Echostar HDS-600RS
Price:
£190 Approx

Highs: A solid PVR performance; easy to use; integrated Sling Placeshifting functionality
Lows: SlingMobilePlayer app is expensive; poor quality streamed images to mobile devices and PCs
Performance: 3/5
Design: 4/5
Features:  4/5
Overall: 4/5


Specifications

HDD/PVR: yes 500GB
Tuner: yes twin Freesat+ HD tuners
HDMI: yes, one output with HDPC support
Component output: no
Digital audio output: yes
Phono audio output: yes
Dimensions: 386(w)x 280(d) x 58(h)mm
Weight: 3.86kg
Also featuring: TV and genre EPG; series linking; 2 x USBl Ethernet; learning remote; integrated Slingbox for ‘TV anywhere’