By WALTER S. MOSSBERG
Most people understand the concept of time shifting for television
shows. Using a digital video recorder, such as a TiVo, or a
videocassette recorder, you can record a TV program for viewing at a
time that is more convenient for you.
But there is another idea for making TV watching convenient that is
less well known. It is called "place shifting." Place shifting allows
viewers to watch TV shows they receive at home in other locations, and
on devices other than their TV sets.
Unlike time shifting, which has been around for decades, place
shifting is just getting going. A few portable video players are
available, but they can't play live TV, only shows recorded on special
TiVo models or relatively expensive TV-capable "Media Center" PCs. And
they are clumsy to use.
Today, however, place shifting of TV shows takes a big leap forward.
A Silicon Valley start-up company called Sling Media is introducing a
$250 gadget it calls a "personal broadcaster." This small device,
named the Slingbox, can beam any live TV show coming into your home to
an Internet-connected Windows PC anywhere in the world. It also allows
you to remotely watch shows you have recorded at home on a TiVo or
other digital video recorder.
The Slingbox gives you full control of your home TV and digital
recorder even if you are thousands of miles away. You can change
channels, use the program guide, and perform any action on the menus
of your TV or recorder just as if you were sitting in front of your
set. The home TV doesn't even have to be on at the time.
And, best of all, the Slingbox is just a piece of hardware, not a
service. It is a small silver box that simply sits between your cable
or satellite receiver and your home broadband Internet connection and
pumps your TV programs out via the Internet. It doesn't require a
TiVo, and it works with a standard Windows PC.
There are no periodic fees to pay, no membership is required and no
advertisements are beamed at you other than the normal commercials
that appear in the TV programs. All you shell out is the $250 for the
device itself. Starting today, it will be available at CompUSA and
Best Buy stores, and at those companies' Web sites.