Because the VAIO's body conceals a full-sized PC, there's no significant performance penalty to pay for the chassis's small footprint. The 3GHz P4 is a strong processor and Sony has paired this with a NVIDEA GeForce Go5700 128MB graphics card -- a swift enough combination to deal with video-editing tasks and most modern games.
An 800MHz frontside bus and 200GB hard disk make the VAIO's base configuration of 512MB RAM seem thrifty. The VAIO's RAM is upgradable, but to a maximum of 1024MB. This will be more than sufficient for most home users, but is well below the amount of RAM that many desktop PCs can accommodate.
Rather than opt for Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, Sony has installed its own home-grown Media Center software on the Vaio. This has a less glitzy, more utilitarian feel to it than Microsoft's Media Center interface, but it is more complicated to navigate. There's less animation, but most menus -- particularly the PVR interface -- feel cluttered and confusing. It's strange, given that Sony has so much experience designing TV menus, that the media interface on the VAIO is not more intuitive. It's nothing you won't get used to, but we felt that Sony has tried to display too many controls on the PVR screen.
Setting up and recording television is identical to the procedure you'd use on any other Media Center PC. Once we'd plugged in an aerial, the on-board tuner scanned for available channels and automatically assigned these to presets. The Sony's PVR works well except for one annoying quirk: there's a lag of at least a second between pressing record and the PVR actually recording the programme you're watching. If you want to capture a TV programme instantly, this can be surprisingly irritating.
One of the VGC-V2M's most interesting features is its ability to write double-layered DVDs. This enables you to cram twice as much information on each disc. The VAIO's dual-layer DVD writer burns double-layered discs at 1x speed and CD-Rs at 16x speed.
The VAIO's 17-inch LCD is gorgeously bright, but does suffer from high reflectivity in a brightly lit room. If you have harsh overhead lighting you might want to take this into account. This reflectivity is partly intentional. Sony uses a technology called X-Black to minimise the amount of LCD-emitted light absorbed by the screen's protective covering. But we found that the X-Black system sacrifices low-reflectivity in pursuit of deeper, crisper blacks.
Most LCDs use a diffuse material to soften reflections, but X-Black uses a relatively clear layer between the LCD and you. X-Black does reduce reflections to a degree, but the result is not comparable to the pleasant silk finish of a regular LCD screen.
Media Center PC manufacturers have faced a difficult trade-off between the reflectivity and clarity of LCD screens. The problem is that we expect our TV picture to be bright with deep blacks, but we expect our computers to have screens without distracting reflections. It's difficult to deliver a hybrid screen that completely satisfies both criteria. Nevertheless, Sony's reputation for LCDs with sharp and vivid colour is well deserved. If you can live with the occasional problem of light reflecting in the VAIO's screen when you're working, you'll love the high quality video image the VAIO can produce in DVD and TV mode.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide