Sony PC a True Convergence Device
by Jim Bray
If youre looking for a computer that can be the heart of an
all in one entertainment and productivity center, the Sony PCV-MXS20 may be
just the ticket.
Its arguably the best example yet of convergence, the
marrying of audio/video and computers that has been going on for the past few
years. Thats because this Sony Vaio isnt just a computer, its
also a fully featured multimedia home entertainment center that offers just
about any toy you can imagine.
This particular Vaio is actually quite revolutionary in that it
adds to your garden variety desktop PC a decent audio system,
DVD-RW drive that can record DVD's and CD's, a TV tuner and the Giga Pocket
Personal Video Recorder (PVR) - with much of its functionality operated by a
single remote control. And thats just for starters! The MXS20 can also
let you build a music and video library that can be stored on the computer and
shared via network or the Internet with family and friends.
All of which helps to explain, and justify, the relatively
expensive $2499 price, because thanks to the bunch of other electronic
components it includes, you may no longer need some of your existing (or
wanted/needed) stuff once you get this Vaio.
You also get, for example, a TV tuner, a minidisc recorder/player,
an FM stereo receiver and, rather than throwing in dinky little speakers like
those that usually come with a PC, theyve thrown in a couple of
reasonably decent speakers.
Yessirree, if you can imagine it, you can probably do it with this
Sony - though youll want to spend some time figuring out all the features
since this isnt the most user friendly unit ever made.
I just happen to have a 36 inch TV that can double as a computer
monitor, so this seemed like the perfect unit to test the Sony with. As it
turned out, the Sony defaults to 1024x768 resolution while the TV can only go
up to 800x600, and this meant some scrolling back and forth and up and down
while using the TV to display the software that comes on the Sony. I suspect
this caused a good part of my ease-of-use concerns and that the unit is much
more user friendly when hooked into a monitor capable of higher resolutions.
But even with my UI angst I found the Vaio and the 36 inch monitor to be a fun
At the heart of this system is a relatively straightforward, but
relatively state-of-the-art (for this week, anyway!) PC featuring a Pentium 4
processor running at 2 gigahertz. Standard equipment also includes 512 MB
PC-2100 RAM (expandable to 1 GB) and a 120 GB Ultra ATA/100 hard drive. The
unit is also ready for high-speed Internet, thanks to its 10Base-T/100Base-TX
Fast Ethernet connection; theres also a V.90 compatible fax/modem. Video
is handled by 32 MB worth of nVIDIA GeForce2 MX 4X AGP 3D graphics.
The pointing device that comes in the box features the central
wheel weve come to know and love. I wish it were also optical and
wireless (with a wireless keyboard, too) so it could be used more easily and
farther away from the PC, but such was not to be. Perhaps next year
Getting video or pictures into or out of the PC can be
accomplished via front and rear i.LINK firewire interfaces and/or USB
connections, and theres also one of Sonys Memory Stick slots for
transferring data via those cute little unfloppy disks.
The audio portion of the PC includes a 20watt x 2 stereo amplifier
that couples to the abovementioned pair of stereo speakers - speakers that
appear more at home in a home theater than a PC. The sound quality isnt
up to the standards of a high end system, but its still darn good and
blows away that of the average PC. These audio specifications obviously
wont warm the cockles of the audio or videophiles heart, but for
mainstream users they should be more than adequate.
The PVR (personal video recorder, a digital VCR that
records onto a hard disk drive rather than tape) was the first thing I tried
and it worked well - though I couldnt figure out how to fast forward
through a recording other than jumping about twenty seconds at a time (which
made the process more than a tad tedious; this is why there are owner's
manuals, however). All you have to do with this Giga Pocket PVR is set it using
an easy to follow wizard-like interface, and then go back later to
watch the program. Its very easy.
And theyve even included a free, Web-based programming
service called Internet Entertainment Program Guide (iEPG) that lets you
pre-set television recordings up to two weeks in advance.
Oh, yeah, you can also output the video signal from the PC to most
television sets, which means you dont have to watch
Lawrence of Arabia on your 15
inch computer monitor.
Sony has even put a really quiet fan inside the unit, so it
doesnt blow you away with noise during quiet sections of a movie or TV
show. I really liked that. Noisy fans is one of the reasons Ive hesitated
putting a PC-based PVR in my home theater.
Though Im not sure Id want to be creating Office
documents in my family room, especially if I have to sit with my face three
feet away from the big screen TV (thanks to there being no wireless
keyboard/mouse), this Sony is an excellent leap in the right direction. I think
the price may work against it, and the short-wired keyboard and mouse
dont help either, but on the whole this is a really nifty unit that
clearly points the way to where I think the market is heading.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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