Despite the push towards Media Center PCs, Sony decided early on that it wasn't going to jump onto the Microsoft bandwagon. Instead Sony developed its own media PC software to piggy back a standard installation of Windows XP. Now, I've seen many attempts at circumventing Windows XP Media Center Edition, with varying results, but without a doubt, the best proprietary media PC solution is Sony's.
I first encountered one of Sony's media PCs over a year ago when I reviewed the PCV-V1/V. This was an all-in-one media PC with a 15in high-contrast glossy screen. The one downside of the earlier model was that the screen had a 4:3 aspect ratio, but Sony has addressed this issue and this latest model - the VGC-V3M - now sports a 17in widescreen display, making it far more suitable for watching movies and TV.
The screen is probably the highlight of this machine. The X-Black coating makes the colours so vivid that they almost jump out at you. This is ideal for watching video, where the image produced looks bright and life like. Another step forward is the native resolution - whereas the old model could only manage 1,024 x 768, this new machine provides a display area of 1,280 x 768. Although I usually look for a slim bezel surrounding a TFT screen, the glossy black surround that Sony has opted for sets the display off perfectly, and makes the image look even more vibrant.
Below the screen is the obligatory VAIO logo nestling above a cloth covered speaker enclosure. The speakers are surprisingly good considering their size and a decent stereo sound stage can be achieved when sitting in front of the machine. One nice touch that I noticed was the directional menu sounds - when you click left on the remote the corresponding beep comes from the left and when you click right the beep comes from the right.
On the whole the VAIO VGC-V3M looks very sleek and stylish - just the way you would expect a Sony PC to look. Unfortunately, to the left of the screen are stickers for nVidia, Intel and Microsoft which totally ruin the minimalist black effect. Now I know that PC manufacturers are obliged to promote their hardware partners, but with a device like this, covering it with stickers really does defeat the purpose. My advice would be to careful peel them off and then polish the surface to get rid of any errant glue - believe me, the effect will be worth the effort.
Of course the VGC-V3M isn't just a great looking screen, although you could be forgiven for thinking that it is. Like the previous model, the entire PC is built into the screen housing, so you have no unsightly box sitting under your desk taking up space. OK, so the casing is quite thick, considerably more substantial than a current generation iMac, but then this machine does offer greater functionality.
It's clear that Sony has leveraged its expertise in notebook building to create this machine. This fact is highlighted by the inclusion of an nVidia GeForce FX GO5700 graphics chipset. This is a notebook graphics chipset, so Sony has probably built this machine around a notebook motherboard. Adding more weight to this theory is the inclusion of a PC Card slot - something that is particularly useful, especially since this particular model doesn't sport integrated WiFi. The larger 20in model does include integrated WiFi, so it's a bit of a shame that this machine needs a separate wireless adapter.