Sony LocationFree Base Station LF-V30 Review

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$249

Pros: Streams live TV to any PC or PSP; Integrated Wi-Fi

Cons: Complicated setup; Expensive; Limited smart phone compatibility

Verdict: Sony's latest TV place-shifting device adds HD compatibility, but a complicated setup and lagging support for smart phones makes it second fiddle to the Slingbox.

Sony's third-generation LocationFree Base Station, the LF-V30, has the features to be a real contender against the Slingbox Solo by offering compatibility for HD video sources with HD component video compatibility and built-in Wi-Fi support. However, a complicated setup process and bland-looking software keep this place-shifting solution from getting our recommendation.

LocationFree TV LF-V30 Design

The black vertical-standing LocationFree TV LF-V30 is no bigger than a shoebox, and looks a lot like a videogame console. Included is a snap-on plastic base that allows you to stand the 7.8 x 5.3 x 2.2-inch device right next to your television set. The front of the box contains a power switch, a setup mode button, a reset switch, and three LED status lights.

On the back are inputs and outputs that include S-Video and A/V component and composite ports. An Ethernet port and two infrared (IR) blaster ports are also located on the rear of the station. Missing, however, is HDMI support. You can connect to a high definition set-top box via the component ports, but the LF-V30 downgrades the image to a standard-definition signal. Sony's component video support merely broadens the amount of audio/video devices that are compatible.

Rewarding, but Tricky Integration

Hooking up the LF-V30 to our Time Warner Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD cable box was simple, but connecting the base station to our Wi-Fi network was frustrating. We had to configure a number of the settings manually, and relaunch the application a number of times. The vague user manual could mean phone calls to customer service for the novice user. Likewise, configuring remote access to the LF-V30 means going to Sony's wonkish and frustrating LocationFree Net AV Web site. It took us only 30 minutes to set up the Slingbox AV; setting up the LF-V30 took three times that.

Once we were finally up and running, we were able to view our home DVR and cable TV on our laptop. Whether we were watching in the room next to our TV or in a different state, the connection to the LF-V30 was quick, taking no longer than 30 seconds to start streaming video. Video appears in a window, with basic controls for connecting to the base station and adjusting the video stream just below it. An on-screen remote had all the necessary controls, but was bland compared to Slingbox's almost exact replica of our real remote. Plus, there's no favorite channel option or corresponding channel icons like those that come with the Slingbox software. Although Sony didn't have the look-alike remote for our specific set-top box, the newest LFA-PC30 software has increased the number of replica remotes.

LF-V30 Performance

On our home network TV shows streamed with impressive quality; we noticed few pauses, and the picture was bright with virtually no jaggies. We enjoyed watching a full-screen live episode of Ellen on a local NBC channel. When viewing a recorded episode of Heroes remotely, however, the stream was much weaker. We still got a decent picture, but it froze a number of times. The quality improved when we minimized the video screen.

Sony allows PSP users to watch content streamed from their LF-V30, but we were disappointed that we couldn't easily watch our LocationFree from our smart phone. NetFront offers the LocationFree Player for Pocket PC, but it is limited to Windows Mobile 5.0 devices, and costs $19.80. There is no support for Palm devices, such as the Centro, or phones on Symbian's platform, such as Nokia's N95.

We're glad that Sony recently started to include two software licenses, and additional licenses are available through Sony's support site. Fortunately, the newest update for the PSP includes the LocationFree software free of charge. SlingPlayer for Mac and Windows is free no matter how many computers you download the app to; SlingPlayer Mobile for Palm, Symbian, and Windows Mobile 5 and 6 devices costs $29.99. And Sling Media has a beta version for BlackBerrys in the works.

Verdict

With its built-in Wi-Fi, the LF-V30's general feature set is good, but a frustrating setup, basic software interface, and lack of mobile device support make it underwhelming. To boot, its $249 price is lofty compared to the Slingbox Solo, which also offers component input but costs only $179. Maybe you should wait, and splurge on Slingbox's Pro HD ($400), which will be the first place-shifting box to stream true high-definition video.


Related Links:
Slingbox Solo Review
Sling Media's best box yet offers improved video quality, high-definition support, and expanded compatibility for an affordable price.

Slingbox AV Review
Test driving Sling Media's much improved TV streaming device.

SlingPlayer for Mac Review
Sling Media's TV-streaming software device delivers good performance and integration with other Apple hardware.
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Ports ethernet
Ports DC-in
Ports 2 IR blaster minijack
Supported Protocols 802.11a/b/g
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