Sony VGX-XL100 Review

Discussion in 'Desktop & Laptop Computers Forum' started by rkenyon, Mar 22, 2006.

  1. rkenyon

    rkenyon
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    I purchased an VGX-XL100 from PC World on Monday, mainly on impulse after reading the favourable PC Pro review.

    On getting home, I pulled everything out of the box, and tried to find the manual. This is the first failing, there is no printed user manual included. There are about half a dozen other booklets for marketing, WIFI and the like, but only a very brief ‘getting started’ sheet. If this is intended to be a ‘consumer’ rather than ‘geek’ product, then having no printed manual is unforgivable. The user manual is available online, or from a link on the desktop. However, it’s 206 pages, and not everyone who buys this product will have a printer at home.

    Anyway, being a ‘geek’, I quickly hooked it up to my TV (A Panasonic 37” Viera). I connected it to my amp via the optical digital cable, and plugged in my TV aerial.

    Next problem. There is no aerial output to connect to a TV. Thus, the VGX-XL100 must be the last device on the chain. Obviously, my TV is currently the last device, and so there is no way of connecting without adding a separate aerial, or using a splitter. For the time being, I left the VGX-XL100 unconnected.

    I booted the system, and set about going through the Windows MCE setup. This took about half an hour, and I then had a fantastic display of the Windows desktop. I then did my usual first step, and ran Windows Update to get all the latest patches for XP and MCE. Another half an hour and I had an up to date system. Isn’t life great!

    Err, no actually, life is not great. This is where I started hitting real problems.

    The first major problem is my fallback if I decide to get a refund (currently looking 70-30 in favour of refund). The system will not play protected DVD’s via Component or HDMI. I tried various software DVD players, and each of them gave an error about copy protection. Cyberlink’s PowerDVD gave the best error message, and I was able to determine what was happening. It turns out that the Nvidia drivers for the GE6600 do not allow copy protected (Macrovision) DVD’s to be played via the TV-OUT function of the card. This is supposed to stop people copying disks, but rather defeats the object of a media centre PC.

    After some searching, I found DVD Region Free that disables the copy protection and region checks, but this costs $40, and is a kludge.

    Next problem, the audio system included does not allow direct passthrough of the DD5.1/DTS soundtrack to the SP/DIF port on the sound card. After doing some research, this problem has also affected people using the older US version (X1). What appears to happen is that the DD5.1 signal is converted to analog, and this analog signal is then converted to Dolby Digital Live! format before being output to the SP/DIF port. Thus, you lose a lot of sound quality. Very bad.

    A workaround for the DD5.1/DTS problem is to purchase another sound card (either PCI or USB), and force everything through that. But again, this should not be necessary.

    The third major problem is more Microsoft than Sony. The January 24th 2006 MCE2005 Rollup patch seems to break MCE. This manifests itself in a number of ways, but always ends up crashing MCE.

    So far I’ve done 2 full re-installs, and haven’t yet got a system I can live with. I’ve not even tried to get MCE working correctly – I’ve been using WMP10 and WinDVD. Admittedly, these look great, but it still feels too much like a PC rather than a Media Centre.

    The other great feature is the keyboard. This is a radio controlled device rather than a infra-red, so works at any angle.

    However, while I’ve been writing this, I’ve realised that £999 is a lot of money for something that doesn’t work without lots of hand holding, so I’m now 100% sure it’s going back for a refund.

    Cheers,
    Rick
     
  2. Dell-Boy

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    Thanks for that message. Lots of useful info.

    Are there others with experience of the XL100 ?
     
  3. sijones

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    Hi Rick,

    I think you will find that it will work over HDMI providing your display supports HDCP.

    Regards,

    Steve
     
  4. bad robot

    bad robot
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    Thanks for a great report on what has always been a very interesting product.

    Youve clarified many problems/downfalls and really issues that should of ensured a machine like this shouldnt get released untill proven particulary as the USA model recieved simular respones from customers (CNET). Its rather shocking to hear about no manual and the Macrovision problem, even on DVDs never mind Hi-Def formats containing HDCP. If the problem isnt just with HDMI then its not just HDCP but possibly driver related to the card or perhaps this MCE instalation. The USA version IIRC worked with DVDs but would not allow HD content via component, oh which Sony forgot to mention (adding a notice via seperate page in the packaging) One alternative is to rip any DVDs to the HD removing the portection but this is hardly ideal if you quickly want to view a disc from your collection.

