Which consumer product first enabled any PC with an Internet connection to remotely control a set-top box or DVR and stream live or pre-recorded television to it? If you answered “Slingbox,” you’re mistaken. It was actually Sony’s LocationFree TV.
So how did a startup manage to swoop in on one of the world’s best-known television manufacturers and steal a TV-related market right out from under its nose? Simple: Slingbox had better marketing, tighter focus, and a superior product. Sony is now introducing its fourth place-shifting device, but it’s no Slingbox killer.
The LF-V30 offers component-video input (and pass-through) to accommodate high-definition TV, but the image that’s streamed is downscaled to QVGA (320x240). In spite of that relatively low resolution, the image quality is excellent. The Slingbox Pro is wired for high definition, but you must purchase a dongle separately in order to make use of it. On the other hand, the Slingbox Pro also has a built-in tuner, so a remote user can stream unencrypted TV without forcing homebound viewers to watch the same channel.
Most of the features we liked about Sony’s older video-streaming products are still here: It can operate as a wireless client on your network (all Slingbox models must be hardwired), or it can stream while hardwired to your router or switch (and act as a wireless access point). The LF-V30 has two IR blaster ports, so it can control a whole bunch of hardware. Its front-mounted IR receiver can “learn” your remote control with a single button press. And it’s the only device capable of streaming video to a PSP.
Sony puts one copy of its LocationFree client in the box (and bundles the $30 software with its VAIO notebooks), but pig-headedly insists that consumers buy another copy for streaming to each additional PC. But what really saps our enthusiasm for the LF-V30 is the absence of a smartphone client. For that, the Slingbox remains the only game in town (Monsoon Multimedia’s mobile client for their HAVA Gold, reviewed in our March issue, is still in beta.)
UPDATE, NOVEMBER 9, 2007: Sony has just confirmed to Maximum PC that they intend to drop the $30 license fee the LocationFree client and will make the software available for free on their eSupport website, possibly as early as the end of November. They're also working with a third-party software developer to create a mobile client for Windows Mobile 6.
Weighted Companion Cube
Acts as a wireless client; two IR ports; can stream to PSP.
Why would you need to stream to a PSP? Low-resolution; no smartphone client.