Sony's LocationFree TV to go high-def

Sony will release a version of its LocationFree TV system on Dec. 1 in Japan with support for high-definition.

It's been the one big thing missing from Sony's LocationFree TV video streaming system, but high-definition support will finally arrive later this year, Sony said Wednesday.

A new version of LocationFree TV, which can stream TV and video images around the house via wireless, will be released in Japan on Dec. 1. But while the new "LocationFree TV Home HD" brings the long-awaited high-def support, there are still some things it can't do.

Until now LocationFree TV has been stuck in standard definition. That's because high-def digital TV transmissions require too much bandwidth to stream reliably -- about 20M bps (bits per second) -- and compression technology to make the signal smaller hasn't been able to work in real time.

This changes with the new LocationFree TV boxes, which are capable of recompressing a high-def signal in real time to an MPEG4 AVC stream that requires about 10M bps.

That means it can be streamed across 802.11a/b/g networks, although 11b streaming will require a strong signal for success.

As before the base station is connected to video signal sources, such as a high-def movie player or satellite tuner, and companion tuner boxes are connected to TVs around the home. Once linked together it's possible to watch video from the base station on TVs around the home.

While the receiver can be hooked-up to a television via an HDMI cable or analog high-definition component cable the base station only accepts analog high-definition signals, outputs for which are still commonly found on high-definition products in Japan. The reason for its lack of a HDMI input is due to copyright concerns, said Sony.

Also, unlike LocationFree TV boxes until now the new system cannot stream video across the Internet or a home network to terminals or PC clients. It will work on wireless only. This is the result of market research that discovered most users utilize LocationFree TV around their home and not across the Internet, said Masayo Endo, a spokeswoman for Tokyo-based Sony.

The company has no plans to stop selling the existing standard definition version with Internet streaming support.

The LF-W1HD will go on sale in Japan on Dec. 1 and will cost around YEN 50,000 (US$431). Sony has yet to decide on international launch plans.

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