Sony LocationFree Tops Slingbox Solo
Sling Media and Sony have updated their respective place-shifting devices for remotely viewing television and DVR content. I tested the $180 Slingbox Solo and the $250 Sony LF-V30 LocationFree Base Station, and found that the Sony delivered consistently higher video quality.
Like their predecessors, both devices sit between your cable or satellite box, DVR, or DVD player and your TV. (Your video source links to the TV via a pass-through connector.) The magic is in the hardware's ability to create an on-the-fly video stream, albeit at reduced quality, that you can view remotely using the included software (Sling Media's SlingPlayer and Sony's LocationFree client program). These apps--which you must install on each PC and handheld unit that you want to use to view your device's content--allow you to control the device as if you were sitting in front of it. Both apps display a virtual remote control that resembles the actual remote you have in your home. To use the software-based controls, you must attach an infrared (IR) blaster, included with both products, to your device. When you use the virtual remote to change the channel, for example, the request travels over the Internet and broadcasts via the IR device to your cable box, which then turns the channel.
Now in High-Def
The big news for both the Slingbox Solo and the LF-V30 is their ability to accept high-definition input. (The older Slingbox Pro supported HD only through a $50 HD Connect accessory). Setup for both units was easy, though the Sony had the edge: After I turned the LF-V30 on, my Vista PC found it on my wireless network and prompted me to connect to it. (With Windows XP you first have to connect the LF-V30 to your home network via a cable and then configure the device. Then you can set it up anywhere within range of your wireless router.) The Slingbox Solo comes only in an ethernet version, though you can add an optional $80 power-line networking kit (which I used for my tests).
The LF-V30 downscales video to a 640-by-340-pixel window, according to Sony, whereas the Slingbox Solo downscales to a 640-by-480-pixel window. The Solo had a slight advantage in video quality on my home network, but the Sony consistently delivered sharper, higher-quality video and better audio over the Internet. The effect of HD support was negligible, though, as video quality is largely determined by the available bandwidth, and even high-definition video quality degraded severely when I viewed it remotely.
The SlingPlayer software supports an impressive number of devices, including both Windows and Mac computers and a wide range of smart phones. The only mobile device the LF-V30 supports is the Sony PlayStation Portable. The one other drawback to the LF-V30 is that Sony includes just one copy of its LocationFree client software; you must download extra copies. (Editors' note: After our initial review, we learned that the company stopped charging for the software download, and now offers it for free.)
If you want to stream your TV content to your smart phone, buy the Slingbox Solo. If you simply want remote access to your TV content, I recommend the Sony LF-V30 chiefly because it's easier to set up and delivers better video.
Sling Media Slingbox Solo
Multiple OS and device support makes this a good choice for mobile users.
Price when reviewed: $180
Current prices (if available)
Sony LF-V30 LocationFree Base Station
Easy-to-set-up device delivers crisp video and audio.
Price when reviewed: $250
Current prices (if available)