The idea of an all-in-one computer is hardly new. The likes of Elonex and Hi-Grade have been building PC systems into monitors for several years now, while Mac users have spent the past few months purring over the stylish G5.
Most of the modern efforts have been fairly impressive, too. Nonetheless, all of these companies must have sat up and taken notice at the news that Sony was bringing its well-honed design skills to the market, with this entertainment-focused machine.
The good news for the rivals is that the VGC-V2M doesn't actually look that fantastic. It's nice enough from the front, thanks to Sony's usual glossy black finish, but it's far too bulky in comparison with, say, Elonex's Media Center-based offerings. The black oblong protruding from the rear is particularly intrusive. Equally worryingly - and less superficially - Sony hasn't thought to install any sort of wireless functionality.
What we can say, though, is that Sony's is the most powerful all-in-one machine we've seen to date. A 3GHz Pentium 4 processor and a 200GB hard drive, plus a DVD/RW, enable it to perform admirably as a general-use computer, while the GeForce FX Go5700 graphics are up to basic gameplay.
Perhaps more importantly, that 17-inch widescreen display, based on Sony's X-Black technology, reigns supreme for entertainment use. The stereo sound-system isn't quite as impressive, sounding more like a high-end laptop model than a television, but as you'd expect, you can always attach your own surround-sound speakers. Sony even supplies a Creative inline speaker remote and audio wiring.
Apart from that notable wireless omission, connectivity is one area where this device is strong. There's no Scart socket, but you do get composite video and audio, so connecting a Sky box or a PlayStation 2 requires just a simple conversion. You also get VHF-in and S-Video-in, plus all the USB and Firewire ports of a standard PC. Handily, you're supplied with a wireless keyboard and mouse, and a remote control, so you don't need to use up any of the sockets adding these peripherals.
But at least as important as the hardware inside the machine is the software running it. Sony has opted to install Windows XP Home Edition, and create its own management application, Vaio Zone. This looks remarkably similar to Microsoft's offering, and handles your TV, films and music in much the same way. However, it lacks much of the online functionality that MCE 2005 has embraced.
The VGC-V2M is a solid PC system with entertainment leanings. Without any wireless functionality, however, it's out-specced even by some notebooks. Sony's concept definitely has some legs, but it needs work.