Dish pushes firmware update to brick Slingbox devices

A Dish Network Slingbox device.
A Dish Network Slingbox device. (Graphic by The Desk)

Dish Network has issued a firmware update that permanently disables its network streaming device Slingbox.

The move comes after the satellite and streaming television announced it would stop supporting Slingbox devices after November 9, at which point it planned to permanently shut off servers that were needed to make the devices work.

Slingbox was developed in the early 2000s by Blake and Jason Krikorian, who wanted a way to watch sports events that were broadcast by their local television station in San Francisco. The device and its underlying technology allowed users to stream video from any source, including cable boxes and antennas.

The technology caught the attention of Echostar, the former parent company of Dish, who quickly made an investment in Sling Media. In 2007, Echostar announced it was acquiring Sling Media outright, with the company integrating Sling technology into some of its own hardware and streaming TV apps over time.

As time went on, other companies got involved in the streaming technology and service space, which made Slingboxes less attractive to ordinary TV viewers who were faced with a number of other, less-complicated ways to get live TV over the Internet. When Echostar separated from Dish, the latter quickly used the Sling name for its own direct-to-consumer pay television service, which The Desk covered in early 2015.

It isn’t clear how many Slingboxes are still actively in use. Still, the device has a devout following of users who were crushed when Dish announced last month that their beloved Slingbox would soon stop working.

Garry Dubois is one such Slingbox enthusiast. He came up with a solution called Slinger, which allowed Slingbox users to continue operating their device after Dish shut off the Slingbox servers on November 9.

Now, Dish appears to be targeting that method, too. The company this week implemented a firmware update for most Slingbox models that, when installed, permanently renders them useless.

Dubois told the website Light Reading that some users have been able to activate firewalls that prevent Dish from sending firmware updates to certain Slingbox models, but it’s not clear if that solution will hold up for long.

Slingboxes that have already downloaded the firmware update are basically doomed: Dubois said factory resets aren’t allowing Slingbox users back into their devices.

Dish has also pulled Slingbox apps from popular software marketplaces, including the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, so anyone who accidentally deletes the Slingbox app will probably not have any way of getting it back.

In the meantime, Dish is inviting anyone who has a bricked Slingbox device to check out their other products, including their streaming service Sling TV (which recently raised its starting price to $40 a month) and the satellite service (which introduced a three-year price lock guarantee on Thursday after a similar price increase).

Other users who still want a network-connected streaming device for live broadcast TV can check out Tablo’s line of DVRs, which are currently offered for as little as $90 thanks to some early Black Friday discounts.