Just when you were getting your head around the distinctly sci-fi concept of timeshifting used by personal video recorders, some bright spark came up with the idea of placeshifting.
The concept is simple. Your TV is showing your favourite programme but you're not home to enjoy it – placeshifting enables you to watch it as it transmits or records it. You can be thousands of miles away but still apparently viewing your own TV screen. Whatever channels you have access to at home – Freeview, Sky+, plain old BBC and ITV – are all streamed over a broadband connection.
So far, then, the LocationFree seems almost identical to the Sling Media Slingbox. But while there is a slight air of 'me too' about Sony's launch, the LocationFree differs from the Slingbox in a couple of respects.
First, it's much smaller. This is a neater, more classically 'digital-home'-styled product than the Slingbox. The LocationFree has the benefit of a built-in Wi-Fi router, while another big pull is the fact that Sony's offering can be viewed on a PSP (PlayStation Portable), neatly tapping into the PSP's success and its practicality as a video-viewing platform. Slingbox isn't able to do this (yet), so points go to Sony on that front.
Unfortunately, the LocationFree limits you to a single playback device – your laptop or your PSP – while Sling Media's product lets you view media served up by your Slingbox on multiple devices, including PDAs.
We found setting up and using the two devices a similar experience. If you're tech-savvy enough to have Wi-Fi at home, you'll be fine. Both can cope with fluctuating bandwidth and offer viewable playback even at the lower broadband strata.