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Sony's location-free TV makes local shows portable

The electronics maker begins to sell wireless television sets as it emphasizes advances in the boob tube.

Sony Electronics says it's building a better boob tube, adding picture zoom and mobility through wireless capability in hopes of jump-starting the television market.

On Oct. 15, the company began selling its LocationFree TV, a portable LCD television panel that uses Wi-Fi wireless technology to receive video content and access the Internet from a base station hooked up to a broadband connection.

Sony is selling a $1,500 12.1-inch set, the LF-X1, and a $1,100 7-inch model, the LF-X5. The company says the televisions' wireless range is 50 feet from the base station. The sets feature picture-in-picture capability and can connect to camcorders, a PlayStation 2 and other consumer devices.

The televisions can access the base stations remotely over a wired or wireless connection so that a traveler can reach his or her base station to watch local television shows even when far from home. The televisions can also access content from a device connected to the base station--letting them play whatever they left in the DVD player before going on the road, for instance.

LocationFree TV is part of a larger Sony effort to boost the fortunes of one of its more profitable product categories, televisions. The company also developed the new DRC-MFv2 or "Digital Reality Creation Multifunction" controller chip, which lets viewers zoom in, pan and tilt their perspective in television broadcasts.

Televisions have been a key part of the consumer electronics division, which is the largest contributor to the conglomerate's revenue. However, the company had been caught off-guard with the market's transition to flat-panel televisions and in general has been recovering from a stumble in its consumer electronics business.

Sony has been making significant headway with its Grand Wega line of rear-projection televisions and has made investments to make it more nimble in producing LCD-based televisions. Shipments of LCD televisions are up for Sony, but having to compete for the limited number of LCD panels has forced the company and other television makers to consider investing in the panel market.

Sony entered a joint venture, called S-LCD, with Samsung to build an LCD panel plant.

The new LocationFree TVs use LCD panels. The 12.1-inch set has a screen resolution of 800 pixels by 600 pixels and the 7-inch model has a display resolution of 800 pixels by 480 pixels. The 12.1-inch model weighs around five pounds, according to Sony. The televisions come with a universal remote control and an on-screen keyboard.

Similar models have been selling in Japan for years. Sony demonstrated the sets in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and announced U.S. models in May.