Sony's All-In-One PC Tries To Catch Your Eye

The new Vaio VGC-LS1 offers a lot of style and function in a single package; but it has too many limitations to appeal to serious users.

October 17, 2006

6 Min Read
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Not so long ago, desktop PCs acted chiefly as personal productivity enhancers. But these days, the machines are taking on more of the nuances of home entertainment centers, and even some of the trappings of fashion statements. If you're interested in a system that can handle more than one of these three roles, the Vaio VGC-LS1 -- Sony's latest "all-in-one" device -- can fill the bill relatively nicely. Yet surprisingly, despite the overall sleekness of this PC/TV combo unit, Sony's design engineers might have done a better job of dotting their "i's" and crossing their "t's" in several places.

Due to its eye-catching form factor, the LS1 stands out markedly against the legions of other XP Media Center-enabled PCs crowding the market at the moment. In this new device, Sony has attached a 19-inch LCD monitor with a glass-like transparent polycarbonate frame directly on top of the main PC chassis, forming a slickly unified main piece which is held upright by a built-in stand in the back.

The LS1's main unit measures merely 21.0 x 14.5 x 2.0 inches, meaning that the all-in-one will fit compactly and even handsomely on your office desk, kitchen counter, or bedroom table.

All-In-Ones As Fashion Statements
All-in-one devices are nothing new, and Sony is no stranger to the notion of PC as fashion statement, either. Last year, Sony released the larger and clunkier Vaio VA11G all-in-one. Earlier industry precursors to these devices included so-called "lifestyle PCs," also with integrated flat-panel displays, such as Gateway's 610 series Media Center and Sony's own Vaio PCV-W510G and Vaio V100G, all issued during the 2004 timeframe.

On the whole, however, this year's LS1 is a lot swankier than its forebears. The LS1's 19-inch monitor is more generous even than the copious 17.5-inch LCD of the WR10G. The LS1's "Motion Eye" webcam, built right into the top center of the frame, introduces another visually classy but highly functional touch. This time around, the computer chassis is virtually hidden from view.You do get a lot more than eye candy here. Beneath the covers, the LS1 provides the base technology needed for supporting a wide range of applications. In addition to a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo T2400 CPU, the unit comes with a 250GB hard drive. A full 2GB of RAM is included, too -- a bonanza for video storage.

Take a closer look at the LS1's integrated LCD and chassis, and you'll find a vertically oriented DVD burner on the right side side of the LCD panel. On the opposite side of the panel are a USB 2.0 port; PC Card, SD, and ExpressCard slots; and headphone, microphone and Firewire connectors. The back panel offers three more USB 2.0 ports; an Ethernet port; an on/off WiFi switch; and a set of TV tuner connections: S-Video, composite video, stereo audio inputs, and antenna.

The LS1's IR-capable portable keyboard is innovative, too. The cover of the keyboard folds out as a wrist rest. Then, when you've finished typing, you can fold back the cover to protect the keyboard from dust and debris. The keyboard, mouse, and DVR remote control are all enabled for IR wireless. Family Friendly
Sony also bundles a lot of useful and family-friendly software into the LS1. Beyond the almost obligatory Microsoft Office, the bundled apps include Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0; Sony Click to DVD, for burning disks; Sony SonicStage, for managing your audio tunes; and a variety of games from Sony, including Sony Studios' "Jeopardy" and "Wheel of Fortune."

Then there's LifeFLOW, an application from Sony that offers a calendar and a world clock along with the ability to put together your own mixes of audio and animated graphics. Just by pointing-and-clicking, I paired Kouros' "Cute Flute" with one of the built-in animations, quickly producing a colorful moving wave that seemed to pulsate in time to the music's undulating jazz rhythms.

In fact, the LS1 looks (and sounds) great even in the dark. Neon-like effects appear in a number of spots. The "on" switch at the top of the LCD panel beams out a clear green light. As one would anticipate, the IR emits a red glow.Design Glitches
But I also discovered an assortment of glitches and omissions. For one thing, Sony failed to integrate IR into the main unit of this generally well-planned machine. IR connectivity is instead housed in a separate and unwieldy tethered dongle device.

Also, unlike competing PC/TV combos such as HP's Media Center TV m7600n Series desktop PC, Sony's LS1 does not support HD. This might not really matter all that much yet, since HD movie titles are still hard to come by. But it's a flaw that could spell early obsolescence.

Moreover, users can't customize the LS1's default graphics configuration. Instead, you're restricted to the unit's built-in Intel GMA 950 graphics. Consequently, the operation of graphics-intensive 3D games is probably iffy at best. For example, after I installed Sid Meier's "Pirates! Live the Life" CD-ROM on the LS1, the game ran beautifully for about 12 minutes. Then Windows XP suddenly crashed. Although it's hard to know why, the LS1's limited graphics do stand out as a likely culprit.

One of the biggest oddities about the LS1 crops up when you're getting the machine up and running. The connector to the external power supply isn't located in any obvious or even well marked place. Instead, you need to pry off the entire back cover of the unit " while being careful not to harm the attached LCD screen " before you can find the connector and plug in the power cord.

Sony does include directions on how to set up the external power supply in the operator's manual. But apparently, not all of the LS1 units ship with manuals, an omission that the company readily admits to on its own "e-support" Web site.Is It Worth The Money?
The Vaio VGC-LS1 goes for $2,000 to $2,100, retail. Is it worth the hefty price? That hinges on how you expect to use the device. If you're truly on a shoestring budget, you can clearly get most of the same functionality for less money by making separate purchases of a PC, a DVD burner, a standalone TV, and an audio system. And its lack of expandability will put off anyone who needs a system for serious -- and long-term -- computing.

The LS1 makes the most sense for situations where space and convenience are of primary importance. Despite its handful of design flaws, the all-in-one unit might come in handy inside a master bedroom, a studio apartment, or your teenaged kids' rec room down in the basement, for instance. And, of course, if you're looking to make a fashion statement with your PC.

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