Imagine checking out your local news channel during an international flight or enjoying your favorite baseball team live while on a business trip in Dubai.
Sony is notching up strong sales of a small black box that can do just that, providing that the airplane is Wi-Fi enabled and your hotel in Dubai has a broadband connection.
The book-size device plugs into your home TV antenna, converts the signal to the MPEG-4 digital standard, encrypts it for security and streams it over the Internet to your PC.
It also works with Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld video game device and compatible mobile phones will be out soon.
"I want to put it into any electronics device that has communications ability and a display," Satoru Maeda, head of Sony's LocationFree TV business, said in an interview.
This is not Sony's first try at what the industry calls "place-shifting TV." More than five years ago,a wireless flat-screen device designed to be carried around the house to view television or the Web.
But the product failed to gain much traction with consumers, who were excited about the idea but not happy about paying more than 100,000 yen ($852.20) for the device.
Sony's new LocationFree Base Station, which retails for about 32,000 yen ($272.70) in Japan, including proprietary software, seems to have struck a sweet spot.
It's a hit with Japanese men in their 30s and 40s, especially those stationed overseas who want to watch their favorite programming from Japan. The gadget can also be hooked up to a DVD recorder, allowing for viewing of prerecorded shows.
"People come into the store asking for the product by name. It practically sells itself," said a salesman at a major retailer in Tokyo's famous Akihabara electronics district.
License to sell
LocationFree TV has the full backing of Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer, in Las Vegas by showing how the PSP can show live television from anywhere in the world.
Sony currently sells the base station in Japan, the United States, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea, and plans to launch it in Europe later this year. It is aiming for global sales to clear 100,000 units in the business year ending on Friday.
Maeda said he expected sales to at least double in each of the next few years, but that Sony would actively look to license its technology to other electronics and software makers as a source of income and to ensure that the industry grows.
Earlier this week, Sony announced that it would license its location-free software for Windows Mobile and cell phones to Japan's Access Co. aiming to encourage the development of compatible mobile phones.
"We cannot develop this market on our own," Maeda said.
Sony only has a handful of competitors, the main one being U.S.-based Sling Media, but several new players are expected to pile into the market, which should boost competition and drive prices down.
Maeda said Sony's main advantage was its prime mover status and the fact that it held many key patents on the technology.
Still, he acknowledged there were hurdles to overcome.
In a demonstration of the technology at Sony's office, the quality of the picture on the PC was noticeably below regular TV viewing, while the picture on the PSP was very sharp and clear.
But indications are that many consumers don't care if the picture is perfect or not.
"People seem to be satisfied even if the picture quality is not great. They are just happy if they can see what they want even if they aren't at home," the Akihabara salesman said.