Product Re(al)view: Sony VAIO LT All-in-One HDTV/PC

Product Re(al)view: Sony VAIO LT All-in-One HDTV/PC

Anthony Nguyen
Aug 22, 2008

The convenience of having an All-in-One (AIO) PC is the fact that it's pretty hard to lose things. It's almost like getting a laptop rather than a desktop computer since it's all there in one place. Hopefully without initiating a fanboy war, here's our two cents on Sony's sexy lookin' iMac competitor.

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS: The first thing we thought when we received the Sony VAIO VGC-LT39U 22" model featuring 2.5 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB of RAM, wireless-N, a Blu-ray, and Vista Media Center was, "Man, this looks much bigger than we thought." The super sleek bezel (seen on Sony's XBR LCDs) creates a wonderful illusion that we immediately felt would be easily incorporated it into any modern home's design. Since everything is wireless except for the external digital tuner via direct USB and a few power cables, the computer feels super minimal, yet powerful knowing all of the high-end incorporated features.

SETUP: Like many pre-built computers, installation is a breeze and takes less than 15 minutes to completely be up and running full-speed. You need to access the back panel to plug a few things and connect the wireless keyboard/mouse, but that's about it.

We received a walk through guide to help us set up the DVR through Vista Media Center, but we're not too sure if that comes standard with the manual since it has no mention on how to set up the external ATi Digital Tuner whatsoever. Once we got everything up and running though, we were very happy with its performance.

FEATURES: The 1.3MP webcam is relatively standard, found on most of Sony's VAIO laptops, and the speakers themselves sound robust, but bass is a bit lacking (no surprise given how tiny the unit is from the side, an integrated subwoofer would have been a bit overkill). The keyboard and mouse design are both unique and very comfortable to use.

We were disappointed there was no Bluetooth included - something we hoping that it might have come standard since all of their VAIO laptops included Bluetooth by default. The remote control felt a bit clunky and cheap compared to all of the other VAIO pieces; it would have been nice to see it finished in the same sleek, brushed-aluminum keyboard design to complete the high definition entertainment package completely.

SONY VS. APPLE: Compared to the new Aluminum iMacs, it is difficult to say either has a true upper hand. For example, you can mount the VAIO on a VESA-mount, but you can't do that on the iMac (Thanks zidane0103). You can custom-build your iMac while Sony only has three rather expensive models to choose from.

Looking at features, the Sony already has a TV tuner, but the iMac requires an add-on. The VAIO has five USB ports and one FireWire, where the iMac has three USB ports, 1 FireWire and 1 FireWire 800 port. The VAIO does Blu-ray burning, the iMac does only DVDs.

One significant advantage of the iMac is that it comes with software that is light years more functional than the VAIO's bloatware. I realize this is, in effect, mainly due the fact that Apple makes both an operating system and hardware, but I'm always blown away at the amount of pre-installed software jam packed into brand-new PCs. A standard OSX installation doesn't include toolbars, third-party add-ons and many trial software programs. Even if they were trials, it was for something like Microsoft Office, not AOL Video subscriptions or Bluestring media sharing service. Because of this, in the software race, the iMac holds the advantage.

Now speed. Speed is where it gets tricky. Comparing two identical matched CPUs and RAM on both the iMac and VAIO, there's almost always wiggle room for bias. So, I let my little cousin take both of them for a test run. We tried identical games (LEGO Star Wars), websites (Google, Unplggd, her favorite; Pokemon Indigo), and e-mail applications (Gmail). In almost all cases, differences were minute, or as the 10-year-old put it, "The PC runs a little faster, but I like the Apple more." Of course this makes little sense, but the idea is that interaction design does make a difference; in this case, holding preference over the speed of the computer too. However, throw gaming tasks at the VAIO, and the PC wins hands down.

Comparing the two prices: the comparable 24" iMac is $1800 to $2300 and the VAIO is $3300. In the end, it's more on a matter of preference for the tools you're going to use. The iMac is marketed as more of a personal computer, while the VAIO feels and is built like a next-generation entertainment machine.

CONCLUSION: While completely gorgeous, the 22" LCD TV doesn't hold enough grounds to be considered a living room's dedicated HDTV. Our best thoughts for its placement would be either the kitchen, a professional office environment, or in the bedroom. Though with its $3300 price tag, it's hard to justify buying it simply for one particular use (like using it solely to record TV shows) and not all of the above.

On the other hand, If you're looking for a dedicated Blu-ray player/burner, a DVR capable of storing up for 150 hours of HDTV, and a clutter-free performance PC that definitely looks better than any PC we've ever seen, it's hard to pass up on the Sony VAIO LT VAIO. The framed transparent border is undoubtedly a design masterpiece in itself, and there's no areas where Sony really skimped on features (other than Bluetooth) - just make sure you're well-funded before making that jump.

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