EchoStar Freesat HDS-600RS review

The Freesat audience may comprise Sky wobblers and value seekers, but that doesn’t mean they should be denied a little innovation to call their own. Enter the HDS-600RS, world’s first personal video recorder with integrated Slingbox.

The brand responsible for this eminently sensible marriage is Echostar. It acquired Sling Media in 2007 for $380million, and this is the first fruit of that union. By evolving Sling Player clients into apps and integrating placeshifting tech into the PVR itself, Echostar has come up with a highly clever contribution to the VOD (Video on Demand) revolution. 

The HDS-600RS looks predictably avant-garde. There seems to be an unwritten rule that anything from the Sling stable has to be an odd shape with dimples. And as if this Kerry Katona edict isn’t enough, the unit comes with nine bright red touch-sensitive graphics ranged across the front panel. This HDS-600RS is nothing if not an attention seeker.  Even the remote handset has a weird triangular design. 

Connectivity is less contrived. There are two F-connectors for the satellite feed, a pair of SCARTs, HDMI out, optical digital audio, Ethernet and stereo phono audio outputs. You also get two USBs. This duplication may a little unnecessary, given both are only for firmware updates. While you can’t (currently) access media from a flashdrive, Echostar is clearly giving itself wriggle room for future developments.

Set-up is much like you’d find on any Freesat box. Connect the dish, hook the receiver up to the TV via HDMI and fire up the Setup Wizard. You can use the feed from any standard Sky dish or commission a fresh Freesat dish install. If you only have a single rather than dual satellite feed available, you can still operate the box. But having only one operational tuner rather limits its recording functionality. Finally input your postcode details (to prioritise regional channel variants from the Freesat gods) and you’re good to view. 

Display options from the box include 720p, 1080i and a catch-all Best Available. SD channels are upscaled by the device. The general user experience is good. For each programme, there’s an i-bar which pops up briefly when you select a channel, giving Now and Next programme information; you can check if there’s a Dolby Digital track attached or if the next show’s in HD.

The HDS-600RS offers some refinements when it comes to recordings. While the default is for your shows to remain available until you delete them, there is an option to limit their residency on your box - from 1 week to 2 months. You can even rename them if you like. Ultimately, this Freeslinger behaves just like any other PVR.

The fun starts when you register it to your own personal Sling account. Provided you have the box networked, you can immediately begin to watch both live and recorded material on your PC or laptop. Just log into your account via a browser connection running the WebSlingPlayer extension (not all browsers are supported). When you view Slung(?) content in the browser window, there’s a clickable graphic of the remote control which makes navigation a breeze. 

To get content to a mobile device, you’ll need an app. We used the SlingMobilePlayer for iOS on an iPod touch. Although expensive at £18, it connected quickly to the HDS-600RS and we were soon watching live TV at a local Wi-Fi hotspot. There are also apps for the iPad and other smartphone devices.

Unfortunately, streaming video performance can be a little bumpy, dependant on connection speeds. We found the audio occasionally lost sync with the video, which rather took the shine off The One Show. Video quality can be considered SD Lite.

It’s worth noting that it’s not possible for two users or devices to log onto a single HDS-600RS at the same time. DRM restrictions dictate that you have to choose one or the other.

Verdict

With its sloping sides and funky indentations Echostar’s HDS-600RS may look more like confectionary than consumer electronics (definitely a bit Marmite) but it’s still a brilliant combination of placeshifter and PVR.

While there are some issues with the quality of internet streamed video (if your upload connection speed from the box is sluggish then you’re certainly going to suffer), the functionality works a treat. Well worth an audition.