Streaming your home TV to your mobile devices

A new generation of 'placeshifting' devices allows you to stream your home TV on your laptop or iPhone.

Do you have March Madness on the brain but worry you’ll miss that crucial early-tournament matchup if the boss wants you to stay late? With the latest generation of place-shifting digital video products, you won’t have to miss a single shot of Villanova’s drive to the final, and you can catch the episode of Lost you recorded last night before someone around the office coffee machine spoils it by telling you the castaways were all in purgatory (not true).

Place-shifting or ‘location-free’ devices allow users to access the same content and recorded programmings they pay for at home, from anywhere. Sony, Monsoon Multimedia and other tech brands have contenders in this new product category, but leading the pack is Sling Media’s Slingbox Solo ($199). Created in 2006 by the Foster City, Calif.-based company, the Slingbox is regarded by critics as the most reliable and easiest to use.

All you need is a little black box connected to your home digital video recorder or digital cable box, and a high-speed Internet connection, and you’re in business — most people will have it up and running within half an hour. To stream live television, you’ll need a relatively new Mac or PC. Using an additional app called SlingPlayer Mobile, consumers can also now access their Slingbox through their BlackBerry, Palm or iPhone. With the invention of next-generation wireless networks that provide for the speedy transfer of big video files, these apps are suddenly a lot more viable.

Software that comes with the Slingbox optimizes the settings of your computer’s central processor and graphics card. Once running, users watch video through a widow that is similar to QuickTime or Windows Media Player. The system allows you to change channels and even access shows you’ve recorded on your home personal video recorder.

In Canada, Bell is the first to license SlingGuide, a service launched in February that allows users to remotely search, as well as change recording schedules in English or French. Bell calls the service Remote PVR.

There are still a few potential glitches in using these devices, largely relating to slower CPUs or overloaded networks. But once those are hammered out, place-shifting devices are poised to change the way we watch TV. Think about it: the next time you’re on the road, no need to worry that the hotel you’re checking into doesn’t have ESPN. As long as you’re paying for the content at home, you’ll never have to miss another college basketball game again.

The tools

Slingbox Solo
Pro-HD Media model $199
The pioneer in the segment is also the most popular. It’s simple to set up and easy to use.

Monsoon Multimedia $150
Hava has won fans with its steady picture on home networks, though it can be less reliable in home settings.

Location Free Player LF-PK1
Sony $349
Sony’s version, the priciest of the lot, is compatible with your PlayStation Portable (PSP) or Windows-based PC.