Dell Studio Hybrid hands-on: the perfect home theater PC?

Dell aims its attractive Studio Hybrid to students and PC newbies, but we had a better idea for the minuscule PC — let’s take it into our home theater and see what it could do. It has the makings of a suitable home theater machine, with small size, an optional slot-loading Blu-ray drive, an HDMI port, an optical digital audio jack, wireless-N networking and USB ports galore for hooking up a TV tuner, wireless remotes, pointing devices and keyboards.

It’s pretty, but does it have what it takes for playing back those behemoths of the home cinema: 1080p video files? Many a machine has buckled under the punishing torrent of data we’ve blasted through its electronic innards in hapless attempts to play that highest of high-rez here at our Midwest Test Theater. We ordered the fastest Dell Studio Hybrid, loaded it with 3GB of RAM, and put our toughest 1080p file on its 320GB SATA drive: the BBC film Earth. Was its performance out of this world, or six feet under?

Until recently, putting a PC in the home theater was awkward. But this Dell Studio Hybrid changes that completely with its translucent, rounded candy-colored case that can be oriented vertically or horizontally. Scarcely larger than an external hard drive, it’s tiny enough to fit right in with your other video components, and it’s so quiet that we could hardly tell it was running. The energy-saving design uses laptop components, packing a 2.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9500 chip inside that sips power and emits minimal heat. So it’s a hybrid: a desktop PC with laptop innards.

All good so far, but let’s see if this pretty boy can deliver the goods. Loading up that 1080p file that’s been the bane of even newer PCs with decent graphics cards, the Dell Studio Hybrid played our file without a hitch. It even nailed the most detailed segment with thousands of birds on screen that tripped up many boxes that came before, dropping nary a frame.

Besides endowing it with powerful performance, Dell paid attention to lots of nice details, too. It rocks the Casbah with the optional Integrated Sound Blaster Audigy HD Software Edition and an optical audio output, and we're delighted to see the “hybrid” logo lights up either vertically or horizontally, depending on the PC’s orientation. We’re also amused with the choice of colors of the interchangeable sleeves (especially fond of bamboo — a tip of the hat to this green machine’s Energy Star 4.0 compliance).

While its integrated graphics aren’t suitable for gamers, we’re impressed with the Dell Studio Hybrid for home theater use. The base model is a mere $499, but you’ll pay around $1,750 for a fully tricked-out machine equipped with the fastest processor, slot-loading Blu-ray drive, TV tuner, 4GB of ram, a 320GB drive and wireless-N networking. The Studio Hybrid has it all, and you'll delight in its vigorous performance and unusual, futuristic good looks. Is it the perfect home theater PC? Add a couple of terabytes of external storage and the answer is a resounding yes.

Dell Studio Hybrid