Watching your own TV, thousands of miles away
By Ben Berkowitz
AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - So you're moving from the United States to another country and the most important thing you can think of is how you can watch the new season of "American Idol"?
You're not alone -- "placeshifting" is one of the hottest new areas in TV technology. People no longer need to live in a country to see all of their local TV stations. In fact, they don't even need a TV anymore.
There are platforms for watching popular shows on the Internet and there is technology to actually make a full television feed available just like in the living room. Either way, it can be relatively cheap and surprisingly easy to keep up while on an overseas assignment.
The best-known technology for moving an entire TV feed from one place to another is the Slingbox, which came out a few years ago. Although the developer was later acquired by satellite company EchoStar, the device works with any platform, even an over-the-air antenna.
The Slingbox, which currently comes in two models starting at $180, connects to a video feed and to the Internet, and lets users watch that feed as though they were in the same room. It even offers an on-screen remote control for changing channels, pausing, opening menus, and so on.
The Slingbox is available for Windows and Mac, as well as the BlackBerry, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Symbian and classic Palm mobile platforms.
One downside of the Slingbox, is that it does not offer wireless support out of the box, meaning users need to put their Slingbox close to their Internet router or buy a separate wireless or home powerline adapter. Also, it is not designed to let users record video onto computers.
For those who want wireless or who want to record to a PC, Monsoon Multimedia's Hava Media Player offers many of those features. It leverages the Windows Media Center software to turn a PC into a personal video recorder, using a remote video stream from a Hava box. Hava has four models that start at $120.
However, Hava does not offer a Mac version, and its cellular support is limited to Symbian and Windows Mobile. Hava also charges a subscription fee for some services.
The problem with the Slingbox and the Hava is that if something goes wrong overseas -- a power outage, a broken cable, an overly inquisitive cat -- they can be difficult to fix.
For American expats with money to burn and a need for guaranteed service, there are options like Nationphone & TV. The company will sign you up for cable service, put your cable box in their data center and stream the output to you over a fiber-optic connection.
The service costs $99 a month for 65 channels without a digital video recorder, or $199 a month for 200 channels with a recorder and premium movie stations. There is also a one-time set-up fee of $175.
Some people are content with just a few shows, though, and don't necessarily need to watch the Sunday morning current affairs program from their local public access channel.
For those TV junkies, there are services like Hulu.com and TV.com in the United States and the BBC iPlayer in Britain. They are, very simply, TV aggregators that offer free streaming of episodes of many new and classic shows.
One problem, though: Unlike placeshifting hardware, you can't watch these services just anywhere. Copyright rules and advertiser demands mean that they are largely unavailable outside their home territories, although they are useful when you're on the road in your home country.
(Reporting by Ben Berkowitz; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)