Sony's VGN-AR18GP notebook became the first Blu-ray playback-capable device to hit Australian shores last month, just weeks after Toshiba's launch of its Qosmio G30 HD-DVD supporting notebook, indicating that the next-generation DVD format war will first be contested in the personal computing space.
While Blu-ray content is still thin on the ground down under, the Blu-ray disc drive featured on the AR18GP will be highly attractive to content producers, since it provides them with the ability to store and share their home movies recorded on a HD camcorder. Until now, the only way to share this content has been through a portable storage solution, since the current DVD standard's low 4.7GB capacity (8.5GB for dual-layer discs) isn't close to being adequate.
Blu-ray discs are capable of storing 25GB on each layer, meaning that dual-layer BD media will give you up to 50GB of space to play with. By comparison, a HD-DVD disc's single/dual layer capacity is 15GB and 30GB respectively. Sony promises that blank Blu-ray discs are available for purchase now, albeit only single-layer 25GB versions. A write-once disc will set you back AU$34.95, while a re-writable disc costs AU$42.95.
Although it doesn't support the rival HD-DVD format, the Blu-ray drive is capable of reading from and writing to Blu-ray discs, all manner of regular DVD formats and all CD formats. Therefore, even if you're not a content producer, you're still able to enjoy your current collection in anticipation of the torrent of Blu-ray content that's set for release by the end of the year. Content producers that have raised their hand in support of Blu-ray include Walt Disney Pictures and Television, Twentieth Century Fox, Paramount, Warner Brothers, MGM, Lions Gate and, obviously, Sony Pictures.
Of course, in order to take maximum advantage of HD content, you'll need a HD-capable display, and the AR18GP delivers here. It's got a huge 17-inch widescreen WUXGA display, sporting a resolution of 1920x1080. This means that it can run HD content at its full resolution. Dual lamps in the display ensure maximum brightness, and judging by our brief preview at the launch, the quality is superb.
Those that plan on editing their home movies on the notebook and subsequently writing them to a Blu-ray disc will demand a fairly hefty storage subsystem. The AR18GP certainly isn't lacking in this department, offering up dual 80GB hard drives in a fast RAID 0 configuration.
Frankly, while a notebook is great for enjoying content alone or with one friend, sharing video with a group is far better accomplished on a large TV set. To that end, the AR18GP offers up a HDMI connection (making it one of the only notebooks available to offer this feature), S-Video Out and a VGA output. There's no DVI connector, however.
For those that don't have a HDMI-capable surround sound system, digital audio output is also available via an S/PDIF optical connector.
Gamers haven't been overlooked either; the AR18GP offers up an Nvidia GeForce Go 7600GT graphics chip, which is based on the latest technology and will be more than capable of running the latest games smoothly.
One GB of DDR2 memory and a fast Intel Core Duo T2600 (2.16GHz) processor round out the internal component list, and the notebook's networking features are also top-notch, with 802.11a/b/g wireless, 10/100 Ethernet and Bluetooth 2.0 all making an appearance.
A boatload of software is included with the package, such as Adobe Photoshop & Premiere Elements, DVgate Plus, Norton Internet Security 2006, Ulead BD DiscRecorder, WinDVD BD and SonicStage Mastering Studio.
Feature-wise, we found the lack of a TV tuner to be fairly disappointing, given that the notebook has a decidedly multimedia bent. You'll also want to factor the current dearth of commercial Blu-ray content into your buying decisions, although a Sony spokesperson said that BD content should be in full force in this country by the end of 2006.
A fact that buyers of entertainment-focused notebooks will have to live with for some time yet is low battery life and hefty dimensions. The AR18GP measures in at 416mm by 299.5mm by 33.5-41.5mm and weighs 3.8kg, so you won't be carting it around a great deal. Further, Sony rates the battery life at a maximum of 2 hours, which is just enough for a full-length movie. Suffice it to say, you won't be venturing too far away from a power socket.
Sony looks to have a winner on its hands with the AR18GP -- the first Blu-ray capable notebook to hit our shores. It's powerful, packed with multimedia features and, frankly, looks suitably sexy.
The AR18GP will sell at an RRP of AU$5,499.
Sony VAIO VGN-AR18GP
Company: Sony Australia