If Freesat needed a point of difference from terrestrial rival Freeview and the big Pay TV services of Sky and Virgin Media, then surely Echostar’s Sling-loaded HDS-600RS provides it. This subscription-free satellite receiver is an innovative mash up of PVR and placeshifter – a tech pairing that seems so obvious it’s almost a crime that no one’s made one sooner.
Echostar HDS-600RS: build and features
Dedicated Slingbox devices have been around for a while. They allow you to view content from an attached set top box on a PC, laptop or mobile device, anywhere you happen to have an internet connection. But they’re expensive and awkward to set up. This is the first time the technology has ever been built into a PVR.
Connectivity is like any other Freesat receiver. There’s a pair of F-connectors for the satellite feed, two SCARTs, an HDMI out, Ethernet, digital audio and stereo phono audio outputs. There’re also a pair of USBs, one on the front, the other on the rear. Disappointingly, they can only be used for firmware updates, although Echostar doesn’t rule out extra functionality at some point in the future. So for now the HDS-600RS cannot stream files from a PC or NAS, nor play sound and vision from a flash drive. AV traffic is always outward bound.
Echostar HDS-600RS: Sling-loading your PVR
Set up is much like that on any other Freesat box. It only takes a few minutes to hook a dish up and tune channels in. Sling-loading it takes a little longer. You’ll need to create an account on the Slingbox website, and add the PVR to your account using its unique ID. Once registered, you can log into your account via a browser running the WebSlingPlayer extension (not all browsers are supported), and watch either a live feed from the PVR or any recorded content in its library.
To view the FreeSling’s content on an Apple iOS device or smartphone you’ll need the appropriate app. We used an iPod Touch, downloading SlingPlayerMobile from iTunes for £18, read our review here.
Echostar HDS-600RS: Picture quality
In its straight PVR guise, the HDS-600RS performs well enough. Its 500GB hard drive is big enough to store around 300 hours of SD content. Given that Freesat only has a smattering of hi-def channels (BBC HD, BBC One HD, ITV One HD, C4HD and soon NHK HD), capacity should not be an issue. Recorded image quality is true to the source, and looks particularly fine from the BBC HD services. Naturally this box offers all the standard playback functionality you would expect of a digital recorder, including playing, pausing and rewinding live content and storing 300 hours of standard def footage on the 500GB hard drive.
Having access to your recordings from a remote device is altogether more novel. However, the user experience can be uneven. Streaming image quality from the box varies depending on the connection speed and we encountered some audio video sync problem between the browser and the iPod Touch. Although one benefit of Slinging video to a small screen device - instead of a tablet or laptop - is that the impact of these inadequacies is minimised.
Overall, we rate the HDS-600RS as a superior, if idiosyncratic, PVR. As a Freesat receiver it works well, and offers a solid performance helped by an easy to use UI. With the addition of Sling technology it becomes something rather more interesting and we applaud its innovation. There are issues regarding the quality of its streamed video, which while better than the original Slingbox, is functional rather then fantastic, and not as good the home TV viewing experience. However ultimately, the ‘TV anywhere’ functionality is about convenience. If you want to placeshift your telly, this is clearly the best device available to do the job.
Echostar HDS-600RS launch date: Out now, find out more from Echostar
Echostar HD600RS price: £350 online