Most gadget stores nowadays are filled to the rafters with a profusion of devices for digital video recording, or DVR, and media-extenders that provide PC-to-TV video streaming functions. These two popular gadgets are combined in Archos TV, and along with a bunch of other features, this new offering from Archos quite possibly addresses all the usual DVR needs. For instance, using the device allows the user to transfer what’s on the boob tube onto an Archos portable video player, or PVP, and even to a USB drive. It also has a feature for doing web browsing using the TV. These distinctive features place Archos TV head and shoulders above the rest, including its popular Apple counterpart. However, this nifty little silver gadget does have a few caveats, most prominently its inability to support HD-format content.
Archos TV is available in two versions of 250GB and 80GB storage capacities. The former is priced at a cent below 350 dollars, while its small brother costs 100 dollars cheaper. The two versions outclass the similarly-named Apple TV in both storage and price. Looking at the back, users will find an array of connections for component, composite and S-Video, as well as HDMI. Audio-wise, the gadget sports inputs and outputs for stereo and a Sony Philips Digital Interface output. An Ethernet port and two alternating USB ports are also available. Couch potatoes will rejoice at the fact that Archos TV has its own remote, which is the same as the one being used in Archos PVP’s DVR stations. The remote has an intuitive button layout that features small QWERTY keypad for use in web surfing.
Setting up the device is easily accomplished by connecting a cable box via a component-video input, and the TV to the HDMI output, and it is here that the device’s shortfall is immediately evident. It only outputs a 576-pixel resolution, which is far less than what is needed to accommodate larger widescreens. The mediocre resolution quality does not do justice to the bundled HDMI port, and it is strongly recommended that Archos produce an update to up this quality to at least 720p.
Veteran users of Archos’ PVPs will have an easy time with the included software. Navigation-wise, the big icons and tree layout enhances the interface, albeit with a generally passé look about it. All in all, the utility can be improved somewhat to match the functionality of the supported device itself.
Archos TV can run MPEG-4 and WMV formats in playback mode, and MP3, WAV, WMA and protected WMA for the attending audio. Image files in BMP, JPEG and PNG format are also supported by the device. It can also display PDFs, but those who feel the need for more file format support will have to pay extra for additional plug-ins. Some of these are the Archos Cinema and Archos Video plug-ins, for playing MPEG-2 and podcasts, respectively. Each costs an additional cent below twenty dollars. Archos TV does not support HD-res formats unlike its Apple rival.
A strong point of the device is a bundled Opera Internet browser. It, however, will cost the user another 19.99 dollars to take advantage of the browser’s full functionality over a standard Wi-Fi connection in Archos TV.
The onboard DVR in Archos TV was on par with its DVR station cousin in terms of functionality. The user is requested to give his or her cable or satellite provider information online, and the device thereafter downloads the provider’s programming right to the users TV. To record a show in that programming simply entails selecting it from a list on the display using the remote. The device does not allow simultaneous recording, though, or even lets viewers watch other programs while it records another ongoing show. This is a considerable disadvantage compared with most other competing DVRs out in the market. Compensating for this is the ability to copy a pre-recorded show to an Archos PVP or USB-driven device, for watching anytime, anyplace. This neat feature is unique to Archos TV.
Media streaming in the various supported formats is also a relatively easy exercise, where users can connect their universal plug-and-play gadgets to Archos TV and play their content onto the television. Wi-Fi streaming is also seamless and the quality of the transfer flawless and smooth.
The Opera browser bundled in is also very passable for brief periods of web surfing. Accessed websites are rendered faithfully onto the television sans the long page load times that usually attend unconventional means of browsing the Internet. While this feature is handy for some occasions, overall using a desktop or laptop for this purpose is still better in many respects, though.
Adding value to this sleek silver gadget is its supporting online portal that offers users movie downloads and more. By accessing CinemaNow users can purchase or rent movie offerings, with purchased material having three usage licenses for viewing it in several different platforms. Two other content providers provide free videos, EuroNews and Dailymotion. The portal still has a long way to go to at least match Apple’s iTunes Music Store in terms of variety, but nonetheless will be very much appreciated by Archos TV users.
Overall, Archos TV is a media extender and DVR hybrid that is chockfull with dandy features and add-ons. Dedicated video recorders will find it somewhat wanting since it can’t record more than one program at any time, and even iTunes fans will be loath to pass up on the more suitable Apple TV. However, those few who love viewing programs while away from their living rooms and media streaming aficionados will find Archos TV a very welcome addition to their gadget wish list. Lack of HD support and mediocre interface design notwithstanding, the device provides the buyer with the best bang for the buck with its many desirable features.