Sony VAIO VGC-V520G
The $2,699 Sony VAIO VGC-V520G is a space-age, all-in-one media center that combines a surprising amount of desktop power with a truly glorious wide-screen LCD. Although this media center doesn't run the Windows XP Media Center Edition OS, it's fully capable of recording live TV, playing your music and movies, showing off your photo library, and so on--all from within a single interface. What's more, the VAIO VGC-V520G matches the processing muscle of other all-in-ones we've tested, including the and the . It even has the chops for older graphics-intensive games, thanks to its GeForce FX Go 5700 graphics processor. The bad news? The VAIO VGC-V520G suffers from a couple design problems, although none of them is a deal killer.
The shiny-black main chassis consists of a 20-inch, 1,280x768-pixel LCD mounted on a hefty base (a 17-inch model is also available, starting at $1,999). It's bulkier and deeper than most all-in-ones, measuring about 10.5 inches from front to back and nearly 22 inches wide. Even so, the screen tilts and swivels easily. On the right side of the VAIO VGC-V520G, there's a double-layer, multiformat DVD burner, a pair each of USB 2.0 and audio ports, and even a Type II PC Card slot. However, because the case tapers sharply to the rear, you have to crane your head behind the LCD to access any of this--very inconvenient.
Worse still, the VAIO VGC-V520G's remaining ports (among them two more USB 2.0, digital optical audio out, and S-Video) are located in recessed bays beneath and behind the LCD. To use any of them, you literally have to turn over the entire 29-pound machine--not an easy proposition given its unwieldy design. This aggravating configuration really quashes a lot of the V520G's appeal.
One major saving grace is the gorgeous screen, far and away the most vivid and lifelike we've seen in an all-in-one system. Equipped with Sony's Xbrite technology, it boasts an incredibly wide viewing angle and delivers dazzling color. We were particularly impressed by the sharpness of live TV, which tends to look fuzzy on media-center PCs. Alas, the VAIO VGC-V520G doesn't support HD--a missed opportunity on Sony's part.
Audio could also be better. Driven by Intel's High Definition Audio chip, the VAIO VGC-V520G's built-in speakers deliver vibrant sound and commendable volume--sufficient for dens and dorm rooms. But the lack of a subwoofer and surround satellites make this a system that audiophiles will definitely want to upgrade with their own speakers.
As a PC, the VAIO VGC-V520G offers just about every desirable feature, including a 3.2GHz Pentium 4 540 processor, an 800MHz frontside bus, 1GB of 400MHz DDR SDRAM, and a 250GB hard drive. This configuration gives the VAIO VGC-V520G strong application performance; its score of 181 on the SysMark 2004 test places it right in the middle of the all-in-one pack, which includes competitors such as the MPC ClientPro 414 and other media-center systems. Its 3D performance proved adequate for older 3D games, scoring 96.5 frames per second (fps) on our lower-end Unreal Tournament 2003 test (anything over 60fps is excellent). You will likely find a significant drop-off with more modern games, however, especially if you crank the detail settings.
Among its other features, the VAIO VGC-V520G includes integrated 802.11b/g wireless networking technology, an excellent perk that preserves the sleek design and gives you freedom to place the unit wherever you have a wireless network set up. Sony's lap-friendly wireless keyboard includes a notebooklike touch pad so that you needn't use the mouse (also wireless) while computing from the couch. Regrettably, there's just one media-card slot, and--surprise--it's for Sony's Memory Sticks.
Sony's VAIO Zone strives to be a sexier, more modern version of Microsoft's Media Center Edition interface--and it succeeds, but at the cost of simplicity. A scrolling main menu provides quick-and-easy access to features such as TV, music, pictures, and CD/DVD playback. However, as you drill further into the interface, you'll find it nowhere near as intuitive as Microsoft's, mostly due to the busy, option-heavy screens. The electronic program guide (EPG) and TV-recording features in particular seem quite complex, and even after we learned the ropes, we found ourselves longing for simpler tools. Sony's bland remote didn't help matters, with seemingly redundant buttons such as Menu, Tools, and Controls. Nevertheless, VAIO Zone is a robust, feature-packed environment, and patient users will get a lot out of it.
Like most VAIO systems, this one comes with an abundance of software. In addition to InterVideo's WinDVD Click to DVD (which integrates with VAIO Zone for burning recorded shows), you get an abundance of audio and video tools, such as Adobe Photoshop Album SE,, and SonicStage Mastering Studio. Sony also supplies Microsoft Works 8.0, a 90-day subscription, and a DVD containing five high-profile movies (including Spider-Man and Men In Black II). However, you can unlock only one of them, and they're not DVD-quality files. Stranger still, you have to burn your own recovery discs--something we wouldn't expect in a system this pricey.
The VAIO VGC-V520G comes with a one-year warranty, including onsite service, and 24/7 toll-free phone support. Sony also offers robust online support, though at press time there was no system-specific information available. Even more puzzling, Sony supplies no documentation, printed or otherwise, for using VAIO Zone. And this is an app that could definitely use a manual.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
|BAPCo SysMark 2004 rating||SysMark 2004 Internet-content-creation rating||SysMark 2004 office-productivity rating|
To measure application performance, CNET Labs uses BAPCo's SysMark 2004, an industry-standard benchmark. Using off-the-shelf applications, SysMark measures a desktop's performance using office-productivity applications (such as Microsoft Office and McAfee VirusScan) and Internet-content-creation applications (such as Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver).