Sling Media's SlingLink Hands-On Review

Sling Media has done everything they can possibly think of to make setting up and using the Slingbox as easy as possible, but for some, one of the hardest parts of the process is getting the Slingbox connected to the home network. Since most people do not have a wired Ethernet jack conveniently located near their video source, like a cable/satellite box or TiVo, getting connected often involves fiddling with Wi-Fi adapters or long cable runs. Sling Media is looking to solve all that with their new SlingLink™ Ethernet connection bridge.

What's a SlingLink?

The SlingLink is Sling Media's new power line based Ethernet bridge for easy connection of the Slingbox to a home network. Just how the Slingbox placeshifts video content from one place to another, the SlingLink placeshifts an Internet connected Ethernet jack to any electrical outlet in your home. In minutes, you can create a new network jack capable of connecting your slingbox, game system, or other PC to the Internet.

SlingLink Features

  • Least expensive way to connect your Slingbox to your router without wires
  • Optimized for use with the Slingbox
  • Simple one-step installation
  • High speed, supporting up to 14Mbps connection

The Specs

Dimensions: 3.8 in. W x 4.1 in. H x 1.25 in. D
Weight: 4.6 oz.
Power requirements: 100-230v AC @ 50/60HZ
Network: (1) RJ-45 Ethernet Jack
Display:(3) front panel LEDs:

  • Power
  • Powerline Link/Activity
  • Ethernet Availability

The Box & Contents

When the SlingLink showed up at my door, I was first surprised at how large the box was. I couldn't see why something as small as the SlingLink needs a box that measures in at 10in.x10in.x4in. Maybe they got a deal on oversized boxes, or maybe they just don't trust your local UPS man, but whatever the reason, the chances of these babies getting damaged during shipping are pretty slim.

Package contents

(2) SlingLink adapters
(2) 3 Meter Ethernet Cables
(1) CD-ROM with Windows software
(1) quick setup guide
(1) Registration card

Sling Media includes more than just the two SlingLink adapters in the box. They are kind enough to also include two three-meter Ethernet cables, so unless you need a cable longer than 9.9 feet, everything you need to get up and running is in the box. [[page]]

The SlingLink adapter

The SlingLink adapter itself is not unlike other HomePlug adapters I've seen and used in the past, except this one is slimmer, and much more attractive. At only 1.25 inches deep, it stays relatively flush to the wall when plugged in. Don't worry if you have to keep it out in plain sight, the high-tech style is much more attractive than other HomePlug adapters, and it perfectly matches the sleek silver and red look of the Slingbox.

[[ad]]On the face of the SlingLink, there are three activity lights: one to indicate power, one for the status/activity of the link, and one to tell you if the Ethernet cable is plugged in correctly.

Sling was also kind enough to omit polarity and the ground pin for the electrical connection, which means that the SlingLink can plug into the wall a few different ways (nice if you have horizontally mounted outlets).

No Power Strips

As I went to set up the SlingLink, I paid special attention to the warning sticker on the bottom. Sling recommends that the SlingLink be plugged directly into a wall socket, and not into any surge protectors or power strips. Many surge protectors and power strips include an RFI filter, which has the potential of eliminating the frequencies used to transmit data to and from each adapter.

This can certainly complicate some installations...including mine. The closest unused outlet to my Slingbox was about 20 feet away on the other side of a three-way fireplace. The outlets close to my Slingbox have power strips and surge protectors on them (even some with power strips plugged into power strips), each nearly full with other devices plugged in. I had no choice but to use a 25-foot Ethernet cable and run it around the fireplace to the open outlet. I even ran into the same problem near my router, which is plugged into a surge protector along with 5 million other things. Just like upstairs, the only open outlet is on the other side of the room. I was out of long Ethernet cables, so this time I had to unplug one of my power strips to create an open outlet. Sorry to anyone who tried to fax me during this test... [[page]]

Plugging It In

Sling Media says that setting up the SlingLink is supposed to be a plug and play operation, and they weren't kidding. Once each SlingLink adapter is plugged in to an electrical outlet and the Ethernet cables are properly connected, installation is complete. Even with unplugging strips and finding my extra long cable, the total installation time was less than 5 minutes. I sat down at my computer and launched the SlingPlayer application, and within a moment's time, the picture from my upstairs cable box appeared on my screen.

