Sony VAIO PCV-RXG408

  • Editors' rating
    7.8 Very good

Pros

  • Turnkey video recording solution
  • wide range of media and connectivity options.

Cons

  • Expensive compared with standard PC/PVR solutions
  • analogue TV only.

Having reviewed several of Sony's VAIO desktops, we've generally been impressed with them. The PCV-RXG408's hardware is an evolution of the RX series, adding a newer processor, a larger hard disk and a rewriteable DVD drive. However, the accompanying software is where this PC really differentiates itself from both its predecessors and its competitors: for Sony has set this system up to be a turnkey personal video recorder (PVR) solution.

Features
The RXG408's specification isn't exactly leading edge, but it's plenty powerful enough for the tasks expected of it. A 2.66GHz Pentium 4 processor is backed by 512MB of DDR SDRAM., while the graphics adapter is an unbadged card fitted with an nVidia GeForce4 MX4600 chip. This features a video out port, as well as analogue VGA and digital DVI connections. This card, which has 64MB of graphics RAM, delivers a 3DMark 2001 score of 6,563 -- respectable but not trailblazing. To meet the needs of a PVR system, Sony has included a 160GB hard drive, Maxtor's 5400X. On our review machine this was separated in two partitions, giving two logical drives. This helps preserve disk space for applications other than video recording. The 5400X isn't a particularly fast drive, despite its Ultra ATA/133 interface. This won't affect the performance of video recording or playback as it's speedy enough for several video streams, but could make video editing slower than would otherwise be the case. The RXG408 provides a rewriteable DVD drive and a standard CD-ROM drive. Pioneer's DVR-104VA, which has been included in previous Sony desktops, writes to DVD-RW, DVD-R, CD-RW and CD-R media, as well as reading most optical media. The built-in audio chipset is rather unsophisticated, but an optical S/PDIF output is included, allowing you to connect the RXG408 to a surround-sound decoder for watching DVD movies. This could also be used to connect up other hi-fi equipment with a digital input, such as a Minidisc recorder. As with previous RX series desktops, you get a Type II PC Card slot, two FireWire-compatible i.LINK ports and a Memory Stick slot. What's new is that the six USB ports are now high-speed USB 2.0 ports. You'd have to try very hard to find some form of removable media you couldn't connect to this machine.

PVR functionality: GigaPocket
The RXG408 comes with an analogue TV tuner card. Although a digital tuner would have been nice, especially with the advent of the Freeview service, only the UK would currently benefit from such a configuration. The TV card also accepts composite video input, so a camcorder can be connected up to capture your home movies. The software suite that enables the PVR functionality is called GigaPocket. As well as the GigaPocket viewer, there's a timer recording manager application, GigaPocket Explorer, GigaPocket Server and PicoPlayer, a network client for the server. The viewer application allows you to watch live TV or recordings on the RXG408, or kick off recording manually. You can also start 'slip play' of a programme you're recording -- that is, watch from where you started recording without stopping the recording taking place. Finally, if you have started recording manually, you can set a time for this to stop -- much like the one-touch record facility on many VCRs. The timer recording manager allows you to record upcoming programmes, the same way you can with a standard VCR. The analogue tuner means you can only record one programme at a time. You can also timer record from the S-Video or composite inputs so that, for instance, if you have a satellite or cable receiver you can record from that. You will have to set the channel on that receiver separately, though. GigaPocket Explorer is a recording management program that allows you to delete or rename recordings, or file them in separate 'cabinets'. You can import existing MPEG movie clips into your cabinets, so that, for instance, you can put digital camcorder footage onto the GigaPocket system. Recordings are stored as MPEG files in a standard file system, and you can export these from GigaPocket Explorer to other file formats, such as AVI. Although GigaPocket Explorer doesn't include the ability to write out to DVD-R or -RW directly, you can -- with a little more effort -- archive your recordings to DVD. The GigaPocket server is a simple affair that simply makes all the recordings in your cabinets available across a network to which the RXG408 is connected. You can password-protect general access to a GigaPocket server, and each video capsule can be given its own password. This isn't quite the same as a full access control system, but it will prevent young children viewing inappropriate recordings. Note that the server doesn't make live TV directly available, since MPEG encoding of the analogue input isn't real-time. What you can do is to set GigaPocket recording the programme you want to watch, and then watch the recording from the remote PC. This means you'll be watching a delayed version of the programme, but it's better than nothing. To access recordings from a remote PC you need the PicoPlayer player installed -- you can put the installation program on a CD-R or in a shared network location. PicoPlayer is a simple piece of software: you connect to a GigaPocket server by specifying the machine name and supplying a password if necessary. You can then see the available cabinets and capsules in a list, and pick one to view. PicoPlayer also allows you to create timed recordings, although the procedure is a little unusual: you enter the timings and channel for the recording and save them locally, and then upload them to the GigaPocket server. This makes sense if you have more than one GigaPocket server on your network, but this is unlikely for the time being. Sony is likely to enable more than just PCs to work with GigaPocket. For example, the client software may be built into TVs, so you won't need a PC in each room to make use of the system. There are plenty of enhancements that could be made to the GigaPocket system: digital TV reception, electronic programme guide (EPG) integration, adding audio-only capabilities, a handheld client. Some of these would require different parts of Sony to talk to one other (a notoriously difficult thing to achieve), and some could be added by third parties, if the GigaPocket system's APIs were made available. The VAIO PCV-RXG408 is by no means cheap at £1,364 (ex. VAT), especially as this price doesn't include a monitor. You could create an equivalent system yourself by buying a PC and the PVR components separately, but the advantage of Sony's solution is that it comes preconfigured and has a great range of connectivity options.

