By David Ponce
HP was kind enough to send us an HP Touchsmart 600-1055 to review. They asked us to determine whether their offering could become an “Entertainment Hub”. It’s a lofty goal, one that’s shared by pretty much anyone these days. Microsoft and Sony certainly are trying hard with their Xbox and PS3, but HP’s approach is different. These were their exact words:
[We'd like you] to see if the TouchSmart PC is deserving of being called an “Entertainment Hub.” In addition to serving as a touch-enabled desktop PC, the TouchSmart can stand in place of several entertainment devices like a DVD player, TV, Blu-Ray Player, etc. It also has an HD widescreen display, TV Tuner, game console connectivity and several new built-for-touch applications from Hulu, Netflix, Pandora, Rhapsody and more.
In order to do this, we’re going to split up this review into three pieces. Today, we look at the Touchsmart 600 being used as a TV/PVR, in Part 2 as a DVD/BluRay player and Part 3 as a CD/Digital Music Player/Stereo player.
Don’t feel like reading or watching my video? No problem, here’s the verdict: as a TV to play Xbox in HD on, without HDMI? Not so much. As a TV and a PVR? Absolutely.
Read on for all the details and to find out how to win your own!
First, a few words about the hardware itself. The Touchsmart 600 is an all-in-one with a FullHD 23 inch capacitive touchscreen. This particular model has an Intel Core 2 Duo Processor P7450, 4GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive. Check the links below for a PDF with all the specs.
The build is solid and appealing. In front you have two stainless steel legs and a rear stand with a rubber pivot that makes swiveling the entire device left and right easier. On the right you have the slot-loading BluRay drive as well as a volume rocker and a multimedia card reader. On the left, behind a plastic panel, you have connections. Relevant to the TV/PVR question, you have S-Video, Cable, HDMI and composite inputs… But no component! So as an owner of a non-Elite Xbox, I was unable to play it in high-definition, being left with no component inputs to connect it with. While there are plenty of consoles out there with HDMI, there’s a good chunk without and the omission of component inputs was a bit of a disappointment.
The front facing speakers sound great (more on that in the music review), the included low profile keyboard is adequate and looks appealing, while the mouse is a generic HP-branded optical mouse. Rounding out the important features, you have a center-mounted adjustable webcam on the top bezel, which swivels up or down through a back mounted switch.
Does it work as a PVR?
So… How does it fare as a TV/PVR? To access this feature, you have to launch the Touchsmart suite of applications. This is the heart of this PC and is what makes it possible to use its touch interface. Without it, you’d have Windows 7. Whatever anyone tells you, like any previous version of Windows, it wasn’t really designed with touch use in mind. Fingers are just too darn big for whatever you might try to do. The Touchsmart suite fixes that. It creates an environment that sits on top of Windows and “touch-enables” its functionality. That said, it has some design flaws that aren’t really important, but indicative of a lack of design consistency. For instance, when setting up the TV tuner card, one is presented with a drop-down list of residence countries. Since you’re in the Touchsmart suite of applications at this moment, you’re fully expecting to be able to do everything with your fingers… Expect it’s impossible to scroll this list without using the mouse. Flicking up or down does nothing except choose a country you don’t actually reside in. Weird, but not that hard to fix in an update (reading this, HP?).
Once setup, the tuner card will scan for available channels. When done, you’re presented with a list of stations, which you can select by simply touching. When selected, a preview of that channel will pop up on the top right. If you want to watch, touch the preview and maximize the image. The rest is standard PVR functionality. Pause live TV, fast forward to Live (pleasantly, there is a scroll button that allows you to choose the exact spot you’d want to forward to) or press the record button and… record. Once recorded, your clip (or full show, or whatever) can be accessed under the Recordings tab. Everything works as you’d expect from a personal video recorder and the interface is intuitive enough that you don’t get lost.
A side note. I don’t have cable. Being online at all times, I see no use for it. So I connected the Touchsmart 600 (and its integrated Tuner card) to an old fashioned wire antenna. Yeah, we still have analog up here. But one downside of this setup is that I was unable to configure the Electronic Program Guide. Had I done so, I’m assuming I’d have been able to schedule a recording in advance. This is something I did not try, but assume it works.
So, to conclude, the Touchsmart 600-1055 works just fine as a TV or a Personal Video Recorder. If you’re lucky enough to own a console with HDMI output, you can play games no problem. Own an Xbox without it? Get used to SDtv…
And it will pause and record live TV just fine.
Pros (Part 1):
+ Will record and pause live TV.
+ Integrated HDTV Tuner card.
+ Touch interface works great for this purpose
Cons (Part 1):
– Does not come with component inputs
– Minor software design inconsistencies
How do you win your own?
Alright, so HP’s giving one of these away to our readers. It’s the same one we’ve been reviewing: The HP Touchsmart 600-1055, valued at $1,500 (full specs in PDF below). To enter, simply leave a comment on this post, or any of the follow up articles. It’s open to Canada and the US. And it will end 48 hours after we post Part 3 of this review. So keep your eyes peeled, and comment away.
Oh and if you have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll do my best to answer. And yes, this counts as entering.
[ Touchsmart 600 Specs (Warning, PDF) ]