Television à go go

Sony's "revolutionary" LocationFree TVs don't quite live up to the hype.

Sony likes to describe its wireless LocationFree TVs as “revolutionary.” But given the prices, one wonders how widespread the revolution will be — $1,600 for a model with a puny seven-inch screen, $2,500 for a 12-inch. And while the concept is intriguing, execution in these first-of-breed models is less than perfect.

The LocationFree TV comes with a souped-up Wi-Fi network base station that wirelessly relays video from any source — cable or satellite set-top box, DVD player, VCR — to the flat-panel monitor unit, anywhere in the house. The hefty 12-inch monitor, which weighs 2.4 kilograms, has a briefcase handle for toting and a stand that folds out so you can prop it up.

Watch TV while you're making dinner. Heck, watch TV in the can. Or watch the game on the LocationFree TV while the family watches a DVD on the main TV. You can watch without any wires for two or three hours, then you'll have to plug the monitor in to the wall to recharge.

With some know-how, you can set the system up to send video over the Internet to anywhere you can connect the monitor to a high-speed service. You could take it to a Wi-Fi hotspot anywhere in the world and control and watch DVDs or a TV in your house. Impressive, but we're not sure why anyone would want to do it.

The monitor also lets you surf the web and send and receive e-mail. It comes with a PDA-style pen to tap menu selections and a virtual keyboard that appears on its touch-sensitive screen.

Picture quality was not terrific. Even when the monitor was in the same room as the base station and set to a network mode guaranteed not to interfere with other wireless devices in the house, the picture looked less than crisp. Worse, it occasionally froze or disappeared for a moment. Audio and video were sometimes out of sync. Performance degraded when I moved 20 or more feet from the base station.

The simplest setup of the LocationFree TV is very simple indeed. You connect standard RCA cables from the audio/video outputs on your video source to one of the two sets of A/V inputs on the back of the base station. Then you connect an Ethernet cable from the port on the base station to your home computer network router or cable or DSL modem to enable web and e-mail functions. I had it running in less than 30 minutes.

One snag: if your network hub or Internet modem are not in the same room as the TV equipment — and they're not in my house — you're looking at running wires from room to room. Very messy. Even if you have an existing wireless computer network, it's not possible to connect the base station wirelessly without plugging a bridge device (about $90) into its Ethernet port. This is a strange oversight since everything else about the product is wireless.

Bottom line? If the idea of watching TV wherever you go excites you, check it out. If you're still scratching your head about how you'd use it, take a miss. The product itself won't make it any clearer.