Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q896 Laptop Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Home Theater/Media Center PCs
Written by Mike Flacy   
Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I've always felt that Home Theater PCs have long been ignored as a viable alternative to physical media players in the home entertainment space, mostly because taking that next step into streaming or storing all your media in a central location seems very daunting to the average consumer; both from a technical and time consuming standpoint.  It's very refreshing to see the barrage of media player / HTPC hybrids that are taking the home theater by storm as of late.  Players like the Boxee, Western Digital's TV Live Hub or even the Apple TV are giving consumers new to the space an easy way to get started with playing stored media (both offsite and onsite) without moving into the serious video server arena.  Adoption and more widespread use of this technology will ultimately lead to consumers wanting more from their media centers, thus seeking upgrades to a higher quality of video server (the Vidabox Slim3, for instance).

Toshiba laptop front view

The Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q896 laptop (and I use that word loosely) isn't billed as a media center, but rather a powerhouse of a notebook that produces a native 1080p resolution, Blu-ray playback with up-scaling for DVDs and has a nifty HDMI out that send an uncompressed A/V signal to your HDTV.  It's also a beast, clocking in at about 10 pounds; ideal for a desktop, but not for travel.  The laptop sports an 18.4" screen (1920 x 1080 native resolution), Harman / Kardon Stereo speakers, backlit keyboard, touchpad media controls and a speedy 7200rpm hard drive for accessing all your media.  It's finished in a shiny black and accented with a metallic red, probably one of the more ostentatious laptops I've seen next to Alienware products. 

Diving into the more technical specs, the laptop has Intel's latest i7 quad core processor rated at 1.73Ghz, a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 460M video card with 1.5GB graphics memory, 4GB of DDR memory, built-in webcam (1.3 megapixels), Bluetooth 2.1, wireless N capability and a 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet connection.  On the front of the machine, you will find the SD / MCC / XD memory card slot for those who want quick access to their photos from a digital camera as well as a switch to turn off the Wi-Fi connection.  There are also indicator lights to tell if the computer it on, if the hard drive is bring accessed, etc…  On the left side of the laptop, there’s the Blu-ray / DVD drive, Firewire port, HDMI out port, a USB port, a SATA connection and the Ethernet jack.  On the right side, you will find the 3.5mm headphones & microphone jacks, two more USB ports, a VGA out for projectors and the power connection jack.  Different from the majority of the laptops on the market, there are no ports on the rear of the laptop; it’s reserved for the cooling fans.

HK speakers

Around the backlit keyboard (which is exceptional for working in low-light areas), you will find a full keypad, the track pad with two metallic red buttons for clicking, the media touchpad for controlling volume and the two HK speakers.  The track pad also comes with a button to turn off access, especially handy if you are using an external mouse.  One caveat to the media touchpad is there there’s no tactile feedback to pressing the buttons, thus I often accidentally hit buttons while typing.  That would mute the volume, launch the ECO mode utility or bring up Windows media player depending on the button that my pinkie brushed over.  Another problem with doing heavy typing on this machine is the vast amount of fingerprints and palm prints that coat the finish and the keys.  It’s just as bad at the iPad in getting covered in prints, thus requires lots of wipe downs.  Heck, Toshiba should have included a cloth to help us out.

Toshiba touch panelToshiba did include a few utilities though, some of which are not shockingly bloatware.  ECO mode allows you to track the power consumption of this laptop and tweak your settings based on what type of footprint you want to make with this behemoth.  I’d be curious to find out of the same market of people that purchased this laptop are really concerned with power use.  It’s like giving a Hummer owner a gauge to throttle how much gas the car uses.  Toshiba also included the Sleep & Charge feature for the USB ports, thus allowing the computer to be powered down, but still charging your iPhone or other portable device via USB.  Finally, there’s a hard drive sensor on the laptop that guards the hard drive when the laptop is being moved.  It’s a bit too sensitive to the occasional table bump, but anything that protects my data is a good thing.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ve been using the Toshiba Qosmio X505 as an ancillary media center as well as a standard laptop while connected to multiple displays; an HP 2310e Slim LED backlit monitor, a Sony Bravia KDL40NX700 40-inch 1080p Edge-LED backlit HDTV and a Mitsubishi HC5500 1080p LCD Projector.  I also tested the 18.4 inch monitor, but found media consumption (Blu-ray / DVD / ripped media) to be vastly superior on the alternate displays; specifically the color reproduction and contrast ratio.  That being said, the monitor vastly outperforms other laptop screens in its class.  It’s just tough to beat the other external displays, especially in glorious 1080p resolution.  The HDMI connection automatically chooses the resolution and away you go. 

