Hewlett-Packard's Omni 27 doesn't match Apple's highest-end iMac in display resolution, but for anyone interested in using a Windows all-in-one as an entertainment hub, you will immediately appreciate the benefits of the Omni 27's large 1,920x1,080-pixel screen.
With Windows 8 and other 27-inch all-in-ones on the horizon, you might be wise to put off any new PC purchase. Also consider that HP is asking $1,249 for the Omni 27, a rather high premium given the middling components surrounding its display.
If I were in the market today for a large-screen all-in-one to stick in a den, a dorm room, or any other place I might want both a computer and a large screen, the HP Omni 27 is the best Windows-based pick right now in terms of screen size. The patient and the value-conscious should wait for the 27-inch all-in-one market to develop later this year.
It will be interesting to see how all-in-one segmentation evolves once 27-inch screens become more common. So far, every Windows vendor but Sony regularly comes in under $1,699, the price of Apple's most affordable 27-inch iMac. Will 27-inch screens change that equation?
It's reasonable that HP, Lenovo, or Samsung might charge more for a 27-inch all-in-one than for their existing 23-inch models. But if that $1,699 ceiling remains (presumably imposed by big-box retailers like Best Buy), then 27-inchers may take over the $1,000-to-$1,400 territory, pushing prices on 23-inch models down even further into prices below $1,000, and potentially driving prices down even further on 21.5-inch and 20-inch models. It's not inconceivable that those smaller-screen all-in-ones might disappear altogether.
Regardless of future developments, if you buy this HP now, you'll get to enjoy all the wonders of large-screen computing. I was taken with the first 27-inch iMac; sitting in front of the Omni 27 engenders a similar feeling of expansiveness. It's hard not to get drawn in simply by the size of the display.
Still, the Omni 27's wide-open spaces are not as finely resolved as those of the 27-inch iMac. The HP's 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution looks great, but the iMac's 2,560x1,440-pixel screen offers more room to organize different application windows, and provides better overall image fidelity for photo editors, designers, and other visually oriented professionals. For general consumers, the Omni 27's 1080p-equivalent resolution will be enough. Professionals should still look to Apple for a standalone high-resolution monitor.
Unlike the 27-inch all-in-ones due out from Lenovo, Samsung, and others later this year, the Omni 27 does not have a touch screen. That hasn't stopped HP from including its Magic Canvas software from its TouchSmart all-in-one line.
The benefits of Magic Canvas aren't that apparent without touch input. It gives you a virtually wider desktop screen, to which you can pin application and document shortcuts. I suppose that's useful if you really hate launching applications or opening file folders, but as long as you're still using a mouse, without touch input, it seems like an invitation to icon clutter more than anything else. Magic Canvas does no real harm here, since you can simply turn it off and ignore it, but it isn't much of a selling point.
Far more important for this system is its HDMI input. Unlike every other PC vendor selling all-in-ones, HP has decided to monetize the HDMI input, charging you an extra $50 to add what it calls the "HDMI Game Console" in its online configurator. This is a misnomer. It's simply an option for a generic HDMI input, and a set of controls that lets you swap the Omni's display to whatever HDMI-compatible video source device you might have connected to it, be it a game console, a cable box, or something else.
With the 27-inch screen, this HDMI input is particularly useful, since it lets you use the Omni 27 as a true home entertainment hub. The option is accounted for in the $1,249 price of our review unit. Just know that where HP charges extra for it, other all-in-one vendors often include HDMI-in as a standard feature, along with a variety of other video-ins and -outs that let you use the Omni 27 as a second monitor. Lenovo's IdeaCentre B520, for example, has HDMI-in, HDMI-out, and composite video-in.
|HP Omni 27 Quad||Apple iMac 27-inch||Lenovo IdeaCentre B520|
|Display size/resolution||27-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels||27-inch, 2,560x1,440 pixels||23-inch, 1,920x1,080 pixels|
|CPU||2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2400S||3.1GHZ Intel Core i5-760||3.4GHz Intel Core i7-2600|
|Memory||8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM||8GB 1,333MHZ DDR3 SDRAM|
|Graphics||64MB Intel HD Graphics 1000 (embedded)||1GB AMD Radeon HD 6970M graphics card||2GB Nvidia GeForce GT 555M|
|Hard drives||1TB, 7,200rpm||1TB, 7,200rpm||1TB, 7,200rpm|
|Optical drive||Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo||dual-layer DVD burner||Blu-ray player/dual-layer DVD burner combo|
|Networking||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless||Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)||Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.7||Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)|
The IdeaCentre B520 actually creates an interesting contrast with the Omni 27 in terms of overall value. As you can see above, the Lenovo system costs about the same price as the HP, but has vastly better computing components. Where the Lenovo is a credible gaming- and performance-oriented all-in-one thanks to its Core i7 CPU and 2GB midrange Nvidia graphics card, the HP and its Core i5 chip and embedded graphics will have difficulty running current-generation PC games, especially at full resolution.
In effect, this comparison illustrates that HP is charging roughly $300 for the privilege of its large display. I wouldn't expect HP to give away such a large screen for free, but understand that you don't get as much computer here as you'll get from 23-inchers in the same price range. Again, I'm interested to see how all of this pricing and configuration calculus will shake out once more 27-inch all-in-ones hit the market later this year.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)