When it was launched late last year, Sony's VGC V2S was the ultimate multi-tasking device. It could do so many things that we wondered who would have enough hours in the day to make use of all its functions. As well as a desktop PC with wireless keyboard and mouse, the V2S is a 20inch LCD TV, a dual format DVD burner, a music centre and a 250GB library to store and display your photos and videos.
What does combining a PC and an LCD TV in one device mean for users? On a practical level, it saves space and means less clutter, less cables: the wireless V2S runs amazingly on one cable, assuming you have wireless internet and are happy using the V2S's speakers, rather than adding home cinema sound. In the case of the V2S, it also means a gorgeously designed piece of technology that is very easy to set up. Once you switch on, a combined PC/TV means combined tasks. For instance, editing photos and then sharing them on a big screen happens on one device. Checking email during the commercial break while watching TV means flicking the remote control between TV and PC instead of walking from one device to another, from one room to another. This is where things start to get complicated. Traditionally, watching TV is a group activity, although bowling alone has caught on fast with lots of TVs in bedrooms for personal use. Checking email or fixing the red eye on your digital pics is a solitary activity. A combined PC/TV as a family device can quickly turn into a battleground whereas in a bachelor pad it can be the perfect answer to a digital lifestyle.
We asked Sony about its customers. V2S owners are a middle aged, middle class bunch (owners average income is £4,000 upwards per month). Surprisingly, many are first time PC buyers. Walk into their homes and the V2S is most likely to be sitting in a home office or living room. Design, graphics and the integrated TV were all important factors in deciding to buy so it comes as no surprise that the top five uses of this multi-tasking device are: watching TV, recording TV, burning to DVD, listening to MP3 music catalogues and viewing photo albums.
Does it make sense to buy a Windows PC and use it for TV centred entertainment? The two big drawbacks for us are that Microsoft Windows struggles to be a consumer friendly operating system - switching on the V2S is like switching on your PC - and a combined PC/TV means that when you are are watching TV you are stuck with the background fan noise of a computer. The advantage is all the added functionality of a desktop computer with a huge storage capacity in one well designed device.
Sony has the design spot on. The V2S desktop looks more like a LCD TV than a computer. Picture quality, whether playing DVDs or displaying photos, is brilliant. Whether combined PC/TVs will become the hub of family life is another question. It can quickly become awkward having everything on one device. The answer is to use the V2S as a hub that sends media around the home but then you are back to having several devices. In practice, it seems that people are limiting the functions they make use of. It's always worth asking yourself what you want to use a gadget for before you buy; never more so than with multi-tasking devices like PC/TVs.