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Sony Vaio LV180J review: Sony Vaio LV180J

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By its updated chassis, it's tempting to think of the $1,999 Sony Vaio LV180J as a more productivity-oriented PC than Sony's previous all-in-one efforts. Supported by a pedestal stand, the LV180J no longer looks like a screen suspended in air, as was the case with the older Vaio LT19U. A raft of updated features, a larger screen, and a more accessible price tag make the new Sony all-in-one easily as home entertainment friendly as its predecessor. At 24 inches, this Vaio's LCD is probably not large enough to serve as a primary living room screen. And by offering more unique features than its competition, and at a comparable price, the LV180J makes a very strong argument for anyone looking for a digital-media-oriented computer or a secondary digital entertainment hub.

OVR
8.1

Sony Vaio LV180J

The Good

TV-style input swapping lets you switch between Windows and HDMI components; 24-inch LCD; Blu-ray burner; wall-mountable; more connectivity options than other all-in-ones.

The Bad

Puny hard drive for the price; not a great multitasker.

The Bottom Line

Sony's Vaio LV180J updates its digital-media-oriented all-in-one with a larger LCD, more powerful hardware, and an exceedingly smart method for switching between the Windows desktop and other components connected via the unique HDMI input. No other all-in-one can make as strong a claim as this one as a command center for your digital media.

With its 24-inch LCD, the Vaio LV180J joins Apple, Dell, and HP in the large screen all-in-one club. HP's TouchSmart is the largest of the group, with a 25.5-inch display, and its touch-based input remains unique in the category. If the Vaio can't compete on screen size or touch input, we find its overall utility unmatched among its peers. Yes, the LV180J is a powerful computer, and we'd be disappointed if Sony skimped on the core hardware. It also strikes the best balance between day-to-day computing and advanced home entertainment features.

We'll deal with its computing side first. With its Blu-ray drive and desktop processor, the Product Red edition of Dell's new XPS One 24 makes the best comparison with the Vaio.

Based purely on specs, the Dell XPS One 24 looks more impressive than the Sony system. The Dell has more than twice as much hard-drive space, a more powerful graphics card, and a quad-core CPU, which pays off on multitasking and other kinds of software, even if it has a slower clock speed than the Sony's dual-core chip. That large hard drive in particular gives the Dell the edge in our minds for traditional computing capabilities. Sony lets you replace the hard drive yourself, a useful capability in case you want to replace or expand your drive storage. It's also an advantage over Dell, whose XPS One 24 case is locked down.


The Sony's user-accessible hard drive lets you upgrade or replace the drive yourself.

The Sony also has an advantage with its 64-bit version of Windows Vista, which likely works to its benefit on a few of our tests below. We don't expect you'd use either of these PCs for serious digital media editing, gaming, or other tasks that truly demand the larger amount of addressable memory afforded by a 64-bit operating system. The Sony also doesn't come with enough system memory to truly put 64-bit Vista to work.

We found during testing that even if it wouldn't make the best all-around work computer, the Vaio LV180J will provide you with some impressive single-core application performance. We include the Dell Studio XPS simply to demonstrate how these systems stack up against a traditional desktop, so don't get too caught up in those scores if you're dead set on an all-in-one. Also note that the quad-core Dell XPS One 24's multitasking edge favors how most people actually use their PCs during a workday, with lots of programs open at the same time.

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio LV180J
611 

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Dell Studio XPS
16,028 
3,922 
Dell XPS One
8,719 
2,500 
Sony Vaio LV180J
6,870 
3,614 
Apple iMac
6,180 
3,244 
HP TouchSmart IQ816t
4,350 
2,279 

For single-minded tasks, such as editing a photo or converting a batch of MP3 files, the Sony is the best in its category. You might not want a standard PC that's only good at doing one thing at a time, but in a secondary, less work-minded computer, we appreciate that when you do call on it to accomplish a task, the Vaio LV180J will do so with great efficiency.

Unreal Tournament 3 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,920 x 1,200  
Sony Vaio LV180J
10 

You'll note that none of these all-in-ones has decent 3D frame rates. You should be able to play most games on them, but be prepared to sacrifice image quality for smooth gameplay. We don't normally expect fast 3D performance from an all-in-one, but we can also give the Sony a bit of a reprieve here thanks to one of its most unique features, an HMDI input.

