These notebooks are designed with multimedia and entertainment in mind. All played DVD movies and two included high definition optical drives: the Dell XPS M1730 with a Blu-ray drive, and the Toshiba Satellite X200 with an HD-DVD drive. Both these drives play and burn DVDs and CDs, but the HD-DVD drive has recently become obsolete, having lost out to Blu-ray in the long running battle to be the dominant next generation optical disc format.
Of the 10 laptops tested, the BenQ R56-BV30 was the only one that came with Windows Vista Business which, as with Vista Basic, doesn’t support DVD playback without the addition of additional MPEG2 decoder file software. This is available from the Microsoft website ($US14.95), or via the free K-Lite Codec Pack (www.codecguide.com) or freeware such as the popular VLC media player (www.videolan.org).
From the 10 notebooks tested, only three notebooks stood out for quality sound — the Dell XPS M1730, LG S900-U.CPS1A and Toshiba Satellite X200. The Toshiba in particular was noteworthy for the sound quality of its Harman Kardon speakers. The remaining seven notebooks struggled to produce audio clearly, some sounding muffled, producing tinny audio with poor bass.
Three laptops scored highest with the user panel for screen quality — the Apple MacBook Pro 17 inch, QDI MX100 and the LG S900-U.CPS1A. The other seven were too glossy and produced reflective glare that could be uncomfortable. The user panel felt that displays with a matte finish were easier on the eyes and could be used for longer. Even with a large laptop computer, sometimes the screen is just too small. That’s when you need to hook up to an external TV or projector.
Both the BenQ R56-BV30 and Toshiba Satellite X200 included the best option — an HDMI port. HDMI is an audio/video interface that transmits digital audio and video streams over a single cable, making it easier to hook up without the confusion of multiple connections.
Games on the go
Serious game players are catered for particularly well by two of the tested laptops. The Toshiba Satellite X200 and the Dell XPS M1730 have enormous graphics ‘grunt’ for a laptop computer. Both have dual graphics cards connected by SLI (Scaleable Link Interface) — a feature usually only found on performance desktop computers.
TV tuners too
Don’t want to be without access to TV? Four of the tested laptops come with a TV tuner: the ASUS M51SN-AP003G, LG S900-U.CPS1A, Optima Centoris V870 Series and QDI MX100. Only the Optima Centoris V870 Series provided an external USB TV tuner.