- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

You may — or may not — be able to buy Acer’s seemingly new desktop, all-in-one computer, the Acer Aspire Z5700-U3112. And when you do, you may or may not be happy with your choice.

This product — whose online price (at suppliers I’d never heard of) ranges from $1,059.69 up to $1,263.55 — is an interesting system, to say the very least.

We begin our sojourn with the all-in-one concept, where the “guts” of the computer, the display, optical drive, slots for flash memory cards, from which pictures and video can be imported, and other basics are all in one piece, hence the “AIO” designation, as they like to say in the trade.

Here, in its raw form, the Aspire Z5700 has a lot going for it. The display is a 23-inch touch screen, which means you can make things happen with the touch of your finger. I can move individual windows around, initiate programs and do other things with more specialized, touch-sensitive applications.

The Aspire Z5700 is not the first, or only, Windows-based PC to offer this feature. Hewlett-Packard has done this for quite some time, and, in these pages last July 6, I had nice things to say about a business-oriented HP touch-screen PC (see http://bit.ly/f59DoW). But the HPs can be a bit more expensive than other maker’s boxes, and thus, the Aspire’s price is attractive — about $200 less than a similarly equipped HP desktop (before HP’s $200 online “instant rebate”). Besides, I’ve long opposed hegemony, and why should consumers have only one choice in this category?

So I was happy to see the Z5700 show up, and, overall, it works quite nicely. Running the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Home Premium, it happily took the chief applications — the OpenOffice.org productivity suite, Google’s Chrome Web browser, the Mozilla Firefox e-mail program and Logos Bible Software — that I threw at it. The card-reader slot handled my EyeFi SD photo card, and imported more than 350 images quickly. I was able to connect to a HP wireless inkjet printer quickly and easily. And the wireless keyboard and mouse both performed well. Moreover, the unit boasts a one-terabyte hard-disc drive, four gigabytes of RAM and way-more-than-adequate sound.

What’s not to like? One aspect is the multimedia performance of the system, specifically the built-in TV tuner. That’s the component that adds much of the $200 price difference between this model and a similar Z5700 that you can find at Amazon.com, Wal-Mart/Sam’s Club and many more retailers, all of which are well-known. That model ships without a TV tuner, costs around $860, and may be the better value.

My problem, TV-wise, was not so much with the Acer as it might have been with the Windows Media Center application. Here’s how I tested the Aspire’s TV feature: I connected an inexpensive pair of “rabbit ears,” put the antenna near a window in my home office, fired up the Z5700, and let Windows Media Center find stations. It “found” a bunch of over-the-air channels, but could only tune in a handful, no more than seven or eight.

That didn’t seem right, so I dug out a two-year-old Elgato EyeTV module, connected it to an Apple iMac that’s also on my desk and, without moving the antenna, let the EyeTV software and the iMac do the rest. The result? A mind-blowing 24 stations, three times the number “found” on the Aspire. Moreover, the EyeTV found over-the-air outlets for all the major networks, where the Aspire didn’t.

When Acer was asked to comment, it didn’t respond officially, although it was suggested unofficially that the fault may lie with the way in which the Media Center software scans for over-the-air channels.

Responding via e-mail, a Microsoft spokeswoman wrote, “all [things] being equal — same location, same antenna setup — and using a capable Windows 7 Media Center-compatible ATSC TV tuner, the over-the-air channels that [you were able] to view and record should be the same. Nothing in the software would prevent this. It may be an issue of the antenna type/setup and location of the antenna.”

“Whatevs,” as is being said these days: Everything was equal, and I got an unequal result, with Elgato being the winner. A potential solution to this might be to buy the less-expensive Acer Aspire Z5700 model, spend $150 (or less) for a newer Elgato product, the EyeTV hybrid, grab some “rabbit ears” and go for it.

I make a point of this because of a quirky belief about consumers: if you pay for something, you should get what you pay for. The Acer Aspire Z5700-U3112 has much to commend itself in terms of utility, space utilization and features. But any computer worth its salt needs to hit all the promised delivery points; when Acer is able to do this, that kind of machine should be a huge seller, and deservedly so.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.