HP dv2 Ultra-portable Windows Vista Media Center Notebook
I can remember my enthusiasm for early versions of Windows XP Media Center Edition and the promise of an integrated home theater experience built into Windows. One of the best things Microsoft did with Windows Vista was to include that Media Center experience as part of Vista, not just as a special version of the OS. The thing I didn't like about old versions of Media Center was the need for bulky desktop systems that took up tons of space and needed a permanent home in my home theater. What Microsoft did in making Windows Media Center available on most consumer systems was allow me to have a highly portable home theater experience from something like the 1.73 kilogram (3.81lbs) HP dv2.
HP sent me a dv2 to test out. I was initially interested only in the portability coupled with enough power to get work done. What I found instead was a machine that just might be the ultimate portable Windows Media Center system.
So what makes the dv2 the ultimate ultra-portable home theater PC?
What HP's done with the dv2 is created a line of 12.1-inch screen notebooks that sit between the Netbook class of computers and the much bulkier full-sized notebooks, without compromising on performance and features. The thing I was most concerned with about the dv2 was the potential for being underpowered for playing HD content. I've tested HD playback on a number of Intel Atom-powered devices and come away underwhelmed with the performance. The HP dv2 uses the AMD Turion X2 Neo processor, which seems to handle both Blu-ray and downloaded HD files like a champ. Here's how it stacks up in the three most important feature areas:
Windows Media Center Movies on the dv2
A 12.1 inch screen might not be the ideal viewing size for your home theater, but you can still get the full Windows Media Center experience by way of HDMI-out on the dv2. When you're traveling on a plane, you won't have to worry about the dv2 screen getting crunched when the guy in front of you reclines his seat, because it's small enough to fit safely on the fold-down tray. You will need an additional USB TV tuner to record television with Windows Media Center, but the size of the dv2 makes it convenient to take your recorded television with you for viewing while you travel. Since many hotel rooms now include HDTV screens with HDMI in, you can take your home theater on the road, in a nice compact size, and still get the full viewing experience without needing a much heavier notebook.
If you upgrade the dv2 with the optional external Blu-ray drive, you also get a completely portable movie playback experience (and a sweet USB drive that works with other PCs too).
Windows Media Center Photos on the dv2
There's plenty of hard disk space with a base configuration of 250GB hard drive, so you can take your entire photo library with you anywhere you go. Here again, the HDMI-out comes in handy so you can quickly connect to a high definition screen to make sharing photos a group experience in anyone's house. And enjoying the comfort of your couch while browsing photos is far better than crowding around a computer screen of any size.
Windows Media Center Music on the dv2
One compromise I've often made in being portable is leaving some of my music collection behind while traveling. Here the dv2 helps create a solid portable Media Center experience by supporting your entire music collection while also maintaining a compact size. Unless you have an extremely large music collection, you should be able to carry everything with you on the dv2.
One of the keys to making sure you get the best possible experience from a notebook of this size is to not skimp on key features. In my experience, using the 64-bit version of Windows Vista, coupled with a processor like the Neo X2 is a far better experience for playing back Blu-ray movies. Maxing out the RAM at 4GB creates a better experience if you have many applications open at the same time or if you plan on doing things like editing HD movies. A larger hard drive (the dv2 supports up to 500GB) may provide needed additional space for recording movies.