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TV Unleashed: Slingbox Pro vs. Sony LocationFree

Place-shifting hasn't yet caught on, but its potential is great.


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by John R. Quain on January 17, 2007

Most people are accustomed to time-shifting their favorite shows, so they can put the kids to bed or do the laundry and still watch Desperate Housewives or the football game. But the idea of place-shifting, say, a Heroes episode from your living room in Chicago to your laptop screen in a hotel room in Jakarta is a relatively new concept.
 
Place-shifting hasn't yet caught on, because setting up the equipment to do it is, well, disorienting, but its potential is great. Connecting your TV to the Internet is a logistical challenge in most homes. But the two $250 set-top boxes featured in this review--the Slingbox PRO and the Sony LocationFree Base Station (read our review of the latest Sony LocationFree Base Station, the LF-V30) --are trying hard to make it easier.
 
The Contestants
The systems seem evenly matched at first glance. Both let you use a Web connection to take command of your home cable box, DVR, and DVD player and then stream the video signal to your online Windows laptop or Mac. Neither model charges a subscription fee; all you need is the box and a broadband Internet connection.
 
The Slingbox PRO and LocationFree systems now support handheld devices. The Slingbox PRO works with Windows Mobile 5.0, Symbian, and Palm OS smart phones, and the LocationFree works with PSPs and Windows Mobile.
 
Furthermore, both have managed to improve the quality of the compressed video they send over the Internet, thanks to chipsets that support H.264 AVC video encoding, a better solution for watching video over a network. But are either of these systems good enough-and easy enough-to bring place-shifting to the masses?
 
To find out, we tested their features using an HP Pavilion dv9000t laptop, a Motorola Q phone, a Sprint PCS Merlin S620 wireless card, and a PlayStation Portable. The home network we employed used a Linksys Wireless-N Broadband Router.
 
One word of warning: You need a broadband connection for either of these devices to function at optimum levels. And we don't mean a bargain-priced DSL connection. Ideally, you should have an upload speed of 400 Kbps or better.
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