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Sony desktop doubles as flat-screen TV

Vaio VGC-LS1 computer lets people watch programs, record them and burn them onto DVDs. Photo: Sony's latest Vaio

Sony launched on Tuesday the Vaio VGC-LS1 desktop, which serves dual roles as personal computer and TV.

The system comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, as well as with a remote control that can switch the monitor from a Windows-based PC to a TV, thanks to a built-in tuner. With technology similar to a digital video recorder, TV shows can be saved on the computer's 250GB hard drive and burned onto DVDs.

Sony has also designed its new computer for space efficiency: Like Apple Computer's iMac, the VGC-LS1's hardware is packed into the back of its LCD screen.

Sony Vaio VGC-LS1

The 19-inch screen isn't well-suited for TV watching from more than a few feet away. But media enthusiasts and space-confined apartment dwellers may jump at the chance to have a single machine for checking e-mail and watching "Grey's Anatomy."

Like many other PCs with built-in TV tuners, the Sony VCG-LS1 comes with Windows Media Center, Microsoft's answer to the rising demand for all-in-one multimedia access. Media Center sales were slow at first, but this spring, Microsoft reported that third-party research found that a whopping 59 percent of Windows-equipped computers sold in the United States were Media Center PCs.

Sony's new machine, which will be compatible with Microsoft's long-awaited Vista operating system, will ship starting in mid-September. Eager media fans, however, can preorder it now.

The VGC-LS1 features Intel's 1.83GHz Core Duo processor and 2GB of RAM.

The computer retails for $2,099. That's more than a comparable "regular" desktop but less than other compact PCs with TV tuners. Dell's XPS M2010, for example, costs between $3,000 and $4,000, depending on feature customization.