    During a recent thread regarding comparing a self build to the like of this HTPC for the benifit of other members i tried to cover many of the problems/downsides including the DTS and Copy Protection.

    Thank you for verifiying what i had covered. Whats just as shocking is some internet/publication reviews that put the Sony in a good light yet seem to completely not pick up on such issues. perhaps it once again goes to show how amateur or perhaps PR biased reviews can now be.
     
  5. rkenyon

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    I think this only relates to HD content, not normal DVD's. That said, I've not yet tried connecting via HDMI - I'll need to remove the TV from the wall and plug in the HDMI cable, so it's a job for the weekend.

    Looking at the various sites, the macrovision problem seems to occur whenever the output is to TV-OUT, which applies to both Component and HDMI.

    Cheers,
    Rick
     
  6. craigae

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    I've been playing with my XL100 and I am not happy. I think it has great potential, but is gonna require a lot of messing- the biggest stumbling block for me is the HDMI output, and I just cannot for the life of me get a decent picture. I have a Samsung 42" HD plasma, and even my laptop with stretched 1024*768 looks better than this at the moment. I assumed HDMI meant I could select 720p, 1080i etc, and the PC would operate in those resolutions, but this is totally not the case. It seems you select a PC resolution, then it just get's converted into whatever option you select, which absolutely sucks.

    I know my plasma can display a good 720p picture (Xbox 360), but isn't a full 720p res. So whenever I select 1280x720 res, half the desktop is off the screen- there is an adjustment mode to resize it to fit my screen, but then my res goes down to 1200x644, which I guess is then converted to 720p for the HDMI connection. I just can't get my head round this madness- and the latest Nvidia drivers break it even more, by removing 720 option for me and making the 1080i looks way more interlaced than normal. Am I doing something wrong?!

    The actual media center stuff is excellent, and video looks great, but windows itself and anything else looks really compressed and squished.

    Will try a DVD over HDMI now.
     
  7. craigae

    craigae
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    Oh yeah, I've had this problem twice now- I go away from the XL100 (to post how crappy it is!), come back and the display is 640x480 at 4-bit resolution?! Nothing works, and I need to restart. I can only assume it's the screensaver messing something up, and I've disabled it now.
     
  8. bad robot

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    Check on the Nvidia site to see if they have a special driver or possibly on Sonys as this is still a unique card.

    The resizing tool is to eliminate the "Overscan" from your HDTV which will lower the res yet maintain it as a 720p resolution. For instance on my 40" Sony i run a 1200x700 which means i have no overscan problems.
     
  9. craigae

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    Maybe I'm just not understanding the situation then bad robot, but I still can't see why running proper 720p res doesn't just fill my screen, as if I was using an upscaling DVD player or the Xbox 360. And surely anything but 1-1 pixels is bad for image quality purposes?

    I tried a DVD in 1080i mode, it works fine with the MCE software. Some bits looked way better than normal. Definitely something fishy going on with the optical output tho. DTS was just silent (but no error messages etc) and just normal DD didn't sound meaty enough, even quite loud. It actually sounds better when DD output is turned off, and it's just PCM :(
     
  10. bad robot

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    Your running at 60Hz ?
    Fullscreen should be happening with 720p and you losing some desktop in the overscan process.

    Sorry cant help out much more....
     
  11. DLPMaybe

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    I have a samsung DLP and suffer with similar issues. I think most people do when connecting a PC to their TV. 360 and DVD's will also get overscan but you just don't see it. A test with the 360 is to play GRAW. Look at the blue hud and see if any of it goes off screen. If so you are getting overscan on the 360. As for the samsung look in the plasma forums for people who have connected PC up to your TV. Things I can suggest that may be totally inacurate as my TV is samsung but DLP is ensure that the signal is 60hz. If you can name the hdmi connection make sure it is named PC. On mine this opens up resize options. Also get powerstrip and use that to set the resolutions. Good luck.
     
