Place shifting, remotely accessing personal media from another location over the internet, is destined to become a standard feature of personal computers and set-top boxes, putting pressure on specialist hardware companies such as Sling Media. That is the prediction of a new report on this emerging market.

Microsoft recently acquired WebGuide, now available as a free add-on for its Windows Media Centre Edition that can be accessed from any device with a compatible web browser to allow remote viewing and scheduling. The software was originally released in 2002 and now its author, Doug Berrett, has been given a job as a developer with the Microsoft Media Centre team.

Orb Networks, which also provides place shifting software, recently made it available to users of the popular WinAmp application. Nullsoft, the company that develops WinAmp, is now part of AOL. Orb announced that it had passed two million registered users at the beginning of November, just two weeks after passing the million mark.

Two trends are driving the success of software such as Orb, says the company. People are accumulating and storing all their digital media on their computers and consumer electronics devices now regularly provide access to the internet. Rather than carrying their media with them, people can simply access material stored on their home computer wherever they have an internet connection.

Colin Dixon, senior consultant at informitv partners The Diffusion Group, suggests that it will be hard for companies to charge for such features in the future. Even if place shifting proves to be a compelling application, it will not be capable of acting as a stand-alone revenue driver or support an independent hardware platform.

With place shifting embedded in devices from set-top boxes to digital media adaptors and games consoles, it will have a significant impact on how people interact with digital media.

“We strongly believe that place-shifting functionality will become a standard feature of almost every internet-connected home media platform,” said Dixon. “EchoStar’s recent purchase of Sling Media is an indication of how important even established media companies believe place shifting will become. Should this happen as we expect, it will forever change the rules of portable media consumption.”

A report on the emerging market, Bending the rules of time and space: Trends and analysis for place shifted media, will be published by The Diffusion Group in the first week of 2008.