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Sony VAIO L All-In-One review: Sony VAIO L All-In-One

Sony's Vaio L-Series all-in-one boasts some impressive features, but they're not compelling enough to set this PC apart.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home, Windows PCs, cooking (sometimes), woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
10 min read

Sony continues its pursuit of the PC-as-home entertainment center with its latest Vaio L Series all-in-one. As with last year's model, this new L-Series has an appealing design, a 24-inch touch-screen display, and a host of digital media options. Among its updated features are a mobile variant of Intel's new third-generation Core i5 chips, a video processing chip borrowed from Sony's Bravia televisions, as well as an attempt at gesture recognition support.


Sony VAIO L All-In-One

The Good

The <b>Sony Vaio L-Series</b> has a generally useful and unique assortment of home entertainment features.

The Bad

Highlight features like gesture recognition and a Bravia video processing chip fall flat, hurting this PC's value.

The Bottom Line

Sony promises some cutting edge media features on its new Vaio L-Series, but it's tough to recommend when not all of them deliver.

Sadly, none of those additions elevates this system over others in its price range. Although this $1,399 L Series is more down-to-earth than last year's $2,200 model, it's hard to recommend among current competition with larger displays and better computing technology for the same price or less.

Many vendors have brought all-in-one desktops to market with the idea of turning them into home entertainment hubs. Blu-ray drives, HDMI-inputs, and hard volume and display adjustment buttons are all common in these kinds of PCs. Sony has all of those things on its new Vaio L-Series, along with a handful of extras included to set this system apart.

Among those extras, Sony has included a gesture recognition system, as well as a video processing chip carried over from its Bravia TV line. As much as you might appreciate Sony's enthusiasm in adding those features, none of them works well enough to give this system a material advantage over all-in-ones from other vendors.

The Bravia chip in the L-Series is called the X-Reality chip, and its primary function is to amp up the image quality of overly compressed or pixelated video content. In a sea of low-resolution YouTube and NetFlix videos such a chip sounds great, but the resulting quality boost in Windows-based video isn't dramatically better than what you get with a decent dedicated graphics card. Next to the Asus ET2700I and its GeForce GT 540M video chip, TV reviewer Ty Pendlebury and I noticed perhaps more vibrant colors on the Sony, but Keyboard Cat on YouTube and "Ghostbusters" on Netflix both looked the same between the two systems in terms of pixelation and overall sharpness.

Because the L-Series has a dedicated HDMI input, though, the X-Reality chip also comes into play when you connect an outside video source. In that case the display on an all-in-one works like a standalone monitor, and the graphics card does not come into play with regard to image quality. But on the Sony system, the X-Reality chip does affect that external signal, which is how Sony is hoping its TV tech will entice shoppers looking for an all-in-one for home entertainment.

Sarah Tew/CNET

With the help of David Katzmaier, another CNET TV reviewer, I set the Sony system up side-by-side with the 24-inch Lenovo IdeaCentre B520, and the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55ST50 for reference, and compared the quality on each with a DirectTV signal and a pattern signal generator.

We discovered a few things about the Sony system during this testing. Colors on the screen appeared a bit more vibrant than those on the Lenovo system, but next to the calibrated Panasonic TV the Sony's image appeared unnaturally bright. The L-Series also employs a rather aggressive boost to image sharpness. In can help make the image appear more distinct in some cases, but it can also add an overly done "green screen" affect, making objects appear to pop out from the background in a way that appears unnatural.

We also saw that it muddled the contouring of certain color tones. This was apparent on CNN where, on the L-Series, one talking head appeared to be wearing a heavy dose of tanner. This effect was not apparent on the other screens.

The extra sharpness revealed itself on the test pattern screen, where you can see a thin white border around each black line. We also saw that the L-Series was cutting off the resolution around the edge of the screen, meaning the image was not resolving all full 1,920x1,080 pixels.

You might not expect a PC to have the same video quality as one of the best TVs on the market, but if Sony is going to build the cost of the X-Reality chip into this system, as opposed to, say, a dedicated graphics chip, you would expect the TV chip to provide a net overall benefit. Based on our testing, the chip helped the color and sharpness is some cases, but resulted in muddled, imperfect color rendering in others. Between that and the chopped down display resolution, the trade offs that come with the X-Realty chip aren't worth the added cost.

Gesture control is the other highlight feature of this system, and you're better off considering that an experiment than a legitimate means of controlling the computer. Fraught with sensitivity issues and with limited application integration, the gesture controls are essentially unusable.

A brief tutorial for the gesture control reveals that they are only meant to work in only four programs on the system: Internet Explorer, Windows Media Center, the Media Gallery, and PowerDVD. That's a myopically limited selection of programs, but it almost doesn't matter, since gestures don't seem to register at all.

I went through the tutorial, which outlines the basic hand motions, and I also tried gesturing at various speeds, at different distances from the screen, and under different lighting conditions. I also tried adjusting the sensitivity of the Webcam that acts as the gesture sensor. No matter which variable I adjusted, either by itself or with others, the system wouldn't recognize my gestures outside of the tutorial software.