  12. dannyg81

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    I think you may be getting a bit confused about what HDMI actually is.... it's just a digital connection that allows transmission of uncompressed audio and video data with HDCP encryption. It doesn't force any signal or automatically convert any signal into 720p or 1080i.... this is all handled by the source and destination device. For instance.... you can set a HTPC to a res of 1024x768, which will be sent, as is, to a compatible display... which will then upscale this (or downscale) to it's native resolution. Certain graphics cards (like my 9800pro) and drivers allow the selection of 720p or 1080i resolutions by ticking an option box in advanced properties, but this is just the same as manually selecting the res and refresh rate in the desktop properties.

    What you need to do is find out what your panels native res is (most plasmas I believe are 1024x768, some higher though) and set your desktop resolution to that same size. You may need Powerstrip though if it's an obscure res. That way, you'll achieve 1:1 pixel mapping with little or no overscan and all 720p material will be downscaled slightly by your graphics card, but displayed correctly on your display panel. Or as correctly as your panel will allow, if it doesn't have a full res of 1280x720.
     
  13. craigae

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    I think the source of my problems are this is using a very non-standard graphics card, and it only has HDMI and Component out- if it had VGA then I'd probably be able to sort this mess out quicker.

    I know HDMI can support things other than 720 and 1080, but seriously, this PC/Graphics card seems to only output either of those two, no matter what res I select.

    With my laptop on the VGA in, I can select any res, and the plasma detects it, and it mostly fills and stretches to my screen. So 1024x768 is all there, just stretched. Then it's just a matter of telling winamp than my screen is 16:9 and voila.

    With the XL100, any res is reported by my plasma as 720p (if the widows res is below that) or 1080i (if windows is set to higher). If i set 1024x768, it's just a square of 4:3 content in the middle (and even then it's overscanned majorly top and bottom). This isn't normal windows behavious, this is some seriously dodgy graphics drivers.

    It only really affects windows and stuff like winamp. Everyhing is squished and hard to see. It's wierd, but if I select the 576p mode, it stays in 720p mode, but the res is big and windows looks great. The media centre software seems to compensate for whatever res you are on, and looks fantastic.

    I installed powerstrip and from then on the machine refused to output over the HDMI. I had to plug one of the components into a close by portable and sort it out that way.

    And it is mostly positive after my problems with the HDMI connection and suspect optical out.

    The keyboard/mouse combo is great- just wish they had stuck a media center button on it, as it's a very useful button but only present on the remote. Also for some reason, pressing the media center button on the remote turns on my xbox 360.

    The freeview works well, and the guide is great and the recordings are superb. It's obviously not hi def, but coming through the XL100 over 1080, there is a certain clarity about it I like. It's very fast and swish, way better than a STB. But not worth £999 when I have Sky+ and just about to put my £30 down for Sky HD.

    It's definitely capable of playing anything you throw at it, including 1080p which always used to stutter on my laptop. And that I guess is the reason I bought it.

    No shoutcast plug in for media centre is a real blow, I love my online radio, and I'm starting to see I'll need to be doing everything thru the MCE interface for me to be happy with this. There is live365, but you *have* to sign up :(

    The remote control is sucky in the Sony-of-old way: very big, bulky and plasticcy, too many buttons and not enough description. The 360 remote is sublime, and hopefully I can get that to control the XL100 at some point.

    In fact, the 360 stuff is very neat indeed. You can do pretty much everything on the 360 streamed from the XL100, like watching TV/recordings, the guide, scheduling etc. At on point I was even online on MSN, with it overlayed on the TV picture- very cool stuff.

    I've decided I'm probably not going to take this back. I might have to get a proper SPDIF out if all you can have really is DDL!. Persaverence is the key with PCs, I'll get some combination of drivers/settings/software that I'm happy with eventually!

    But as a consumer product, this is not very friendly. I doubt many people would make it as far as me and still want to keep it. As said previously, there are no instructions or spec sheets of any kind, and mine didn't come with any install CDs either, and seeing as I don't have a copy of MCE lying around, I could very well be screwed at some point.
     
