Sony VAIO VGNAR18GP Notebook


$5,500

The West has been extremely lucky to look at one of the first of the new generation DVD drives in the country in the Sony Blu-ray VAIO, and the future is big. Literally — forget how impressed you were when you first heard about burning 8.5Gb onto a dual layer DVD-R. New generation DVDs will hold up to 25Gb on a single layer disk or up to 50Gb on dual layer.

Maybe you’ve heard about the new home video formats battle and wondered how it affects you? Like the stoush between VHS and Beta in the early 80’s, your next purchase of a DVD player or high end DVD laptop will probably be a vote cast between the Sony-backed Blu-ray format and the Toshiba- and NEC-owned HD DVD.

The fortunes of some the biggest electronics and entertainment producers in the world are at stake, and as the consumer, you win. New discs are going to hold up to 10 times the amount of data as the ones you get from the video shop or the blank discs you buy now.

Firstly, that means your idea of extra features on a DVD will be utterly transformed. But more importantly, the new generation of digital and big screen TV won’t be adequately serviced by the current technology. More space for data means richer detail for bigger picture and sound, and the VAIO itself is the perfect proving ground for such output — standard definition TV has 576 lines, but the signal from the VGNAR18GP can handle output of 1080 lines (or a 1920 x 1080 pixel picture).

The higher definitions are also important if you’re editing digital video because you need a display size at least as detailed as the screen your film will play on (in some cases, pull-down wall projector screens). So Sony hasn’t only given you the screen dimensions and display detail to handle it, they include a whole suite of multimedia editing and management software and the processing and graphics power to handle even a commercial-grade DVD production operation. From production to exhibition, the VAIO is a Blu-ray-based film studio and theatre.

Right now, it has a fairly narrow market. Early adopters who love being the first and for whom money is no object won’t baulk at the price tag, but it’s the first cab off the rank of a new technology so prices will change dramatically over the next six months. The same goes for blank Blu-ray discs, currently around $30 each.

Plus, the war over the new formats is only just reaching ground level and appearing in stores, so there’s time yet to weigh up the pros and cons. Go the wrong way and you might have lost an expensive gamble — giving the Betamax VCR in the garage some company.

As a PC, it’s a large, heavy and serious-looking beast at almost 4kg. Owing to the multimedia capacities, Sony has thrown considerable bulk behind the graphics card so games, video files and other graphics-heavy tasks will be a breeze.

While it’s one of the first Blu-ray equipped laptops, Sony’s hedging their bets by not locking you into their universe. Much of the cost accounts for the fact that the drive can still real current generation discs. If you look carefully at the disc cradle, you’ll actually see two separate laser readers.

Despite HD DVD being ratified by the relevant global authority and having no less than Microsoft as a backer, Sony has a sterling media track record in everything from creative production to delivery platforms. The West isn’t bold enough to predict the winner of what will become the costliest battle in electronics history, but if Sony can replicate the appeal of the VAIO across the board, the Blu-ray standard has a good chance of being the future.


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