Inside, an integrated TV Tuner allows you to broadcast, record and pause live TV. For reading and burning media there is a Pioneer 107D DVD writer capable of eight-speed DVD-R, four-speed DVD-RW, eight-speed DVD+R and four-speed DVD+RW as well as 24-speed CD-R and 24-speed CD-RW writing. You will find the usual V.92/V.90 modem, and 10/100Mbit/sec Ethernet connections on the back, as well as DVI, Composite and S-Video video outputs and four USB 2.0 ports.
At the front, under the bottom panel, you also get three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port and a Type II PC Card slot. But that’s not all, there’s also CompactFlash, Memory Stick Pro and SmartMedia card readers, and a duplicate set of Composite and S-Video inputs as well as left and right audio inputs.
In fact, as far as sheer speed and multimedia options go, this has to be one of the best equipped PCs I have seen. Of course, given the price – and remembering that the package does not include a monitor – and the fact that the RZ504 is expected to do a large amount of multitasking, these specifications should be expected. But it is nice to know that the basic hardware will be able to handle anything you can throw at it in the foreseeable future.
Despite all this, the RZ504 is not without its shortcomings. The wireless ranges on both the Ethernet converter and wireless card will be limited for those with large houses or particularly thick walls, but to be fair you’ll find that with any 802.11g setup. More seriously, the Network Media Receiver can only play audio and video stored directly on the hard drive. For those of you hoping to save on the cost of a DVD player by using the drive in the PC, you’ll be disappointed. Besides, Sony claims that a wireless transmission of DVD material would break copyright law anyway. This also means streaming direct from the Internet to your television is out. Furthermore, apart from television transmissions, there is only support for MPEG and MPEG2 video, and I find the exclusion of the DivX and Xvid formats to be particularly surprising.
On top of this, Sony’s notorious love for proprietary technology creeps in, because while the RZ504 is designed to connect quickly and easily to other Sony laptops, I found getting it to work on anything other than a VAIO to be much harder work. And if security is an issue, while adapter and card support 64 and 128bit WEP encryption both lack the stronger WPA security, though Sony says it will offer a free downloadable upgrade in the future.
Overall, I find these shortcomings sad because I have to say I’ve enjoyed my time with the Sony RZ504. For a short period, I really did feel like I was living in the future and that, perhaps, is its biggest attraction. I also have no doubt that in the coming months Sony will fix a lot of the quibbles I have with this package, which is why I cannot give it a TrustedReviews award now. Don’t get me wrong, the RZ504 is a well made, high-quality package that’s breaking new ground in the home entertainment/IT market. Ultimately though, there are a few issues that take the shine off the RZ504 and keep it from being the ultimate multimedia solution that it could be.
A high quality, high powered, high priced glimpse at the future. But as a package, it’s not quite the finished article.