The Good Streams video sources, including live TV, to any broadband-connected Windows PC, Mac, or PSP in the world; no host PC or monthly charges required; built-in wireless networking includes the ability to act as a full-service access point for your home network; controls most cable and satellite boxes and DVRs; lets you "learn" remote codes for nonsupported devices and functions, just like a universal remote; includes full connectivity (with one set of pass-through outputs) for controlling two A/V sources.
The Bad Convoluted setup and installation; software remote support should be expanded and improved; Mac software clients--and additional Windows PC clients--cost extra; Windows Mobile client announced but not yet released.
The Bottom Line Sony's improved third-generation LocationFree TV product includes several cool features--including wireless connectivity, PSP compatibility, and remote control customization--but setup headaches and software limitations keep it from being a true Slingbox killer.
Sony LF-B20 LocationFree Base Station (wireless)
Like the Sling Media Slingbox, Sony's LocationFree products enable viewers to view and control TV channels from their home cable or satellite boxes on any broadband-connected PC, be it elsewhere in the home or anywhere in the world. In fact, Sony's first LocationFree products--the LF-X1 and the LF-X5--were available a year before Slingbox's summer 2005 debut, but they were hobbled by high prices, the need for proprietary viewing hardware, and a steep learning curve when it came to installation and setup. The company followed up with the improved LF-PK1, a simplified Base Station that let users watch TV with a PC software client or on the Sony PSP (so long as it was in range of a Wi-Fi signal), but that $350 device remained more expensive and harder to use than the Slingbox, which had since undergone a number of substantive firmware and software upgrades.
But Sony has gone back to the drawing board and come up with a new iteration of the LocationFree TV hardware: the LF-B20 ($250) and the LF-B10 ($200). Both new Base Stations equal the basic features of the latest second-generation Slingbox models: the ability to control one or two A/V sources--a cable or satellite box plus a DVD player or DVR, for instance--that are connected via composite or S-Video inputs. Moreover, like the latest Slingbox models, the new LocationFree boxes boast updated chipsets that can utilize H.264 AVC video encoding (the same efficient video compression used by the video iPod, as opposed to the older MPEG-2 version found on previous LocationFree boxes). Additionally, the LF-B20 includes a feature you won't find on any Slingbox model to date: built-in 802.11a/b/g wireless. That means--unlike the Slingbox and the otherwise identical LF-B10--the LF-B20 can interface with a home network via Wi-Fi without the need to connect an Ethernet cable.
Furthermore, Sony is expanding the ways in which you can watch LocationFree streams. Currently, the video from existing and future LocationFree Base Stations can be viewed on any broadband-connected Windows PC (using Sony's included software); any Mac OS X machine (using software from I-O Data); the Sony PSP (just upgrade to the latest firmware, version 2.50 or later); or even one of the original LocationFree LCD tablets, such as the aforementioned LF-X1. The company is also working with Japanese software developer Access, owner of the Palm operating system, to develop a Windows Mobile client for handhelds and smart phones. And a forthcoming companion product promises to beam LocationFree signals to other TVs in the house. (Viewing software also has been announced for the Sony Ericsson P990, but it's unclear when and where it will be available and whether the software will work on other Symbian-powered smart phones as well.)
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