Specifications

General
Recommended Use Home use
Packaged Quantity 1
Processor / Chipset
Data Bus Speed 533 MHz
Chipset Type SiS651
Cache Memory
Type L2 cache
Per Processor Size 512 KB
Installed Size 512 KB
Storage
Interface Type IDE/ATA
Type CD-ROM
Read Speed 40x (CD) / 6x (DVD)
Write Speed 8x (CD) / 2x (DVD)
Rewrite Speed 8x (CD) / 1x (DVD)
RAM
Memory Speed 266 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC2100
Technology DDR SDRAM
Installed Size 512 MB
Memory
Max Supported Size 1.5 GB
Form Factor DIMM 184-pin
Display
Type none.
Hard Drive
Type HDD
Interface Class Parallel ATA
Installed Qty 1
Capacity 160 GB
Input
Type Mouse, Keyboard
Storage Controller
Type IDE
Bus Type PCI
Installed Qty 1
Optical Storage
Media Load Type Tray
Drive Type DVD-Writer
Type DVD-RW
Interface Type IDE
Processor
Installed Qty 1
Max Supported Qty 1
Type Pentium 4
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.66 GHz
Optical Storage (2nd)
Read Speed 40x
Drive Type CD-ROM
Floppy Drive
Type 3.5" 1.44 MB floppy
Storage Removable
Type None
Header
Brand Sony
Product Line Sony VAIO
Model PCV-RXG408
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Max Transfer Rate 56 Kbps
Data Link Protocol Fast Ethernet, Ethernet
Form Factor Integrated
Interface (Bus) Type PCI
System
Type Personal computer
Hard Drive Capacity 160 GB
Graphics Controller
Form Factor Plug-in card
Interface Type AGP 4x
Video Interfaces DVI, VGA, S-Video
Chassis
Form Factor Mini tower
Manufacturer Form Factor Mini tower
Dimensions & Weight
Width 8 in
Depth 14.6 in
Height 14.4 in
Mainboard
Data Bus Speed 533 MHz
Chipset Type SiS651
Audio Output
Sound Output Mode Stereo
Compliant Standards AC '97
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Printer
Type None
Physical Characteristics
Form Factor Mini tower
Weight 28.7 lbs
Cluster
Cluster Hard Drive None
Power
Type Power supply
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition
Type Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0, Drivers & Utilities, VAIO Web Phone, Microsoft Works 6.0, Sony Click to DVD, Norton AntiVirus, RealPlayer, Sony Smart Capture, Sony MovieShaker, Adobe Premiere LE, Sony DVgate, Adobe Photoshop Elements, Cyberlink PowerDVD, VERITAS RecordNow DX, Apple QuickTime, Sony Digital Printing, Sony Everquest, Sony SonicStage, Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0
Video Output
Interface Type AGP 4x
Graphics Processor NVIDIA GeForce4 MX 460
Video Interfaces DVI, VGA, S-Video
Video Memory
Technology DDR SDRAM
Installed Size 64 MB
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type Limited warranty
Service Included Parts and labor
Full Contract Period 1 year

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