Time to give everyone a break from my political blather for a little geek blather. (You can read more of my geek blather on Gear Diary. My latest article is on the iPhone.)

King Kaufmann of Salon.com has an interesting article that talks about place shifting, a concept similar to time shifting, but where you shift the place you are watching your program, rather than shifting the time.

These days, everyone and his brother knows about TiVo and time shifting and the joys of not being forced to watch a particular program at a particular time (not to mention being able to record a whole series of programs and watch them in a row, sans commercials). In my case, it means I can watch Keith Olbermann after the kids go to bed, and skip the ads for Hughes Network and NutriSystems.

But I think King touches on something that has been available in a very moderate way since the mid-90s, that Slingbox has been capitalizing on and that the iPhone (in my opinion–Sorry, John C. Dvorak, I think you’re full of wind!) will help get going in earnest: place shifting.

These days, place shifting is really the realm of the nerds and the hard-core. Yes, you can buy a slingbox and watch TV on your computer, but if you’re like me, you probably spend too much durn time in front of your computer already. And while yes, there are some portable media players (PMPs) available out there–heck, you can watch videos on the iPod these days–the screens are either too small, they have a hard disk and so are more delicate and persnickity than you would like in a portable device, or they have other drawbacks. (See my reviews on Gear Diary, if you are interested.) In addition, it’s a hassle to convert movies from the DVD into a format that you can use on a PMP.

I don’t know how successful the iPhone will be as a phone, but as a PMP, I think it’s going to have a huge impact. Being able to download your favorite movies and TV shows easily and watch them (commercial free!) whenever and wherever you want, like on the commuter train on the way to work? While you’re sitting poolside in the summer while the kids are frolicking? While you’re waiting at the airport–interminably–before they let you on board, or let you push back from the gate, or let you land from that endless holding pattern? I think this is huge. And the iPhone has 4Gb or 8Gb of flash storage–no hard drive–a beautiful, 3.5″ 480×320 pixel screen, and no doubt the typically ridiculous high-quality iPod-level sound quality.

Yes, I think there will be some interest in having your calendar and music available, being able to make phone calls easily, being able to web browse while you’re sitting in the waiting room. But I think it’s the place shifting function that will make this device a hot seller. And I think that, just like with the iPod, you will see other manufacturers come out with copycat devices–perhaps without full phone/calendar/wireless functionality–that compete in that arena. A Slingbox-specific device, perhaps? Sony develop a device that converts DVDs for viewing on their own version of a PMP that has 16Gb of capacity? It’s a big, untapped market, in my view.

I’m waiting eagerly to see what happens after June 29, honestly. I could be wrong, of course; it might just be wishful thinking from a guy who’s tired of doing it all by hand. But I don’t think so, I’m dying to find out.

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