Sony is certainly not the first vendor with a subpar gesture-based control scheme. Perhaps there exists some combination of lighting, distance, and movement speed I didn't land on that would improve the experience on the L-Series. Even if that is the case, at best that would make Sony's gesture controls too finicky for mass consumption. That would be better than complete nonfunction, but regardless, they need more work before Sony can claim that gesture input is better than reaching for the mouse or the included remote control.

Sony Vaio L-Series SVL24114FXB Asus ET2700I Lenovo IdeaCentre B520
Price $1,399 $1,399 $1,279
Display size/resolution 24-inch, 1,920x1,080 27-inch, 1,920x1,080 23-inch, 1,920x1,080
CPU 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 3120M 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2600S 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 2600
Memory 6GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM 8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
Graphics 64MB Intel HD 4000 embedded graphics 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M
Hard drives 1TB, 7,200 rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm 1TB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray burner Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless
Operating system Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

The last big problem for the Vaio L-Series comes from its core PC features. This system simply doesn't offer a robust enough configuration next to competing all-in-ones in the same price range.

Compare the Vaio with the recent Asus ET2700I or the older Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 and you'll see that Sony is charging too much for this computer's core specs. Its mobile Core i5 chip is too slow next to the desktop Core i7s in the other two PCs, and the lack of a discrete graphics chip hurts the Vaio's 3D gaming prospects. The embedded Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip in the L-Series can play mainstream PC games reasonably well, but the discrete chips in the Lenovo and Asus systems will be better. Sony does offer upgrade options to Core i7 and Nvidia graphics chips, but those, of course, send the price tag even higher.

Sarah Tew/CNET

You can also ding Sony for its 24-inch display, at least depending on how you feel about touch screens. I've heard from various vendors that bring touch to 27-inch all-in-one is too expensive for mass market PCs. That hasn't stopped Lenovo, and Acer from bring such systems to market. Some of you might prefer touch in an entertainment PC. I would rather have a larger monitor, particularly given that this system includes a remote control.

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

Coming in at or near the bottom on every benchmark test, the Vaio L-Series doesn't leave a lot to say about its relative performance. You can argue that its speed is acceptable given that Sony has prioritized home entertainment, but then I would expect to see demonstrably better features than you find on the other PCs. The system has a few nice tweaks, but nothing that adds enough value to offset its price tag.

This is not to say that none of Sony's additions are worthwhile. Of the features you might appreciate on this system, the L-Series has a lightning-fast wake-from-sleep function. The system comes to live literally within a second or two of hitting the power button. On the back of the unit, you'll also find a row of three USB ports that let you charge external devices even when it's powered off. Such a feature might be more useful on a laptop, but at least here you don't have to worry about losing charging capability when the system enters sleep mode or otherwise enters a different power state.

The other connectivity options on the L-Series are useful, if not particularly unique. You get three USB 3.0 jacks on the side of the system, a few more USB 2.0 ports on the back, separate HDMI in and out jacks, composite video input, a TV tuner, a mini FireWire port, an SD Card reader, and an Ethernet jack.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The last notable feature on the system, its in-depth display menu system, is both useful and frustrating. You can drive the menu with either the touch capacitive buttons on the front or the hard buttons on the right edge of the L-Series. The touch-capacitive buttons are difficult to use due to poor response, and the mechanical buttons can be frustrating because you can't see what they are.

Once you over come the poor input schemes, the menu system itself is fairly robust. Sony has included options to adjust various display settings with similar depth to what you might find on a television. It also includes those each of the four different display modes (PC, HDMI, TV, and composite). Adjusting the settings was not able to overcome the image quality issues we found, but at least if you have a preference for a certain brightness, color temperature, or sharpness, you might be able to get the system closer to it.

Support for the Vaio L-Series is relatively typical, although you might appreciate the dedicated Assist button on left side of the display that brings up Sony's built-in system diagnostic tools. You also get a standard one-year parts-and-labor warranty, as well as 24-7 toll-free phone support. Online you'll find live Web chat, driver downloads, and FAQ pages.

I will credit Sony with at least trying to separate the Vaio L-Series from the glut of large screen all-in-ones. I just wish the X-Reality video chip and the gesture recognition provided more meaningful benefits. Because they don't, this system does not have enough capability to justify its price tag next to its competition.

Benchmark testing conducted by Joseph Kaminski. Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations

Apple iMac 27-inch (3.1GHz Core i5, May 2011)
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 (second generation); 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB ATI Radeon HD 6970M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

Apple iMac 21.5-inch
Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 2400; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6750 graphics card; 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Asus All-in-one PC ET2700INKS
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7 2600S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB Nvidia GeForce GT 540M graphics card; 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP Omni 27 Quad (2.5GHz Core i5, February 2012)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 2400S; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded); 1TB 7,200rpm hard drive

HP TouchSmart 620 (3.1GHz Core i5, October 2011)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 3.1GHz Intel Core i5 2400; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1GB AMD Radeon HD 6670A graphics card; 1.5TB 5,400rpm hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre B520 (3.4GHz Core i7, June 2011)
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit (SP1); 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555 graphics card; 2TB 7,200rpm hard drive


Sony VAIO L All-In-One

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 5Performance 5Support 7