LONDON – An electronic gadget that promises to unshackle consumers from their TV sets became available in Europe for the first time on Tuesday, opening up new ways for users to watch television wherever they go.
The Slingbox plugs into a terrestrial, cable or satellite TV set-top box and then transmits the video over the Internet. Users can then tune in via a PC or a laptop. It is part of a new product category known as "placeshifting," similar to the "time-shifting" made popular by digital video recorders like Sky+ and TiVo.
The Slingbox is available in Britain this week, ahead of a broader European launch later this year.
The device, which sells for $338 could complicate the nascent efforts of broadcasters and mobile phone companies to sell TV downloads and other video services. Slingbox users in the United States can also use mobile phones to watch video, though that service is not yet available in Britain.
However, at least one mobile phone company sees the Slingbox not as a threat but as a possible opportunity to sell new services to subscribers.
An executive for U.S. mobile carrier Sprint Nextel told Reuters last week that his company is talking to Slingbox manufacturer Sling Media Inc. and other companies about bulking up its multimedia capabilities.
A Sling Media spokesman declined to comment further on the discussions with Sprint Nextel, but said that the company was also in early-stage talks with mobile carriers and cable and satellite companies in Europe.
"Conversations are clearly beginning," he told Reuters on Monday.
Sling Media's competitors include Orb Networks and consumer electronics giant Sony Corp (SNE), whose LocationFree service works with the popular PlayStation Portable device.