The next-generation DVD formats are flourishing in the notebook space -- we've already seen Sony's AR18GP Blu-ray offering and Toshiba's Qosmio G30 HD DVD contender, but the product launches are far from abating.
Acer is unashamedly pushing the HD DVD bandwagon, but it clearly hasn't put much thought into its first implementation, taking numerous shortcuts in order to bring the price down to AU$4499.
It's not ugly, but it must be said that the 5675WLHi doesn't have anything on the Toshiba and Sony competition in the looks department. When opened up, the glossy display and screen border is a stark contrast to the bland grey/black main shell, and the grey lid won't exactly caress your eyeballs either.
Function clearly takes precedent over form, as the layout of ports, buttons and connectors is superb. Down front, from left to right, lies an Infrared port, power/battery indicators, a line-in jack for connecting audio devices, a microphone jack, a headphone jack (with digital S/PDIF support), a 5-in-1 card reader and switches to enable/disable the Bluetooth 2.0 and 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi chips (for battery conservation).
To the left lies a HD DVD drive, two USB 2.0 ports and a 56K modem port, while the right is home to a mini-Firewire port, a PC-Card slot, an ExpressCard/34 slot, a further two USB 2.0 ports and both VGA and S-Video outputs for connecting up an external display device. On the back of the unit is a 10/100/1000 Ethernet port and a DVI output.
It's disappointing to see that Acer has decided against including an HDMI port, a feature that's present on both the Sony and Toshiba offerings. This would allow for maximum quality when connecting the device up to a high-definition plasma or LCD display.
The keyboard, touch pad and mouse buttons are all large and comfortable to use, and we found the centre button -- that allows for four-way scrolling -- to be a handy inclusion.
Quick-launch buttons are liberally dotted around the keyboard. Up top are four buttons to launch your e-mail, Web browser, Acer's "Empowering Technology" (more on this under "Features") and a fourth application of your choice. In addition, the left of the keyboard offers up multimedia keys including track selection, stop, play/pause and volume control buttons.
Under the hood, the 5675WLHi has all the trappings of a hot rod. It's packing the fastest Intel Core Duo processor available -- the 2.16GHz T2600 -- 2GB of DDR2 memory, 100GB hard drive and a speedy ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 graphics chip. If any laptop is going to run your system-intensive applications (such as gaming and video editing), this is it.
As mentioned, it's also got a HD DVD drive that, in addition to reading HD DVD discs, can also read and write all manner of DVD and CD discs. It won't write to HD DVD though, which is sure to be a significant downside for content creators. Further, HD DVD movies are thin on the ground in Australia, but this is set to change by the end of the year.
Even if you do manage to find a HD DVD commercial movie to play on the notebook, its screen won't let you watch it at the full 1080i/p resolution. At 15.4-inch, it's smaller than the 17-inch offerings on the Sony and Toshiba models for a start, but the most curious factor is its 1280x800 resolution. As a result, the display can only show 800 vertical lines of resolution at a time, which means the 1080 lines of a HD DVD feed will be compressed to fit the screen. Clearly, some of the benefit of migrating to HD DVD from DVD will be lost.
Software is one of the notebook's strong points, with Acer's "Empowering Technology" control centre offering up instant access to important settings such as power management, data backups, system optimisation and data security. Multimedia applications are also enhanced by the inclusion of Windows Media Center Edition, and the bundled remote control enables you to watch from afar.
Users will also appreciate the 1.3-megapixel camera that's built into the top of the display, which swivels 225-degrees. But this certainly won't make up for the lack of a TV tuner, which is concerning given the fact that this is a multimedia notebook.
Those interested in the benefits that HD DVD provides over regular DVD would do well to check out our review of the Toshiba Qosmio G30, which among other things includes a screenshot comparison. In a nutshell, we found that HD DVD offers a noticeable increase in quality over DVD, provided that your display can project the full 1080 lines of resolution. As mentioned above, this isn't the case with the 5675WLHi, so many will struggle to notice the difference.
Our MobileMark2005 benchmark scores saw the 5675WLHi performing well, but still quite far behind the G30. This is puzzling, given the fact that both notebooks are similarly configured.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 performance rating
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Battery life is better with the 5675WLHi lasting 50 minutes longer than the G30, but this is to be expected since it's got a smaller screen.
BAPCo MobileMark2005 battery life rating
(Longer bars indicate more battery-life minutes)
Overall, there are many things to like about Acer's attempt at an HD DVD notebook, but there's no getting past the relatively low resolution display and lack of a HDMI connector, which cannibalises the already questionable benefits of upgrading to HD DVD so early.