Many standard desktops these days have an HDMI output for connecting to a television, but the Vaio LV180J is the only one we know of with an HDMI in. This lets you transmit video to the PC from any HDMI-equipped device, from a game console to an HD camcorder. Sony was also wise enough to require no special software setup to display that content. Instead, you simply press an HDMI Select button on the side of the screen to change the input signal, just as you would on a television. The transition is seamless, and the HDMI picture quality is just as good as in its standard computer mode, which is to say, outstanding. No other desktop, all-in-one, or otherwise offers this feature, and it opens up all kinds of possibilities for using the Sony as a digital entertainment hub.


No other PC that we know of has an HDMI in.

Although the Vaio LV180J has a new stand design, it retains a few features from the LT series Vaios that remain unique among all-in-ones, and help it stand out as a home entertainment device in particular. It's the only unit with a separate display power button. It's also the only model with a standard VESA mounting bracket. A drawback to wall-mounting is that the ports on the back of the system become inaccessible. You can always take the system down off the wall if you need to, but you'd also be wise to map out your connectivity requirements and wire accordingly first.

The other major feature that sets this PC apart is an Express Card input on the left edge. We can only think of a handful of reasons why you might need to expand this system further, given that it already has a built-in TV tuner, a media card reader, wireless networking, and plenty of USB 2.0 ports. You might find you want more FireWire ports than the single FireWire 400 mini jack on the back panel. Or perhaps you need to add some other kind of input. The ExpressCard slot gives you an easy means to make that expansion, and no other all-in-one can make the same claim.


All those inputs are great, just be sure to have them prewired if you mount this system on your wall.

Those unique features aside, the Vaio LV180J has all of the components we expect in a $2,000-ish PC making a claim on your digital media habits. The Blu-ray burner is a must at this price, and we're happy with the video quality, even if the screen isn't quite large enough to serve as a home theater. The 802.11n wireless networking will handle high volume traffic, and the optical and coaxial S/PDIF digital audio ports let you connect the system to a modern digital audio receiver. The system comes with speakers built in, and in truth they're not bad, but you'll likely want something more robust for serious entertainment purposes.

Built-in receivers for Bluetooth and the remote control eliminate unsightly dongles, and the unit also includes the requisite Web camera built into the top edge. The TV tuner comes with both analog and digital cable inputs, but, as with all PCs, it can't unscramble an encrypted cable signal. We've officially hopped off the TV tuner bandwagon here; they can't compete with dedicated cable hardware, and too many other avenues exist for getting that same content via streaming or download. We don't blame Sony for including those inputs on this system, and you might even put them to good use, but it's not a feature we can get too excited about.

We credit Sony, however, for the simplicity of both the desktop software as well as the keyboard that come with this system. As with the Vaio JS190J, Sony includes an Apple-inspired wireless keyboard that takes a minimalist approach without feeling flimsy. It also comes with a few useful media control buttons, although we could do without the loud beeping noise it emits every time you adjust the volume. The included software is similarly paired down. You get the usual batch of Sony custom applications, with a heavy emphasis on video-related programs, plus a few data protection tools, among others. But in a welcome deviation from its reputation, Sony doesn't hit you over the head with its bundled software. Relatively few applications load at start-up and the desktop is also free from icon clutter.

The typical warranty package applies for this system. Sony provides you with a yearlong parts-and-labor warranty, plus toll-free, 24-7 phone support. A few of the included programs will help you troubleshoot the system yourself, and you can also find a variety of support resources available on Sony's Web site.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Sony Vaio LV180J
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E8400; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M GS; 320GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

Apple iMac (24-inch, 2.8GHz)
Apple OS X 10.5.2; 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro graphics chip; 320GB 7,200rpm hard drive

Dell Studio XPS
Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 (64-bit); 2.67GHz Intel Core i7 920; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive.

Dell XPS One 24 Product Red
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card; 750GB 7,200 rpm Samsung hard drive

HP TouchSmart IQ816t
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 9600 GS graphics card; 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive.

OVR
8.1

Sony Vaio LV180J

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Support 7