SlingLink Configuration Utility

SlingLink is designed to work right out of the box without software, but Sling included a CD with a configuration utility. Curious to find out what it did, I dropped the CD into my drive. Installing the software only took about minute, and the Installation Wizard closed. Unfortunately, there was no option to launch the program from the wizard after install, forcing me to double click the desktop icon it created without asking.

There isn't really much to the Configuration Utility, especially when you consider that the SlingLink really doesn't need any configuring to work. From the utility you can browse your powerline devices and set a security password, but the most useful tool is the link analyzer, which tells you the quality of the link between the SlingLink adapters. It informed me that my link was excellent.

SlingLink Performance

Sling Media claims that the SlingLink is capable of streaming at 14 Mbps. Prior to setting up the SlingLink I had been using a D-link 802.11b Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge to connect my Slingbox to my network (read the official Slingbox review to learn more). So, I was not expecting any drop in performance compared to my Wi-Fi connection. Sure enough, the average streaming speed varied between 1300 and 1500 Kbps, just like my Wi-Fi bridge.

Even though it was performing the same as my Wi-Fi bridge, I was still curious to see if the SlingLink was actually providing the claimed speed. To find out, I moved the Ethernet cable from the Slingbox to the network jack on a nearby PC, and timed how long it took to transfer files from a remote computer. I started with a single 166MB file, which should take around 95 seconds from start to finish if sent at 14 Mbps. The transfer finished at 245 seconds (roughly two and a half times longer than expected), which indicates an average transfer speed of 5.4 Mbps. I also ran the test on a 100MB folder to see how it would handle multiple small files, which averaged out to a speed of 5.01 Mbps.

Not getting the quoted 14Mbps speed can be caused by many factors, like distance and noise on the power line, that will affect the top transfer speed of the SlingLink. A 5 Mbps link is way more bandwidth than the Slingbox will ever use, and is plenty for a remote PC to browse the Internet. [[page]]

Through the Power Strip & Beyond

I mentioned above that Sling Media recommends that the SlingLink be connected directly to a power outlet, and not plugged in to a power strip or surge protector for reasons mentioned above. Then, while looking at an Ethernet cord wrapped around my fireplace, and my powerless fax machine, I thought to myself, "Self... I wonder what will happen if I plug it into a power strip or surge protector." At least then I could hide the wires. Dare I be dangerous...?

I started by plugging one SlingLink into the same power strip as my router, which allowed me to hide both it and the Ethernet cord. At the other end, it turned out that to hide the SlingLink and cord near my cable box, I would actually have to plug the SlingLink into a power strip that was plugged into a surge protector... a double whammy.

I really wasn't expecting it to work, since I knew for a fact that my surge protector has a pretty decent RFI filter, but when I viewed the link quality in the SlingLink Configuration Utility, I was still getting a signal...albeit a poor one.

Firing up the SlingPlayer told a different story. It connected to the Slingbox the same as before, and the results were astonishingly good. Even with the signal going through 2 power strips and a surge protector, I was still streaming at 1400 Kbps. Continuous use proved that a poor quality link can be a bit erratic, as the speed would occasionally drop to the low 500s, and fluctuate everywhere in-between. It's not anything I would notice if streaming from a coffee shop or hotel, but I like my in-network performance to be as high as possible. I figured out a way to rewire the SlingLink near my cable box so it only had to go through the power strip, and I've been streaming in the 1400 - 1500 Kbps range ever since. Many basic power strips do not contain RFI filters, so you shouldn't have any problems using them with the SlingLink if you have no other choice.

Final Thoughts

Sling Media has delivered a winning accessory with the SlingLink. It does exactly what they wanted it to do... make connecting a Slingbox to a home network as simple as possible. I could comfortably give a Slingbox and SlingLink to my grandmother, and feel confident she could get everything connected properly.

Anything negative I could say about the SlingLink would only be to nit-pick. The fact that you should try to avoid power strips doesn't make installation impossible, though it can make it a little harder. As far as speed goes, even if the best throughput you'll ever get is 5.4Mbps, you still have over three times more bandwidth than the Slingbox would ever use. Power users with a Wi-Fi network who can handle a more difficult setup process may want to stick with a Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge, considering that many 802.11b or g bridges are cheaper, and offer more flexibility for placement.

In the end, the SlingLink is a fantastic accessory for any Slingbox owner that doesn't want to get a networking degree to start Slinging TV shows. Oh, and if you need a powerline adapter for a computer, it'll work for you, too.


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