Sony's top-of-the-range Vaio VGN-AR30 (£1999 inc. VAT) comes with a high-definition optical drive, 17-inch display and a TV tuner. The display is bright and colours are vibrant.
The AR30 has a native resolution of 1920 x 1200 pixels (WUXGA), so images are crisp, and there is plenty of room onscreen. It means icons and text appear small, but you can resize them easily for better viewing. Being a Super-TFT screen, there are reflections in bright conditions, but we found them less of a problem than on rival displays.
The integrated Blu-ray drive means you'll be able to play high-definition movies, which look sharper than regular DVDs. Unlike HD DVD-based rivals, the Sony is also capable of writing data on to the high-capacity discs. With each single-layer disc capable of storing 25GB, it's ideal for creating backups, and Blu-ray Disk Recorder software makes it simple to do.
The AR30 has a neat design, finished in glossy black and silver plastic. It's sturdy, and the large display is firmly mounted, but at the cost of a bulky 3.9kg weight. While not an out-and-out gaming machine, you won't have any trouble playing the latest games. nVidia's mid-range GeForce Go 7600GT is fitted, which gives impressive performance.
We liked the multimedia buttons placed around the chassis, which make it easy to launch applications with one touch. The keyboard is good but it's a shame there's no dedicated numeric pad considering the size of the chassis. We found the Sony's biggest problem to be the location of the touchpad buttons. Mounted right on the front of the chassis, operating them is fiddly.
Processing power comes from an Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 chip, which is a mid-range processor. Running at 2GHz, there's more than enough power for everyday tasks, but it lags behind its rivals when it comes to outright performance. With 2048MB of memory holding data for the processor, this is a smooth-running machine. With two 120GB hard drives, the Sony provides plenty of storage space. Set up in a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks) configuration, it's easy to back up your files.
In keeping with its Media Centre aspirations, the Sony boasts an integrated digital TV tuner. This is easily controlled either with hardware buttons on the chassis, or with a remote control.
With an excellent screen, a TV tuner and good performance, this is the ideal home entertainment centre. The rewritable Blu-ray drive makes it an appealing choice, and only the touchpad buttons let it down. Philip Barker