by Charles Masters

Media Center laptops fall into the increasingly popular category of desktop replacements: seven-pound-plus big-screen beasts that will rarely, if ever, sit on your lap. Why go with a laptop if it’s not going to hit the road? Because they take up very little space, move easily from room to room, and stow away completely when not in use. The ideal choice is a widescreen model (the better to watch 16×9 DVDs) with digital-audio output for connecting to surround-sound speakers. Instant-on capability is another nice touch, allowing you to enjoy TV, CD and DVD entertainment without booting the entire Windows operating system. The downside to laptops, though, is their limited capacity
for upgrades. Any add-ons–a bigger hard drive, more TV tuners,
a faster DVD drive–will most likely have to be external.

1. The Videophile: HP Pavilion zd8000
The zd8000 is one of the first laptops to use a PCI Express graphics card, the ATI Mobility Radeon x600, which pumps data twice as fast as a standard PCI card–you’ll notice the bump most in gaming and video editing. Another perk: The
6-in-1 media-card reader easily transfers photos and MP3 files.

2. The Instant Gratifier: Toshiba Qosmio G15-AV501
No need to boot up the Qosmio to watch movies or listen to CDs. Its Linux kernel powers up the machine within a few seconds of pressing the QosmioPlayer button, just like a stand-alone DVD player. The SuperMulti DVD drive also reads and writes just about any disc you throw in: +/-RW or RAM.

3. The Dock Star: Sony VAIO VGN-A290
If you’re willing to get up close and personal with your machine, Sony’s A290 uses its own capable software instead of MCE for navigating TV, video and music playback–you get a remote, but no 10-foot interface. The included AV Entertainment Dock houses the TV tuner and all the A/V
connections, so you don’t have to unplug everything when you go mobile. It also delivers an exceptionally bright, crisp picture on the high-res (1,920-by-1,200-pixel) 17-inch screen.