Laptops used to be the redheaded stepchildren of the computer industry, forced to wait for hand-me-down technology that appeared months earlier on their desktop brethren. Oh, how times have changed. The Sony VAIO AR190G, announced today and due out in June, is the first computer we've laid hands on--laptop or desktop PC--to feature an optical drive that can not only read Blu-ray Disc (BD) media, but write and rewrite on it--as opposed to the Toshiba Qosmio G35-AV650, announced earlier this month, which can read HD-DVD media but not write on it.
Being marketed as a portable, end-to-end HD studio, the VAIO AR190G offers a pretty compelling set of A/V features to back up the claim: in addition to the BD drive, a 17-inch wide-screen display (WUXGA), an HDMI output, and a FireWire connection, you get a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo processor, a midrange Nvidia GeForce Go 7600GT GPU with 256MB of VRAM, a 200GB hard drive, and a TV tuner.
At $3,500, the VAIO AR190G is intended primarily for the long-suffering professional video editors and producers whose HD files have been marooned on laptop hard drives or trapped on DVD-ROMs, which are not supported by Blu-ray set-top players. With the VAIO AR190G, you can now import a video directly from an HD camera (via FireWire), edit the content on an excellent 17-inch 1080p display, and burn it to a Blu-ray disc or play it on an HDTV or monitor (via the HDMI connection)--never settling for less-than-HD-quality compression, media, or playback.
Of course, as with most new technologies, you will have to suffer a number of indignities with the VAIO AR190G. Aside from the high price point of the laptop itself, there's the painful price of media: approximately $20 for a 25GB BD-R or $25 for a 25GB BD-RW, both of which burn at a syrupy 1X. (Fortunately, a 50GB BD-R will soon be available for $48 and a 50GB BD-RE for $55--ouch.) Note that Sony will also sell less expensive VAIO AR models, without the BD drive, starting at $1,749.
After spending a few days with the VAIO AR190G, we have a few preliminary observations:
- Another dazzling display from Sony; like the VAIO AX and VAIO A before it, the VAIO AR's 17-inch 1,920x1,200 wide screen is one of the best in its class, along with the Qosmio's and the Fujitsu LifeBook N6000 series'.
- None of the HD-ready LCD monitors in our Labs was equipped with an HDMI connection, and the VAIO AR190G lacks a DVI output, so we had to do some jury-rigging (HDMI cable with DVI adapter) to get hooked up.
- Elegant design: tasteful, piano black with chrome trim
- Complete set of multimedia controls
- Only three USB ports, which is lame, though you also get FireWire, S-Video (out and in), S/PDIF, HDMI, and VGA.
- Speakers are OK, but don't crank as loud as the Inspiron E1705's set.
- Strange that the 8.5-pound VAIO AR has virtually the same keyboard as the 3.5-pound VAIO SZ; it's a great keyboard for a thin-and-light, but Sony couldn't afford to put a few more keys on something as big as the VAIO AR?
- The VAIO AR190G's touch-pad buttons, placed along the outer edge of the case, are too far away from the touch pad itself.
Here's a complete rundown of the specs:
- Intel Core Duo T2500 processor (2.0GHz)
- 1GB of DDR2 SDRAM (maximum capacity 2GB)
- 200GB 5,400rpm SATA hard drive
- Optical drive writes (at 1X) and reads (at 1.6X) Blu-ray discs (BD-R, BD-RE, BD-ROM), and just about any other format you care to throw at it
- 17-inch wide-screen display, 1,920x1,200 (WUXGA)
- Nvidia GeForce Go 7600GT graphics card (with 256MB of VRAM)
- Windows XP Media Center 2005
- Video connections: TV tuner, HDMI output, S-Video input and output, VGA output, FireWire
- Audio connections: S/PDIF, headphone, microphone
- Other connections: PC Card, ExpressCard, 3 USB 2.0 ports
- Network connections: Bluetooth, Intel PRO/Wireless 802.11a/b/g, Gigabit Ethernet, 56K modem
- Price: $3,500