Toshiba includes a program called Media Controller for transferring media around your network.  Do you have some ripped files on your laptop that you want to move to the Playstation 3 in the family room?  Just send them over with Media Controller without having to use a FTP program, it’s all drag and drop.  For consuming video, I used Windows Media Center to output all Blu-ray, music, pictures and ripped movies to my various displays.  It worked very well for navigating through my files with a Media Center compatible remote (I use the Gyration GYR4101CKUS Air Music Remote) and Toshiba automatically includes the launch buttons for both the DVD & Blu-ray player applications that come with the PC.

One minor problem I had with playing Blu-ray media was that inserting a Blu-ray disc launched the wrong program, Toshiba’s proprietary up-scaling DVD software rather than Corel’s WinDVD software that plays Blu-ray discs.  If Toshiba’s software is supposed to be playing Blu-ray content, it certainly didn’t work for me.  It did, however, upscale DVDs extremely well.  The Corel software worked perfectly for Blu-rayr and it was just a matter of associating inserting a Blu-ray to launch the other program; easy for an advanced computer user, but not likely for the average consumer.

Toshiba Side view

However, getting to my actual Blu-ray content was vastly faster on the Qosmio X505 than any of the players in my home.  I don’t believe the drive loaded the content any faster, but rather the speed of the data being processed was superior in all fronts.  I always try to only watch specific scenes from movies, but got sucked into The Dark Knight again, which looked fantastic from the internal Blu-ray drive.  Even with the bloated BD-Live titles, I was getting to the actual movie in half the time it took on an above average Blu-ray player.  You can turn the main screen off as well to only display content on your preferred screen.  I did see the slightest bit of lag time between the laptop screen and the HDMi output, but that’s to be expected when sending massive amounts of data to the screen.  While I used a sound system most of the time, the Harman Kardon speakers are easily the best built-in laptop speakers that I’ve ever heard.  They are incredibly crisp, have a solid midrange and carry over a small room like a bedroom.  There’s also Dolby sound processing built in, so you have the ability to use a virtual 5.1 headphones setup if you want to watch a late night movie without disturbing your significant other. 

The Toshiba Qosmio X505 is also a powerhouse when it comes to gaming.  I threw recent games like Fallout: New Vegas and Call of Duty: Black Ops at the graphics processor and it didn’t even blink an eye.  It was cranking out the full 1080p resolution with full graphics options on and it was a silky smooth experience.  It can handle multitasking with ease as well.  Last week, I was listening to (and partly watching) Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen on Blu-ray while surfing the net, working in Photoshop, typing up a new Word doc along with a variety of other minor applications running.  It also recovers from Sleep mode faster than any laptop I’ve ever owned, typically taking about a second to return to an operable state.

Webcam view

Cons:

Obviously, this isn’t a portable solution for travel.  If you want to carry this heavy laptop around, you will need an enormous laptop bag as well as room for the giant power adaptor.  It’s barely a solution for carrying around the house.  I would recommend finding a spot and sticking with it, preferably near another compatible 1080p display.  Another issue is the slightest bit of bloatware that comes with the machine, easily wiped out after the first week as you get tired of Norton trying to sell you their overpriced virus package with endless popup reminders. 

Conclusion:


The Toshiba Qosmio 505-Q896 is, by far, the fastest laptop that I’ve ever used and makes for an incredibly user friendly HTPC experience with Media Controller and Windows Media Center.  There’s not many competitors in the 18.4” class of laptop and Toshiba is very price competitive (Retails for $1699, can be found for about $1500 online) compared to an over-marketed brand like Alienware.  If you want to expand the reach of the media located in your main home theater to other sections of the house and are looking for a new desktop computer, consider combining those goals and take a look at the Qosmio X505.  Alternatively to the home theater space, this laptop is also perfect for graphic designers seeking heavy Photoshop & Illustrator use, directors & musicians looking to edit / produce media though tools like Premiere Pro and gaming fanatics that crave the latest tech to play 2010’s releases at 1080p resolution.

 

What are your thoughts on using a laptop for both HTPC media and generaluse?






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