Thursday, July 26, 2007

HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC


Huge, beautiful 20-inch screen; built-in analog/digital TV tuner is HDTV-capable; dual hard drives, HD DVD drive available; clever hinged screen; lots of extra touches.


Midrange graphics will disappoint gamers; noticeable fan noise; panel is shy of 1080p resolution.

Key Specs

Processor: 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700
Memory: 4GB DDR2
Storage: Two 100GB hard drives (7,200rpm)
Optical Drives: HD DVD-ROM/DVD±RW
Display: 20.1-inch TFT
Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT (256MB)
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium


Thinking of the HP Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC as just an oversize desktop-replacement notebook would be missing the point. The HDX is more of an entertainment hub for your home, meant to replace a litany of hardware: a fairly powerful PC, a 20-inch high-definition LCD TV set, an HD DVD player, a TiVo, a DVD recorder, and a stereo. Sure, it isn't cheap: The HDX starts at $2,999 for the base model, and the configuration we tested will cost around $4,250. (Final pricing will be set closer to the machine's July launch). But what you get for all that money is a well-thought-out, elegantly executed all-in-one laptop that you can move from room to room or take on the road occasionally. (Well, more like once in a blue moon: It weighs over 16 pounds).

Unless you've seen a notebook with a 20.1-inch screen in person, you won't be prepared for how huge the HDX really is. Pictures don't accurately communicate the scale. But HP has done a good job making the HDX attractive, employing the Pavilion line's glossy black case with a subtle pinstripe pattern. The only difference in the familial look (apart from the size) is the silver rectangle appended to the top of the chassis.

That turns out to be one of the HDX's most welcome touches: a clever hinge mechanism for the screen that lets you move it fore and aft a few inches and also tilt the screen up and down to get just the right viewing position. The design is a huge improvement over other clamshell 20-inch notebooks, such as the Acer Aspire 9810 and Voodoo Envy HW:201, whose fixed screens don't give much leeway. But HP hasn't gone out on a design limb as far as the similarly priced Dell XPS M2010, which features a detachable wireless keyboard and an integrated carrying handle.

Other conveniences abound. The HDX has a built-in Webcam, a fingerprint reader, Bluetooth wireless, and a five-format flash-memory-card reader. The Pavilion line's touch-sensitive, blue-backlit volume- and media-control buttons are also here, now augmented with handy bass/treble controls and a “theater mode” button that dims the blue LEDs. (This keeps them from distracting you when you're watching a movie in the dark). The comfortable full-size keyboard features a number pad to the right and a removable 4x2-inch remote nestled into an integrated deck on the left. Larger than the credit-card-size remotes that come with other multimedia notebooks, this glossy black remote has a full contingent of buttons for controlling Windows Media Center or HP QuickPlay functions from across the room.

To play back multimedia files, view and record TV programming, and so on, you can use either the Media Center features of Vista Home Premium or HP's own QuickPlay utility. Media Center has a slicker interface, an update of the familiar blue interface that's usable from the couch. But QuickPlay has its merits, too, most notably the fact that it supports the Slingbox. If you have a Slingbox, you're ready to grab content from a remote PC wherever you happen to have the HDX. HP will also include a full version of Muvee AutoProducer (for making music-video-style home movies), Roxio's Creator 9 disc-creation suite, and the Roxio utility Backup MyPC, as well as Microsoft Works 8.5.

The HDX comes with a built-in hybrid analog/digital TV tuner, which lets you watch and record cable programming or over-the-air HDTV broadcasts. In our tests, analog cable looked a bit grainy (akin to first-generation Media Center Edition PCs), especially when we made the picture window larger. (The screen shows the limits of analog-TV quality). Connecting an HDTV antenna to the HDX provided much better results, with a clear picture showing excellent detail.

Though it boosts the price, configuring the HDX with an HD DVD drive is well worth it. (The drive also doubles as a multiformat DVD burner). Purists will note that the 1,680x1,050-resolution panel does not support true 1080p resolution (1,920x1,080), but the 720p HDTV quality won't disappoint most viewers. Watching an HD DVD disc of The Italian Job was a joy on the screen, with crisp, clear video and stunning detail. Standard-definition discs also looked good, with deep, rich colors, though we did note some motion blurring in action scenes.

Even better, the panel has a 170-degree field of view, which means you can place it on a coffee table and everyone in the room will have a good seat. Audio is another strong point. Thanks to four good-size speakers and a built-in subwoofer, music and movies sound superb, and the HDX supports eight-channel output if you want to make the laptop the centerpiece of a home theatre system.

Built on Intel's latest Centrino platform (code-named “Santa Rosa”), our review unit came with a new 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo T7700, as well as 802.11a/g/n wireless connectivity, which boosts throughput dramatically when paired with a Draft N router. Instead of Santa Rosa's improved integrated graphics, the HDX opts for the even-better ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256MB of dedicated memory. Our HDX also came with 4GB of RAM (the full amount the motherboard can accept) and twin 7,200rpm 100GB hard drives.

We could not get the Futuremark PCMark05 benchmark test to run on our late-preproduction build of the HDX, but other test results show the HDX is a robust machine for multimedia chores and decent (if not stellar) for gaming. It scored a solid 738 on Cinebench 9.5, and finished our Windows Media Encoder test in just over a minute. Futuremark's 3DMark06 returned a score of 3,993, which is good for an entertainment-focused notebook but well shy of the results for a true gaming machine. In our F.E.A.R. test with settings set to auto-detect, the HDX managed an average frame rate of 25 frames per second at 1,024x768. That's playable, but hard-core gamers will be disappointed HP didn't opt for higher-end graphics.

As you'd expect from a machine with an enormous screen, battery life is impaired. The HDX lasted 1 hour and 12 minutes on our DVD rundown test, which indicates it should last over 2 hours for typical computing chores. One other downside: The whirring of the machine's fan is noticeable—it could be distracting during silent scenes in a movie. It's no louder than a desktop PC, but not as silent as other portables we've tested lately.

HP backs the HDX with a one-year parts-and-labor warranty, with excellent support via phone, chat, or e-mail.

When you add up what its entertainment components would cost you separately, the HP Pavilion HDX's price is right where it should be. If you're in the market for a home PC that can double as an entertainment hub, this behemoth is worth a look.

Direct Price: $4,250

Hewlett-Packard, 800-289-6947


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