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There's also a power switch for the keyboard so you can conserve the batteries when you're not using the system. The keys are quite firm and the typing action was solid. There are shortcut buttons for email, browser, and launching Media Center and volume controls too. The wireless keyboard and the remote control don't need line of sight to operate, which is good and the receiver is built-in to the chassis - so there's no need to use an awkward external USB dongle.
Round the back there's a healthy amount of connectivity including HDMI. What you won't find is are SCART or DVI ports. There's an HDMI cable provided and an HDMI to DVI adaptor, though the DVI port will have to be HDCP compliant to watch Blu-ray content.
I actually used the Sony to finally answer a question that I've been wondering about for a while. What happens what you try and watch an HDCP encrypted movie on a display without HDCP? I hooked up a bog standard 17in, 1,280 x 1,024 display and tried to play a movie. The supplied InterVideo WinDVD BD software started to play and then stopped - and that was that. So there you go - the disc won't even play.
Also round the back you'll find two six-pin FireWire ports and two USB 2.0 ports as well as composite, S-Video and component video outputs. There's a coaxial digital audio output and both optical digital in and out.
Gigabit Ethernet and Wi-Fi are provided. Cleverly, the aerial for the Wi-Fi is located at the end of a long cable enabling you to place it in the optimum position to get the best connection. There are also two infrared blaster ports on the rear, so you could control external set-top boxes.
I was very surprised to discover that there's only a single TV Tuner supplied. It's DVB-T and unlike the Acer Idea 500 Media Center I recently reviewed, it managed to find a good number of channels first time off but it means you can only watch the channel being recorded – very frustrating. That said, anyone considering a machine like this with the high price premium of the Blu-ray drive probably has a Sky HD box at home.
The interior of the Sony is quite compact. Storage comes courtesy of a couple of 250GB 7,200rpm Seagate Barracuda hard disks, with 8GB saved for a recovery partition. The processor is an Intel Core 2 Duo E6400, which runs at 2.13GHz, and 1GB of memory is provided. It's a decent combination and there are even two free slots for adding more RAM.
The graphics chipset is an nVidia GeForce 7600 GTL with 256MB of DDR3 RAM, which means that you could conceivably play games on this machine. The GTL indicates that this is not a mainstream card - not many cards have passive cooling with HDCP and an HDMI connection. The CPU and the graphics card use passive coolers, as does the chipset, which helps to make an impressively quiet system. My Sky + box is certainly louder than this Sony machine.
Being a Sony, there's plenty of preinstalled software on the system, highlights of which are Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premier Elements, along with Norton Internet Security. There's also a trial version of Microsoft Office. One may have thought that Sony had given up on strange proprietary software when it moved from Giga Pocket to MCE 2005, but it's hanging on in there with something called VAIO Flow. This aggregates RSS feeds, images, music and a clock with a calendar. It’s a very different look to Media Center, but it does different things and it would look cool having if displayed on a large TV in the lounge.
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