Sony VAIO VGN-AR18GP review: Sony VAIO VGN-AR18GP

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The Good Blu-ray drive. Great raw performance. HDMI output. High quality screen. Plenty of bundled software.

The Bad Current dearth of Blu-ray content. No TV tuner. Bulky. Poor battery life.

The Bottom Line If you're happy to wait a few months for more Blu-ray content to land, the AR18GP is a powerful, multimedia-rich laptop whose only glaring omission is a TV tuner.

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8.0 Overall

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Sony's VGN-AR18GP notebook is the first Blu-ray playback-capable device to hit Australian shores. This comes just weeks after Toshiba's launch of its Qosmio G30 HD-DVD supporting notebook, indicating that the next-generation DVD format war will first be contested in the personal computing space.

A fact that buyers of entertainment-focused notebooks will have to live with for some time yet is low battery life and hefty dimensions. The AR18GP measures in at 416mm by 299.5mm by 33.5-41.5mm and weighs 3.8kg, so you won't be carting it around a great deal.

Nevertheless, the notebook will look great on your desk with its black chassis and chrome trimmings. If Darth Vader was recreated in notebook form, we imagine he'd look something like the AR18GP -- black, bulky and bearing significant grunt.

The chrome trimmings aren't just there to look good, however. They flip down to reveal all of the notebook's ports, which we feel is a great aesthetic touch and makes the unit more akin to something out of the home theatre realm than the beige PC jungle.

Just above the keyboard is a row of handy shortcut keys for navigating your audio/video tracks, while to the left of the keyboard lies volume controls, mute, disc eject and two additional user definable buttons. We found these to be extremely handy during DVD playback, as you're not forced to interrupt viewing in order to adjust settings.

While Blu-ray content is still thin on the ground down under, the Blu-ray disc drive featured on the AR18GP will be highly attractive to content producers, since it provides them with the ability to store and share their home movies recorded on a HD camcorder. Until now, the only way to share this content has been through a portable storage solution, since the current DVD standard's low 4.7GB capacity (8.5GB for dual-layer discs) isn't close to being adequate.

Blu-ray discs are capable of storing 25GB on each layer, meaning that dual-layer BD media will give you up to 50GB of space to play with. By comparison, a HD-DVD disc's single/dual layer capacity is 15GB and 30GB respectively. Sony promises that blank Blu-ray discs are available for purchase now, albeit only single-layer 25GB versions. A write-once disc will set you back AU$34.95, while a re-writable disc costs AU$42.95.

Although it doesn't support the rival HD-DVD format, the Blu-ray drive is capable of reading from and writing to Blu-ray discs, all manner of regular DVD formats and all CD formats. Therefore, even if you're not a content producer, you're still able to enjoy your current collection in anticipation of the torrent of Blu-ray content that's set for release by the end of the year. Content producers that have raised their hand in support of Blu-ray include Walt Disney Pictures and Television, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, MGM, Lions Gate and, obviously, Sony Pictures.

Of course, in order to take maximum advantage of HD content, you'll need a HD-capable display, and the AR18GP delivers here. It's got a huge 17-inch widescreen WUXGA display, sporting a resolution of 1920x1200. This means that it can play HD content at its full resolution. Dual lamps in the display ensure maximum brightness, and our internal testing has shown quality levels to be superb.

Those that plan on editing their home movies on the notebook and subsequently writing them to a Blu-ray disc will demand a fairly hefty storage subsystem. The AR18GP certainly isn't lacking in this department, offering up dual 80GB hard drives in a fast RAID 0 configuration.

Frankly, while a notebook is great for enjoying content alone or with one friend, sharing video with a group is far better accomplished on a large TV set. To that end, the AR18GP offers up a HDMI connection (making it one of the only notebooks available to offer this feature), S-Video Out and a VGA output. There's no DVI connector, however.

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