Impressively Sony has fitted a WUXGA TFT panel into the laptop's 17-inch screen area. This gives it the ability to display resolutions up to 1,920x1,200 pixels, which includes 1080p (1,920x1,080 pixels) -- the Holy Grail of high-definition video. The high resolution of the laptop makes it difficult to read some on-screen text. Sony hasn't modify the number of dots per inch for the default font scheme in order to increase the font size, so we'd recommend doing so yourself if you don't like squinting.
Despite its penchant for making desktop fonts look tiny, the screen is of a very good standard -- we were able to watch 1080p video with no hassle. The laptop showed no sign of struggling with the video playback, and images looked excellent thanks to a high level of contrast and colours that seem to come to life. The 17-inch screen area hinders the viewing experience, particularly if viewed from a distance, but up close it looks spectacular.
The VGN-AR11S comes with an integrated hybrid TV tuner and an aerial socket tucked away at the rear of the laptop. This lets you watch analogue or digital (Freeview) and it'll also let you watch one channel while recording another. The conveniently positioned channel changing and TV recording buttons above the keyboard come in very handy here.
The laptop is well-kitted out with a good number of input/output ports. We like the fact Sony has supplied both DVI and HDMI digital video ports, both of which support high-bandwidth digital content protection (HDCP) -- the copy protection system that'll be used by most Blu-ray movie discs. The presence of this technology means the laptop will have no trouble playing Blu-ray movies internally and on large external televisions.
There are only three USB ports, but there's a a gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mbps) network adaptor, and being a Centrino laptop, it has an 802.11a/b/g Wi-Fi adaptor so you can connect it to your home network or surf the Web without using cables.
As with most Vaio laptops, the VGN-AR11S comes with a decent software bundle. You get Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition plus Norton Internet Security Suite antivirus software, SonicStage Mastering Studio and DSD Direct, which lets you convert audio from cassette tapes to digital CD or MP3 versions, and Roxio Digital Media SE, which lets you create DVD movies, photo presentations and other entertainment content.
The VGN-AR11S's performance is strong, if not mindblowing. It fared slightly better than the excellent Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi in our PCMark 2005 test, racking up 4,320 versus the Acer's 4,236. There's not much in it, but both laptops are strong all-rounders.
3D performance was less impressive but the GeForce Go 7600 card helped it clock up a respectable 3DMark 2006 score of 2,859. Obviously it's not in the same league as the score of 5,905 clocked up by the Aurora mALX, Alienware's six-toed ninja gaming laptop, but the VGN-AR11S will run with most games -- albeit at modest resolutions.
It's interesting to see how the VGN-AR11S fared when burning data to Blu-ray media. We managed to copy 25GB of data to a single-layer Blu-ray disc (BD-ROM) in 82 minutes. That's ages in comparison to how long it would take to copy the same data to an external hard drive, but it's not so bad considering an ordinary DVD drive takes around 15 minutes to burn 4.5GB.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield