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Sling revamps entry-level place shifting box, adds apps and TV guide to premium model

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Sling Media revamped its line of place shifting boxes, introducing a new entry-level device dubbed the M1 that’s going to retail for $150, and a slightly overhauled SlingTV, which is basically the same hardware as the two-year-old Slingbox 500 but with new apps and an overhauled UI.

Both devices are still based on the same premise: Consumers who have cable at home and want to watch live TV or DVR recordings on the go can use a Slingbox to stream to mobile devices, computers and even Roku boxes, and viewers that have one cable box but don’t want to rent another can use the device to shift TV within their own home.

What’s new is a growing focus on online apps and content: SlingTV, which retails for $300, comes with apps for Blockbuster’s VOD service and DishWorld. The device is technically capable of running HTML5 TV apps for other services as well, but Sling Media SVP and General Manager Michael Hawkey told me during a recent interview that he doesn’t have the deals to include services like YouTube (S GOOG) or Netflix (S NFLX) just yet.

The new SlingTV, which is basically the same as the Slingbox 500 with a new name and UI.
The new SlingTV, which is basically the same as the Slingbox 500 with a new name and UI.

SlingTV also comes with a new, flashier UI that includes a modern, dynamic TV guide that can be sorted by categories and that includes real-time sports metadata from Thuutz, allowing sports fans to see which of the games currently airing is the most exciting. Asked why cable subscribers need yet another guide, Hawkey told me that some consumers are stuck with legacy boxes with much uglier and less useful grid guides, adding that this would essentially bring the power of a modern cable box like the Comcast (S CMCSK) X1 to households with legacy devices. Existing Slingbox 500 owners will get the guide and new UI with a system upgrade.

The new guide is exclusive to SlingTV, which features HDMI pass-through, making it possible to take a digital HD signal from a cable box and overlay the guide on top of it. The newly-introduced M1 doesn’t come with these bells and whistles and instead squarely focuses on place-shifting. In many ways, it’s similar to it’s slightly more expensive predecessor, the Slingbox 350, save for the addition of integrated Wi-fi.

In addition to these hardware changes, Sling is also re-introducing its desktop apps for Windows (S MSFT) and OS X, and Hawkey said that it is looking to discontinue its web app in the near future — which seems backwards to me, given that it will lock out Chromebook users. But then again, I’m not really the target audience of these devices anyway: Both the Slingbox M1 and the SlingTV require cable TV to work. The company stopped selling models with integrated tuners for over-the-air TV years ago.