Sony says its VAIO VGX-XL3 Digital Living System media-centre PC gives you "TV on your terms". But your terms may differ substantially from what this Windows Vista-based PC can deliver.

The Sony VAIO VGX-XL3 ought to be the PC that finally makes sense in a living room, because it uses AMD/ATI's high-definition TV tuner card with a CableCard slot to decrypt scrambled, premium cable TV content. It also has a Blu-ray DVD recorder, HDMI output, and fairly brawny PC components.

The Sony VAIO VGX-XL3's attractive case and extremely quiet operation should make it a good fit for almost any home-theatre environment.

But this PC, which costs $3,300 (around £1,650 ex VAT) without a monitor or TV, has some aggravating limitations. For example, you can record TV programs to the device's Blu-ray drive - but not if you have a CableCard installed. (You can record programs to the hard drive whether you've installed a CableCard or not).

According to Sony's website, the Sony VAIO VGX-XL3 is a "full HD 1080 Media Center PC", but it can output only a 1080i signal. (Sony says that applying an nVidia graphics card update will enable 1080p, but it will also prevent DVD playback and cause other problems).

The included wireless keyboard has an integrated trackpad that we loathed: Its large buttons are recessed and very uncomfortable to push. As a result, we often resorted to mousing with a right forefinger and clicking with a left forefinger.

As a standard PC, the Sony VAIO VGX-XL3 performs adequately. It earned a WorldBench 6 Beta 2 score of 86, which is about halfway between the marks posted by value PCs we've tested recently and the marks posted by power PCs.

But Sony made the Sony VAIO VGX-XL3 powerful not so that it could accommodate spreadsheet analysis and internet browsing, but so that it would be responsive when handling demanding entertainment content.


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