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>> Wednesday, November 5, 2008

HP’s newest HDX is all about design, with ease of use as a close second. While the original dual hinged Pavilion HDX Entertainment Notebook PC was by all accounts innovative, it wasn’t exactly mobile, and its audience was limited to those who lusted after bragging rights more than true portability and functionality. The new HDX18, however, still has plenty to offer in terms of bragging rights, though we wish the movie experience were a little better.

The first thing you notice on the $ 2.149 HDX18 is the new Fluid imprint pattern, which extends from the lid to the keyboard deck all the way to the touch pad. The titanium and chrome chassis is streaked with hairline waves in varying shades of charcoal and gray. Pop the lid (with its drop down hinge), and you’ll find a 18.4 inch wide screen display that extends nearly to the edge, though it’s not a true edge to edge plate of glass. The VGA Webcam is seamlessly integrated, however, and two microphones flank either side of it.

The HDX18 is missing the dual hinge and included remote control that sat so nicely in the previous model's deck, a fair compromise to reduce size and weight. Measuring 17.2 x 11.3 x 1.3 inches (HWD) and weighing only 8.9 pounds, the HDX18 is more manageable than its predecessor (which had dimensions of 18.8x13.5x2.5 inches and weighed 15.5 pounds). We like the spacious silver keyboard, which follows suit with HP’s Pavilion line. It offers good key travel and generous spacing. The function keys, Esc key, and arrow keys, however, are a little on the small side.

Above the keyboard, you’ll find HP’s familiar collection of media buttons, which includes a Media Center toggle and the usual assortment of playback buttons, along with equalizer controls for treble and bass. There’s also a Wi-Fi toggle that changes from orange to blue when you touch it.

The volume controls launch a box onscreen, which is an improvement over the previous HDX’s lack of visual and tactile feedback for the volume controls. Below the keyboard is the wide touch pad, complete with comfortable mouse buttons and a scroll area.

A button between the touch pad and the keyboard turns the touch pad on and off. Finally, a fingerprint reader sits off to the right for good measure, though we doubt it will get much use. Around the system is a bevy of ports. On the right are the VGA, Expansion, Ethernet, HDMI, two USB, and FireWire ports. On the front there’s a 5 in 1 memory card reader, along with three status lights for power, battery, and the optical drive. On the left, you’ll find two headphone ports, a mic jack, two more USB ports, the TV tuner and power jacks, and the Blu-ray optical drive.

For such a high end machine, the movie playback was a little disappointing. Theoretically, the 16:9 aspect ratio should eliminate letterboxes in movies, but many movies weren’t shot with the right kind of camera even for that, so our standard definition copy of The Matrix had black bars on the top and bottom. That’s not HP’s fault, but you should keep in mind that buying a 16:9 screen isn’t enough to get rid of the bars. More disturbing, however, is the image quality. On both our Blu-ray test DVD and on the regular DVD, the image was grainy, with quite a bit of noise. We also noticed some loss in film resolution.

Colors were accurate, however, and we didn’t see any jaggies, skipping, delays, or jerkiness on either test. Sound, on the other hand, was superb. The Altec Lansing speakers combined with the Dolby Home Theater and subwoofer made for an exceptional listening experience especially for a laptop. When we listed to Melissa Etheridge’s “I’m the Only One,” it easily produced enough volume to fill a medium size dorm room or living room. In the box, you’ll find an over the air TV tuner that’s easy to set up. You can also record live TV or use the system as a DVR.

Packed with Intel’s latest Centrino 2 platform with a P8400 processor, the HDX18 offers impressive performance. It managed a score of 5,754 on Cinebench 10 (and a 935 on version 9.5). The system completed our iTunes conversion test in 3 minutes and 28 seconds, and our Windows Media Encoder test in 5 minutes and 9 seconds. We’ve seen higher scores, but typically only in much pricier gaming rigs. Likewise, the HDX18 handled multitasking with aplomb we watched a movie while converting iTunes files with no hiccups whatsoever.

The laptop’s Nvidia GeForce 9600M GT graphics card with 512MB of dedicated video memory means the HDX18 can hold its own for casual gamers. With a 3DMark06 score of 3,248 and a 3DMark Vantage score of 1,251 on the Performance preset, it’s not the best gamer on the market, but it should manage 3D games adequately. Just make sure to dial back the settings a bit. And there’s plenty of power to edit and burn HD content using the included Cyberlink DVD Premium software.

Muvee autoProducer Premium is also included for creating movies with special effects. Battery life was impressive for such a large system. We saw 1 hour and 48 minutes on our DVD rundown test at 80-percent brightness. Since we don’t expect people to do much traveling with this system, that’s pretty good. Laptops are often loaded with extras you’ll never need, but HP does a good job of keeping them in check on the HDX18.

You’ll find active hard drive protection to keep your data safe in case you drop the system or knock it around. An external SATA (eSATA)or USB combo port allows for quick backup to an external drive, and HP’s Advisor software helps you navigate your system while staying current on the latest updates. The system comes with a pair of stereo earbuds, a remote control, and a protective sleeve.

The one year warranty with 24/7 phone support is standard. From day one, the HDX has been a specialized machine, geared toward those who need most if not all of their entertainment in one place and who want to show it off. Even though it costs $2,149, the HDX18 combines TV, PC, stereo, and DVD player into one compact package. While we’d like to see better integration of the Blu-ray capabilities and better graphics performance, its solid array of ports, long battery life, and striking design make this one impressive machine.


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