Those likely to be attracted to this Sony are multimedia fans who don't have the space for a traditional television, DVD player and home computer. The VGC-V2M sidesteps the spaghetti-like mess of wires and components that are a part of most home-entertainment systems. It's an all-in-one Media Center PC that, notably, doesn't use Windows XP Media Center Edition but instead runs Sony's own Media Center software.
At a porky 12.9kg, the VAIO may have a small footprint, but it's not the kind of computer you'd want to transport from living room to bedroom regularly. The VAIO's looks are slightly deceptive -- although it seems like a very compact unit at first glance, there's actually a lot of bulk hidden behind the screen. The VDC-V2M's footprint, excluding keyboard, is around 480 by 280mm, and it's just under 400mm tall -- not much higher than most stand-alone LCDs.
Sony has effectively packed half of the VAIO's CPU into the stand and half into the screen. Unlike the extremely thin iMac G5, it's obvious with the VAIO where the computer has disappeared to -- the VDC-V2M's CPU is the same size as the CPU on most desktop PCs. Sony has wedged a lot of computer behind the LCD display.
Although the VAIO's space-saving design is slightly illusory, it's still a hot-looking computer. The rear bulk of the VAIO makes it very stable on a desk and the screen is framed by an attractive high-gloss black frame. Beneath the screen, there's a long speaker fascia which looks like it might conceal a row of small speakers for surround sound, but in fact contains two five-watt speakers for stereo sound.
Attempting to connect your TV aerial to the VAIO exposes the computer's first design flaw: it's very difficult to access the AV ports, because they're located on the bottom edge of the screen. At first, it looked like we'd have to tip the heavy unit on to its side to plug in a video signal. But after some investigation, we discovered that the back of the Vaio's screen is a huge sliding panel. If you shift this panel up, the AV ports become much more accessible -- although not to the point where you can actually see exactly which port you're plugging cables into. For most users this may be a one-time operation, but if you're planning on switching AV cables on a regular basis, it's a lucky dip.
A tray-loading DVD drive is built into the side of the VAIO's chassis. We're puzzled by this clumsy choice of loading mechanism. It would have been much more sensible to install a slot-loading DVD drive. This would avoid the possibility of an improperly seated DVD dropping on to the desk when you're trying to load it. It would also make the drive feel less flimsy.
The VAIO's wireless keyboard and mouse are endearingly eccentric bits of design. The keyboard folds out like a vanity screen on its side. There are three hinged sections and it can be manipulated into a position where the keys are concealed and only the trackpad is accessible. It's an interesting vision of the future, but we couldn’t find any practical reason to have all these hinged sections.
The actual feel of the keyboard is delicious. We don't often fall in love with keyboards, but the way the VAIO's sits under your fingers is a treat worth special mention. The key response is halfway between laptop and desktop. It's an ergonomic blend.