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October 20, 2005

Review: Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System

Microsoft had an odd press release the other day – Q&A: Microsoft and Sony Team on Digital Entertainment Content Management System:

Though rivals in the gaming-console market, both companies find they have much to gain from working closely to integrate the new Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System with Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005.

The kids are asleep. The popcorn’s ready. Time to watch that favorite old movie on DVD. You pop open the case, but instead of “Dr. Zhivago,” you’re staring at a copy of “Dr. Seuss.”

Another misplaced disc, another frustrating search through the entertainment center shelves – it’s one the more familiar and irritating drawbacks of owning large collections of entertainment content stored on DVDs and CDs. But with today’s launch of the Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System, a new digital content management product developed in close partnership with Microsoft, movie and music buffs can get back to enjoying their discs instead of playing hide-and-seek with them.

Consisting of a 200-disc media changer and recorder console that connects to a Sony VAIO PC running Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005, the Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System lets users control their media library in one location using the wireless keyboard and remote control. In addition to storing and indexing up to 200 CDs or DVDs at a time for playback on audio and video devices linked to their home entertainment center through the PC, VAIO XL1 system owners can use the Media Center Edition capabilities to manage content such as downloaded movies and music, digitally recorded TV shows, personal photos and high-definition camcorder video files.

The challenges involved in tightly integrating Sony’s disc changer, media recording and archiving capabilities, and other feature sets with Media Center Edition required deep – but not unprecedented – collaboration between the two companies.

There’s more about the collaboration which is mildly amusing, but I was mostly interested in the box itself and Joel Santo Domingo at PC Magazine has done a review:

The Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System ($2,300 direct) disproves the notion that all the cool technology is found only in the Japanese domestic market. Designed to be the true Media Center in your home theater, the XL1 can replace your TiVo, CD changer, DVD player/changer, DVD recorder, and any older Media Center PC you have put in your rec room. The XL1 looks more like a piece of stereo equipment than a computer, and that is part of its appeal. It uses the latest Update Rollup 2 for Microsoft Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 and brings added convenience to those with extensive media libraries. This is the system for the true media collector: Movies and music won’t be the same after you load them up in the XL1′s changer.

The XL1 Digital Living System consists of two halves: the VGX-XL1A main unit and the VGP-XL1B 200-disc CD/DVD changer. The XL1B is the muscle of the system. You can load 200 CDs into the changer, call up the MCE interface, select the “manage discs” menu item, and rip all 200 CDs onto the VGX-XL1A’s 200GB hard drive. This is a much better way to copy your music than what the typical MCE PC allows you to do, which is come back every few minutes to swap discs. The saving in time and convenience would be significant for the person with several hundred (or a few thousand) CDs. In our testing, the XL1 still took 3 to 4 minutes to rip a CD, but it does all 200 consecutively; so once you load them in the changer, you can leave the system alone, say overnight, and in the morning it’ll be done. Loading and unloading the slot-loading changer was a snap; loading or ejecting each disc took only a few seconds.

After you’ve ripped your CDs, you can keep as many as 200 DVDs in the changer. The XL1 system keeps track of them, so they can be called up and played at a moment’s notice.

Yikes! We’re talking a serious collector here. Much more by following the link, but he mentions something I was wondering about:

One major issue we have with the XL1 system is the relatively small 200GB hard drive. Although 200GB is sizable for an average desktop user, it is barely adequate for a heavy DVR user who wants to record entire seasons of shows regularly. Since the XL1 is designed for the living room, it is not the type of product people will want to crack open and upgrade every time a new hard drive capacity comes out. Sure, there are two spare internal drive bays (for up to 1.2TB of hard drive space) and several i.Link/FireWire ports for external drive upgrades, but living-room PCs typically follow the consumer electronics model: Buy it, set it up, and forget it.

So I guess the drive size is fixable although you’d think that in a $2300 machine they could go a bit higher to start with.

In a nutshell: “Sony VAIO XL1 Digital Living System won’t replace your notebook or desktop PC, but it fast approaches Media Center nirvana.”

Posted at 8:59 pm. Filed under Companies, Media Center PC, Sony

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