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LocationFree LF-V30: Sony's latest stab at a Slingbox killer

Due September 2007, Sony's latest Slingbox competitor adds component video pass-through, an improved interface, and easier setup.

Sony LocationFree LF-V30
Sony LocationFree LF-V30

Gadget aficionados are well acquainted with the Slingbox, which lets you stream home TV signals to a wide variety of computers and smart phones. Less well-known is Sony's line of LocationFree products, which actually pioneered the "place-shifting" market a full year before the debut of the first Slingbox. The LF-V30 is the latest LocationFree product that Sony is hoping will steal some of Sling's thunder. The big upgrade on the $250 video streamer--slated to hit stores in September--is its component video inputs and outputs. They allow for HD-video compatibility, though the quality is ratcheted down to QVGA resolution when transmitted. As with the previous LF-B20, the new LocationFree model includes Ethernet and Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g) connectivity. Sony is further claiming that the LF-V30 can stream video using 20 percent less bandwidth, that it utilizes on-screen remote "skins" that match major DVRs, and that it's easier to set up than past models.

The LF-V30 will be the fourth iteration of the LocationFree line, and--for those interested in the palace intrigue of Sony's interdepartmental politics--it's now being shepherded by the company's VAIO PC division. The VAIO folks have been boosting their new baby by pre-installing the LocationFree viewing software on all notebooks that have shipped over the past few months. On paper, certainly, the LF-V30 is a viable competitor to the Slingbox Pro: it's got built-in Wi-Fi that is not available on the Slingbox, and it can go nearly toe-to-toe on compatibility, with the ability to stream to Windows PCs, Macs, Windows Mobile devices, as well as the PSP. (It also works with a single Sony Ericsson smart phone, the P990i, with software available on Sony Ericsson's support site.)

The updated specs show, at least, that Sony's been noting the criticisms of past models. I'm hoping the promised interface and setup improvements on the LF-V30 pan out, as the LF-B20 wasn't nearly as easy to set up and use as the Slingbox. It's also still a mystery to me why Sony doesn't expand compatibility to additional Sony Ericsson models--or add LocationFree viewing software to the PlayStation 3. Having the PS3 double as an extra cable or satellite box certainly couldn't hurt the game console's sales, nor that of the LocationFree base stations. Synergy, anyone?