Sony VAIO VGX-TP1
At a Glance
The Sony VAIO VGX-TP1 is certainly eye-catching: This white-gray circle looks more like a stand to place something on than a PC. But a PC it is, and it's meant to fit unobtrusively into your living room, your bedroom, or any other room where you want to watch TV and have the functionality of a Media Center PC along for the ride.
Measuring about 10.6 inches in diameter and less than 4 inches in height, the unit has impressive features for its compact size. You get a 1.83-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 5600 chip, 2GB of RAM, a 300GB hard drive, integrated graphics, a multiformat DVD burner, built-in wireless capability, an ethernet port, and Windows Vista Premium Home. A matching wireless keyboard and remote that are comfortable to use and equally compact complete the package.
The preproduction unit I looked at was fairly easy to set up, though I did have to hunt for the tiny button in front that turned on the wireless transmitter to enable it to see the keyboard. (My test system lacked the documentation, HDMI cable, and HDMI-to-DVI adapter that the system will ship with.) In operation, the unit was whisper-quiet. Because it was a preproduction, we did not formally test it in the PC World Test Center; but informally, its performance seemed satisfactory for handling typical computing tasks, as well as such multimedia tasks as viewing TV. Video playback of a DVD was adequate, though I noticed a few decoding artifacts. The unit uses integrated graphics (based on Intel's 950 chip set) and shared graphics memory, which may be the culprit here--or perhaps this nonshipping system has some glitches that Sony will have fixed by the time you read this.
Despite its diminutive size, the VGX-TP1 supplies the ports you'd expect to find in a media-oriented PC, including a VHF/UHF connection, an adapter port to accommodate standard RCA and S-Video inputs, and an optical audio port. In the front, you also get two USB 2.0 ports (plus two in back), an i.Link (aka FireWire 400) port, an SD card slot, and a Memory Stick slot. A sliding slot cover conceals these ports, making the system look less like a PC--a nice touch, but you'll probably have that cover open more often than not. The same goes for the matching, detachable cover that extends over the back ports: If this PC is in use, with all of the ports loaded up with cables, the cover becomes less practical (it's somewhat superfluous anyway, since the ports are in the back, and wires coming out the back look fairly orderly on their own). The unit comes with a small antenna and an HDTV USB adapter, too.
Sony says the VGX-TP1 will sell for about $1600 when it ships in March. That's a bit steep for what you get, but the system's looks and quiet operation will make it more welcome in the living room than a standard PC.