  14. sijones

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    Hi Craig,

    I have configured the S1 key at the top of the keyboard to launch media center. You can do this using the S1 Vaio Action configuration tool. This tool allows you to define the functions of each of the three buttons at the top centre of the keyboard. Hope this helps.

    Regards,

    Steve
     
  15. craigae

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    Yeah, I did that this afternoon thanks :)

    More good points:
    HDMI and optical cable included
    Wireless keyboard turns itself off (have left it on overnight and while at work - doh!)
    Impressively quiet

    Bad points:
    Doesn't seem that fast a computer, despite some decent specs tbh
    I can't for the life of me get 720p60 - maybe Sony have localised it for the UK?
    No bluetooth
    Radio doesn't work if you use the digital TV tuner

    Really need 100mb network for decent streaming to an extender, so i need a new hub for the living room now... when will the spending ever stop?!
     
  16. bad robot

    bad robot
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    "Craig_E"
    Curious as to how the notebook style pad-controller works, is it over/under sensitive? Thats one feature i liked the look of.

    Interesting report but most of your good comments are about MCE and not the actual machine itself. I agree a good HTPC isnt just reliant on MCE but also works well in a desktop mode too for additional apps such as...Winamp/i-tunes/theatretek/vlc/mpc/quicktime pro/Picassa 2 etc. MCE is sized to look the same no matter what resolution output you use so its important to ensure the desktop looks good too with no overscan problems.

    Overall though I very much think this is a lovelly but utter poorly considered product. How can anyone be happy with it, when £1000 makes a very good HTPC that wouldnt/shouldnt have the issues below...

    Issues:
    HDMI resolution issues/problems/poor support
    HDCP kills the display even on protected DVDs
    DD gets downgraded to DDL5.1 (Simular to PLII)
    DTS is not supported
    No MCE installation discs?
    No manuals?

    Im really dissapointed and surprised you think its worth the money.
    Heres hoping the next generation will be better thats to include a Blu-Ray drive.
     
  17. craigae

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    I've mostly resolved the HDMI issues and accepted the quirky modes and massive overscan, but windows still looks poor. 60hz would be nice, but if it bothers me that much, i can use the 360 for that. I guess when you have hi res, then everything windows is going to look small (text/icons), even on a big telly.

    But i think you're right, i am way more impressed with the MCE software. It's all very impressive, and of course nothing to do with vaio! But it does have a decent spec, and i love the case. The keyboard/mouse thing is unique. It plays high def without a hitch. So while not 100% happy with it, it's not that bad at the end of the day. I wouldn't be streaming music thru my hi fi and surfing the web from my sofa if i didnt have it! MSN over TV is also very neat :)

    I'm planning on using 360 for HD-DVD and PS3 for Blu Ray, so not too bothered about optical situation, but it doesn't excuse it!

    Gonna run some 3d mark tests on it tomorrow, not expecting much, but haven't seen any 3D on it yet. Looking forward to a dedicate machine with mame on it as well:)
     
  18. craigae

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    Sorry, forgot to address 2 things:
    I have played a DVD fine with the MCE software via HDMI/720p.

    The controller is great, but you'll get used to it quicker if you already have a laptop, as it feels a lot like that. It's very light, and I appreciate the simple design, rather than those keyboards where you have 50 multimedia buttons. Because I have a laptop, it does feel odd that my hand is to the right when using the mouse bit. It's pretty close to the arrows as well, and you can accidently rub it quite easily (you can turn it off tho if you want). Tapping for the mouse click is very sensitive, but for actual speed, i've had to ramp it up to max via the control panel to get it how i like it. Basically, i find if you can't get the pointer across the screen in one whole fell swoop, it's just laborious. One thing i like is you can emulate a scroll wheel by rubbing the very side, like a laptop as well.

    So yeah, a grand for a decent wireless keyboard... :D
     
  19. ccparkhill

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    Can this Vaio play SACDs? I remember the press release saying it supported DSD audio as used in SACDs.
     
