One step forward, and a giant leap back
THE DISPLAYS IN HPâ€™s TouchSmart series top out at 23 inches. To get anything bigger, you must move over to HPâ€™s Omni all-in-one lineup. The upper limit here is a ginormous 27 inches, but you wonâ€™t get that slick touch user interface, and youâ€™ll need to sacrifice performance to keep the price tag in the same $1,250 neighborhood occupied by the TouchSmart 520-1070 we reviewed in March. Weâ€™re not convinced those are good trade-offs.
Both models feature an HDMI input that allows you to use the display independent of the computer, and thatâ€™s easily one of their best features. Plug in a set-top box or a gaming console, and the machines can serve double duty as a computer and a 1080p display for watching TV or playing games. Thereâ€™s just one problem: You canâ€™t use the wireless keyboard to control or mute the volume when the computer is being used solely as a display. Instead, you must push the PC/Game mode button to bring up an onscreen control panel, press the minus button three times to select the volume control function, and then repeatedly press the plus or minus buttons to adjust the volume. To mute the volume, you must turn it to zeroâ€”which takes 14 button presses from full volumeâ€”or switch the display back into PC mode. That will drive you nuts at every commercial break and every time the phone rings.
The 27-inch screen is great for watching movies and TV, but your eyes wonâ€™t like using this computer for long stretches.
We tend to dismiss the speakers in all-in-ones because the small enclosures just canâ€™t produce good bass response. Connecting HPâ€™s Pulse subwoofer (a $130 option) into the Omni 27 Quadâ€™s subwoofer output made us realize how well HPâ€™s integrated speakers produce mid- and high frequencies. You might, however, find an even better sub from a mainstream speaker manufacturer. Polk Audioâ€™s PSW10, for instance, has an amp that produces 50 watts RMS to the Pulseâ€™s 30 watts, and it features a 10-inch driver compared to the Pulseâ€™s 6-incher. We found it online for just $120.
Unlike the TouchSmart 520, the Omni 27 Quad does not include a discrete videocard or a TV tuner. You can add these features when you place your online order, but a videocard will add $70 to $120 to the price, and the TV tuner will tack on $50.
Adding HP’s Pulse subwoofer to the Omni 27 Quad does wonders for its audio capabilitiesâ€”and it has blue LEDs! (Donâ€™t worry, you can turn them off.)
Like the TouchSmart 520-1070, the Omni 27 Quad comes packed with 8GB of RAM, but the unit we reviewed was outfitted with a 2.5GHz Core i5 2400S (compared to the 2.8GHz Core i7-2600S on the TouchSmart) and a paltry 1TB hard drive (compared to the 2TB drive on the TouchSmart). Here again, you can order a customized model at additional expense.
Native resolution of 1920×1080 is fine for 23- or 24-inch computer displays, and itâ€™s the highest resolution that current-gen HDTVs can deliver. But you sacrifice a great deal of precision when you spread that number of pixels over a 27-inch screen thatâ€™s just two feet from your eyes. Losing the TV tunerâ€”and even the touch UIâ€”isnâ€™t a big deal, but we donâ€™t like the idea of stepping down to a lesser CPU and a smaller hard drive to get that big screen. Our biggest complaint, however, centers on the ridiculously convoluted volume controlâ€”itâ€™s bad enough to prevent us from recommending the Omni 27 Quad at any price.