We're huge fans of the Slingbox, which lets you access your home TV from any broadband-connected PC and many models of 3G smartphones. But the boxes have always had a fundamental problem of monopolizing the host video source (cable/satellite box or DVR); if you access your Slingbox remotely and somebody happens to be watching the home TV, both of you are forced to watch the same program.
That's just one problem that the new EchoStar SlingLoaded HD DVR 922 fixes. The "SlingLoaded" moniker basically means that it's got a Slingbox built-in. That, along with multiple satellite and over-the-air HD tuners, means that remote and local viewers can watch two separate video feeds (live or recorded TV) without interfering with each other--the kids can watch a Spongebob recording in the living room, for instance, while Dad watches a football game on his laptop via Sling.com. Dish is also showcasing a Wi-Fi-enabled flat-panel LCD TV that uses Sling technology to access the 922--toss it in the kitchen or bedroom, and you get another way to access your DVR and TV programming with no pesky wires or boxes.
The 922 has a laundry list of other features that viewers will appreciate. It's pretty much a supercharged version of the ViP722 (a previous CNET Editors' Choice winner), with such upgrades as a touch-pad remote control and support for onscreen RSS feeds (for weather, news, and stocks--similar to the widgets we've seen on other TVs and video products at this year's CES).
Sticklers that we are, we'd like to see the 922 support some online video services (beyond Dish's video-on-demand offerings); content from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and the like would go the extra mile to make this the ultimate set-top box. Still, if the 922 lives up to its potential, it's got all the makings of being one of the most full-featured DVRs we've seen to date. Look for the 922 to be available through Dish Network in the spring of 2009. It's only for Dish subscribers for now, but keep your fingers crossed that EchoStar can adapt it for cable providers in the not-too-distant future.