  20. Edgeyboy

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    Can anyone confirm if they have been able to play a standard copy protected DVD through the HDMI ouput to a Projector / panel with a 720 panel ? :)
     
  21. bad robot

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    Hi again,

    I recently bought a MCE notebook (1.7 Pentium M) that has MCE installed. Upon giving X360 a test as an extender i also found it pretty decent, ok id maybe prefer the look and feel of the odd individual apps for some purposes but was very impressed with the 1080i 720p testing i tried with streaming via ethernet to the X360.

    The beauty of this is the laptop suffers in no way CPU approx 5% and as my current P4 PC in this loft room no longer has a good soundcard it meant having the notebook connected to the 360 allowed for easy viewing of CSI 1080i & LOST 720p with component connection to my AE 700 projector of course also including the 5.1 surround outputed from the 360.

    I suppose if you were doing the same and had your 360 via optical you too would maybe get a benifit from it. Look into the HDTV settings in the driver and see if your drivers have the underscan tool, this will sort out your overscan.
     
  22. bad robot

    bad robot
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    Ok this isnt exactly fair but my current HTPC (see sig) cost £1250 being self built, with personally selected products and fully optimised yet stable gave me this score via Sisoft Sandra.

    CPU Arithmetic Benchmark
    Drhystone ALU 21218 MIPS
    Whetstone FPU/iSSE2 7858/10317 MFLOPS

    Ill run 3dm on it tomorrow also as im curious how big the difference will be, can you try the free download of "Sisoft Sandra" and do the above test, oh and also let me know what version of 3dm your for testing.
     
  23. offdigital

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    I demoed the XL100 at the Sony Centre on the TCR today. I changed channels, it crashed. I walked away.

    It's unfortunate really - it would be ideal for me.
     
  24. craigae

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    I have confirmed it twice in this very thread, if you're eyesight is that bad, you don't need HDMI ;) It was the retail DVD of the movie Underworld, which I assume is copy protected.
     
  25. craigae

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    I've had no problems with the TV tuner whatsoever, in fact, the quality and speed of the PVR functions are one of the most impressive things- If only I could get the sky channels thru this thing, it would be my main source (Yes, i know there are some long-winded hacks to get Sky working, but sounds like a lot of effort!)
     
  26. craigae

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    While scanning down the list of things to uninstall there are a couple of mentions of DSD audio... I didn't really know what it meant, so left it in there. Don;t you need a special drive to read SACD tho? As far as i know, this only has a DVD+/-RW
     
  27. dvsuk

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    Thanks for all your comments. I am looking at purchasing the XL100 but I have a few issues, mainly that there is only one tuner and whether the machine could be upgraded to Blu Ray at a later stage. Does anyone know if this is a standard slot-in drive?

    The other thing is what the TV recording is like - from TV to DVD and whether you can edit out the adverts (using software already supplied). I have a Sony DVD recorder in my av cupboard which I'd love to get rid of and replace with an all in one media centre. Also, have Sony added software to enable recording to avi/Divx?

    It seems like a mixed bag of opinions about the machine. I wonder if it's best to wait til next year when Vista and Blu Ray are out and Sony have had time to iron out the issues mentioned here?
     
  28. craigae

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    Sony are definitely adding Blu Ray to all there Vaios, starting in a month or so with laptops. I thought the problem was, even with a BR drive, you couldn't play movies in a PC, and the drives were just for backup (50gb on a dual sided disc)

    The recordings on the PC are spot on, I guess just a straight recording of the digital stream. I think you can save to divx, altho I have noticed one programme so far (8 out of 10 cats, channel 4) that is copy protected, and it won't let you save it to DVD at all. I'll try some burning out this afternoon and let you know how it is.
     
  29. Edgeyboy

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    How would you rate the Picture quality from DVD compared to a dedicated player ?
     
  30. craigae

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    Oct 6, 2003
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    Here are the test results from 3dmark06 and sisoft sandra arithmatic and media benchmarks. There hasn't been much in terms of trying to get the best performance- everything is still pretty default.

    As expected really- it's not a PC to be playing Unreal Tournament 2007 on! But it plays 1080p fine (and mame!) so as a TV PC, it's certainly powerful enough.
     

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