Even after cable television exponentially expanded the number of channels Americans received and digital video recorders freed users to watch whatever whenever, one part stayed simple -- TV programming went to TV sets.
Indeed, flat-panel TVs have been one of the few electronics purchases that have held up during the economic downturn, growing 30 percent in the first quarter of this year from the same period last year.
Increasingly, though, consumers want access to their TV shows not only when they want them, but where.
Broadcasters have made some current and older shows available on their Web sites, as well as sites such as Hulu and TV.com, but episodes will expire after a while.
Furthermore, due in part to tension between broadcasters and cable companies, full episodes of shows that appear on cable networks such as Bravo, VH1, TLC, and A&E are rare. (Comedy Central is an exception, with full archives of The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and South Park available online.)
And Hulu, for one, has lately been stepping up efforts to ensure that its content is seen only through devices that its content providers approve.
Place-Shifting Products Bring TV to Your Laptops and Smartphones
Those who want more flexibility can purchase a place-shifting product that allows you to access live television or shows recorded on your DVR from nearly any broadband-connected PC or some smartphones.
The best-selling of these according to NPD's retail tracking service is the SlingPlayer, which connects to your cable box or DVR video out connection.
By using Sling's software or the Sling.com Web site, you can watch live or recorded TV from your home. Sling's software is also available for Windows Mobile phones and the company has long been working on clients for BlackBerry and the iPhone.
The company recently released a companion product called the SlingCatcher that allows you to watch shows from a DVR in one room on a TV in another room using a home network, and its latest SlingPlayer can even transmit shows in high-definition if you have the bandwidth.
One alternative to the SlingCatcher include Sony's LocationFree system, which includes support for its PlayStation 3 and PlayStation portable consoles.
Watch Live and Record TV From BlackBerries, iPhones and More
Another is the HAVA from Monsoon. The HAA Titanium model can be connected to a home network wirelessly and can record shows onto a hard drive where they can be transferred to a PC for viewing when you don't have a network connection.
Setting up these place-shifting products usually requires plugging in a few cables and running some software so that they know more about your home network and how to send video beyond it. Those so desperate to catch a TV show on a tiny phone screen will need to make sure that their phone is supported by the device that they use.
Place-shifters (including Windows software that can mimic them) are the only option today to remotely catch up on the overwhelming majority of TV content available, but at least one company is hedging its bets.
In addition to watching live and recorded TV from your Slingbox at Sling.com, you'll find a range of free TV show episodes and even some free movies that viewers may not have thought to record.