Sony LocationFree review
Sling Media’s Slingbox was the first product we’d seen to provide an easy way to shift content – such as live TV or DVD movies – available in your home to devices on the internet. Now, Sony has thrown its hat into the ring, and like the Slingbox it’s a relatively mature technology: the LocationFree Player Pak has been available in the US for a while, and is only now arriving in UK.
Setup is simple: attach the AV equipment of your choice, plug the box into your network, and you’ll be able to access it wirelessly from your local network (or via the integrated access point). Even better, you can connect to it from anywhere in the world with a suitable broadband connection – a compelling concept, although not without its problems.
The hardware element of the Player Pak consists of a paperback-sized box, with an Ethernet port and two composite video/audio inputs. A scart converter cable is also included. It’s hardly generous, but is fine for most people.
Unlike the Slingbox, there’s no DVB-T tuner present, so you’ll need to attach a set-top box or other device to get anything useful out of the LocationFree. If you have a busy household, you’ll definitely need a dedicated cable connection or Freeview tuner, as it commandeers whatever device you’re accessing.
The LocationFree does have a unique trick up its sleeve, though: the ability to stream to Sony’s PSP gaming console. All you need is the latest firmware revision (2.7 onwards), and then it’s just a matter of downloading the latest remote-control definitions and connecting to the base station.
There’s a single IR blaster supplied to replicate the codes of your AV device’s remote control but, while the range of supported devices is broad, there are no guarantees, particularly with generic DVD players or older VCRs.
To watch on a PC, you’ll need to install the LocationFree player software (the licence only covers one machine) before “authorising” it over the local network. As with the PSP, this involves pushing a Setup button on the back of the LocationFree box and confirming the pairing onscreen. In a break from Sony’s often garish software offerings, the interface is stylish, simple and intuitive.
Image quality was surprisingly good, particularly on the PSP, with MPEG4 being used to compress video to an appropriate bandwidth and a sensible level of buffering keeping playback smooth. We had no problems over wireless either, with only very occasional dropouts. You’ll need a decent broadband connection at both ends, though.
All in all, it’s surprisingly easy to set up and use, particularly if your AV equipment is supported, and the integration with the PSP is a major plus. But it’s ultimately much too restrictive to get a recommendation: the single licence is ridiculous, and the fact that you have to be locally connected to authorise a device is another frustrating limitation, which the Slingbox avoids.
Ultimately, whether it’s right for you depends on your lifestyle. For the regular traveller with plenty of AV equipment and a PSP, it could be just the ticket. But aside from the PSP integration and wireless access point (which is largely negated if you already have a wireless network), there’s nothing the LocationFree does that the Slingbox doesn’t do more effectively.