November 21, 2007

A wall-mounted computer? Perhaps.

If you're not ready to buy an Apple yet, but place lots of emphasis on style, form and function then you'll want to pay close attention to Sony's latest range of Vaio notebooks. At a recent press launch, Sony unveiled the newest models in their ever-expanding Vaio range which not only includes laptops, but a newly defined segment of the PC market called Panel PCs.

The Panel PC concept is all about better blending the computer into the home environment. It's no wonder then, that the new LM series of Panel PCs is modeled on Sony's design leading Bravia LCD TV. In fact, most consumers could hardly tell they were actually looking at a PC rather than a TV. And that's where Sony is starting to blur the lines between TV and PC. Who knows, maybe in the future all TVs will be PCs, and vice-versa?

The Vaio LM18G ($3499) has been designed from the ground up to be the entertainment hub of the home. The LM comes with a built in TV tuner, high-quality speakers with subwoofer, 1.3MP camera, remote control and a stunning 19" LCD display. There's also an option for a wireless mouse and keyboard too.

Having a computer as beautiful as the LM series means you'll want to keep the computer on display somewhere prominent in your home. That's why the LM can also be wall mounted and is VESA compliant.

Sony also took the opportunity to introduce the NR series Vaio which combines entertainment with serious functionality. The NR series is a perfect computer for students, or to keep at home. The NR17G ($1599) features a large, bright 15.4" LCD screen, full pitched keyboard and an Intel Core 2 Duo processor (1.6Ghz) with enough grunt to get through most tasks. The 120GB Hard disk should also be plenty big enough for most users.

The NR series also features a new AV mode button for quick access to entertainment programs, and the usual assortment of connectivity options, including WiFi.

Sony, taking a page out of Apples book are also shipping the NR with two interesting pieces of bundled software. The first, called VAIO Movie Story is an attempt to 'borrow' functionality from iMovie (Apples successful movie making software) and automatically assembles a movie for you from your images and video. The results in the demo were good, but not great.

The second, more interesting feature is called Vaio Music Box. Music Box works with your existing music collection, which can be in any of the popular library formats, like iTunes or Windows Media Player. Music Box analyses your music and then presents you with smart playlists depending on the style and genre of the music. In the demos I saw it worked well.

While the software is a step in the right direction it doesn't add much to the overall selling proposition. The Vaio range is now broad enough that even the budget conscious shopper shouldn't pass it by. But with products like the LM series Panel PC Sony are still leading the way in terms of fresh innovation and smart design.