Not long after TiVo got us addicted to time-shifting our TV programs, Slingbox popularized place shifting, giving us access to our home TV and video sources from far-flung places. Sony’s LocationFree B20 is a device that allows you to watch and control your cable/satellite TV, or another A/V source, using a broadbandconnected PC. The LFB20 works over WiFi, so I decided to test it out in both wired and wireless environments, at home and on the road.
I had a few fits and starts setting up the LF-B20 Base Station, but after a few hours of wrangling, I had it up and running on my WiFi network at home. This wasn’t the most difficult product installation I’ve encountered, but it may be challenging for those unfamiliar with routers and networking. Once the Base Station is in sync with your router, the system software will autodetect the brand of your DVR (or other source component) as you point the remote at the Base Station.
The software then creates an onscreen remote on your PC, which can also learn commands from other remotes in your system. The Sony software re-created all the controls on my DVR, except for the List button, which reveals all of my recorded content. I gather you can program the remote to add this button too, but I didn’t delve that deep.
Over my home network, the picture quality on my Wi-Fi-enabled laptop was good when I stretched the screen to about 7 to 8 inches, but started to get pixilated as I zoomed out from there. The picture also stuttered occasionally, but it wasn’t bad. When I brought the laptop into the office and hooked an Ethernet cable directly into our network, I was able to bring up my home DVR almost immediately.
When accessing the LocationFree system outside of a home network, you are limited by the upstream bandwidth of your broadband
connection, so the picture quality generally won’t be as good. As I was watching a football game, for instance, the picture would break up and blur all too often, especially when the quarterback was scrambling and the action picked up. When I turned to a comparatively sedate golf tournament, however, the picture was much more stable. So I’m not sure I would watch action-oriented sports on the road, but normal programs that don’t have fast-moving images looked pretty good, especially when the screen was reduced to a 6–7-inch range.
If you have the patience to tackle the networking and configuration that’s involved, the Location-Free system’s unique and useful features for place-shifting video will make it worth the trouble.