The Sony LocationFree System
Even the greatest of travel adventures have downtime. Maybe you’ve got an airport layover. Maybe you’re waiting for a bus. Maybe you’re stranded in a hostel somewhere due to inclement weather or illness. For whatever reason, at that moment, instead of experiencing the grand excitement that the whole thing was supposed to be, you’re sitting there bored. Enter the LocationFree video system. The LocationFree system from Sony Electronics is designed to allow viewing of video streamed from home to a remote location over the internet. This may sound fairly innocuous, but the features of the LocationFree base station, especially when used in conjunction with the Playstation Portable make the whole thing pretty impressive.
The Base Station
The main LocationFree unit looks like a simple black box with a large number of video inputs and outputs, a network connector, and built in wi-fi. It comes packaged with a number of cables that allow it to be hooked into a variety of video sources. This unit stays at home and interacts with your cable box, satellite TV box, DVR, or whatever else you choose to use with it. In my case, it was hooked into a satellite TV receiver.
The setup of the unit was quite involved, and would have likely been a bit confusing but for some help from the Sony techs. One of my few criticisms of the system is that the instructions packaged with it are somewhat spotty. First, I had to wire it into my home network and register it to the wireless net and then rig it up as a pass-through device on my satellite TV box. Next, I had to teach it to speak to the box by programming it with my remote control. This all took a good solid couple of hours of work. Once I got it done it worked quite smoothly.
Basically, once the setup was done, channel changing and video viewing could be done from anywhere. Video streamed nicely at a resolution of 640x240 to the PSP. At that resolution the video was crisp and clear. I used it at a number of hotspots including a couple of coffee shops, a college campus, and a library. I found that under most circumstances the video streaming was both clear and smooth. There were only two exceptions to this. First, when I was on a congested network I experienced skipping and the occasional outright disconnection that required a restart. Second, when bandwidth was throttled low, skipping made the video very difficult to watch.
According to the technician with whom I spoke, best performance takes as much as 300kb/s of connectivity with a minimum (with resolution cut in half) of 80-120k. In real world conditions (public hotspots) I found that I could get full video in about half the time. Still not bad, all things considered, and a small price to pay for having 500 channels in your pocket. There are also clients for the pocket PC, such as phones, but I did not have the opportunity to test those.
One problem I had with the system was in controlling my devices. I frequently had to repeat commands. This seemed to occur more often in areas of network congestion, leading me to believe that some of it was due to lost data going back to the base station. This also seemed to improve based on placement of the base station itself which seemed to have a strong effect on how well it communicated with the satellite box.
Using the PSP as a client device was an absolute pleasure. I had an easy time connecting to hotspots, and the video was bright, clear, and smooth. In fact, I would judge it to have one of the finest screens of its size available. I was not able to test any games on it so I cannot speak to the quality of the gaming experience that goes along with it.