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Sony VAIO VGX-TP25E Home Theater PC review: Sony VAIO VGX-TP25E Home Theater PC

Sony VAIO VGX-TP25E Home Theater PC

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
6 min read

As much as we find Sony's $3,000 VAIO TP25 Home Theater PC overpriced, this premium model actually has better bang-for-the-buck than the VAIO TP1 it replaces. Thanks to a beefy processor and more memory, the TP25 delivers respectable performance for a $3,000 PC built with laptop components. Unfortunately, we don't think many people in the market for a living room desktop are after raw processing power. Instead, features rule the day in this kind of PC, and while the TP25 has some of the right boxes checked, its pricing remains out of whack compared with similar products on the market.


Sony VAIO VGX-TP25E Home Theater PC

The Good

Unique round design (now in black); strong computing power; Blu-ray drive; bundled ATI Digital Cable Tuners let you watch and record HD cable.

The Bad

Massively overpriced; no 802.11n Wi-Fi; hard drive will fill up quickly with recorded HD; no way to get inside to upgrade the hard drive.

The Bottom Line

You might be drawn in by the VAIO TP25's looks and features, but considering both its price and what it lacks, we hope you'll turn away. Other vendors offer similar capabilities for much less, and Sony charges way too much for this system's few advantages.

We review the VAIO TP25 under the assumption that Sony intends for you to connect it to a large display, most likely a television in your living room. You could certainly use it for a desktop, or connect it to a smaller display in a dorm or a den (perhaps a more likely alternative), but considering its high-end, HD-oriented features, it seems most likely that you'd use the TP25 from your couch.

So what of those features? The highlights include a read-only Blu-ray drive, an HDMI video output, and two bundled ATI Digital Cable Tuners (in other words, CableCard support). The Blu-ray player in particular is a welcome addition. The TP1 was standard definition only, and although at $1,600 it was less expensive than the TP25, it seemed counterintuitive that any Sony-made media PC would lack a Blu-ray drive.

Even though the TP25 comes Blu-ray equipped, we'd like to see more here than Sony has to offer. For comparison, we'll offer up HP's Pavilion SlimLine s3200t.

  Sony VAIO TP25 Home Theater PC HP Pavilion SlimLine s3200t
Price $2,999 $1,540
CPU 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500
Memory 4GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT
Hard drives 500GB, 7,200 rpm 500GB 7,200 rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray player/DVD-burner Blu-Ray/HD DVD player with LightScribe DVD burner
Networking 802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet 802.11b/g wireless, Gigabit Ethernet
TV Tuner (2) ATI Digital Cable Tuner Integrated ATSC/NTSC tuner
Operating system Windows Vista Home Premium Windows Vista Home Premium

The performance charts below show that the VAIO TP25's higher-end laptop CPU and extra memory pay off in speed, but we'll argue that raw speed is not the primary consideration here. The slower HP still plays Blu-ray movies smoothly, and if the HP can do that, it's not that crazy to suggest that it doesn't need the processing power to do much more, given that it's meant for the living room.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio TP25 Home Theater PC

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Sony Vaio TP25 Home Theater PC

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Dell XPS 420
Sony Vaio TP25 Home Theater PC
Alienware Hangar18

Unreal Tournament 3 (frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
1,280 x 1,024  
Uberclok Ion
Sony Vaio TP25 Home Theater PC

There's more to the Sony VAIO TP25 than just its Blu-ray capability, though. Although using the two ATI Digital Cable tuners will require installation and a separate monthly cable plan, they will let you both watch and record HD digital cable on the TP25. CableCard-based TV service is not available everywhere yet, but if you do have access and can establish a reliable signal, CableCard can provide you with the most advanced, highest-quality TV-to-PC experience around.

It is not, however, worth an extra $1,400 for the privilege. Herein lies our biggest problem with the VAIO TP25. The TP25 costs $2,999. For $1,599 you can get the VAIO TP20, a white model of the same system, but with no CableCard tuners and only 2GB of RAM. Those are the only differences. To compare, Dell charges $300 to add two ATI Digital Cable Tuners to its XPS 420 desktop. To add 2GB of 667MHz to a Dell notebook costs you $300. For both of those upgrades, which together cost about $650 from Dell, Sony asks you to pay $1,400 if you opt for the TP25 over the TP20, or more than double.

There's worse news for Sony. HP offers the Pavilion Slimline s3330f, an update to the S3200t, which will net you a small PC with a Blu-ray/HD DVD combo drive for $949.

Gross pricing irregularity aside, the VAIO TP25 misses other opportunities. The worst is its lack of 802.11n wireless networking, which would smooth out the transmission of HD video across your home network. Instead you get standard 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi. It also has only a 500GB hard drive, which is the same size as the drive in the TP20, and will fill up quickly with recorded HD video. There's also no way to easily get inside the TP25 to upgrade the drive yourself.

As much as we can't recommend this system, we will give Sony credit for a few things. It made a point to cut down on the trialware compared with the TP1, making the TP25's Windows desktop much cleaner overall. The wireless keyboard and its touchpad worked generally well. The keyboard design is also innocuous enough that we wouldn't mind it sitting on our coffee table (it's no Logitech diNovo Mini, however).

For support, the VAIO TP25 has a bit more going for it, although it is also not perfect. The manual is generally helpful and gives you information on most basic connections, although we had to dig into the graphics driver to get the TP25's video aspect ratio matchup with that of our Samsung LN-T4061F display, and Sony's manual provided no help in this regard. The online support info is also not yet ready for this system, although we assume Sony will populate that content shortly. The warranty will cover you for one year, and you do get 24-7 toll-free phone assistance, both of which meet the industry standard.

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System configurations:

Sony VAIO TP25 Home Theater PC
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.1GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8100; 3GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8400M GT; 500GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drive

Alienware Hangar18
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 4600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2400 XT graphics card; (2) 1TB 7,200rpm hard drives

Apple Mac Mini
Apple OS X; 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 1GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 64MB (shared) Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip; 120GB 5,400rpm Hitachi hard drive

Dell XPS 420
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600; 2GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8600 GT graphics card; two 320GB 7,200 rpm Western Digital hard drives

HP Pavilion SlimLine S3200t
Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E4500; 2GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT; 500GB 7,200rpm Samsung hard drive

Gateway FX7020 Windows Vista Home Premium; 2.3GHz AMD Phenom 9600; 3GB 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 512MB Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card; 500GB 7,200 rpm Seagate hard drive

Uberclok Ion
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition; 3.2Ghz Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (overclocked); 2GB (max) DDR II SDRAM; 512MB NVidia GeForce 8800GT; 500GB, 7,200 rpm


Sony VAIO VGX-TP25E Home Theater PC

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 4Performance 7Support 6