REVIEW: Archos AV400 Portable Media Player

What: Possibly the best all around portable media player
Where: Stores everywhere; Archos’ homepage is here.
How Much: Around $449

There are dozens of devices out there that can play digital video these days: laptops, PDAs, Smartphones, portable DVD players and personal media players. Each of these devices have their strengths and weaknesses. Laptops have huge color screens and large hard drives, but they’re rather bulky (and expensive and quite heavy at the lower price points). PDAs and Smartphones are as portable as can be, but almost all of them use some form of Flash memory, which means hours of re-encoding videos, not to mention the hassle of keeping track of 4 or 5 SD or CF cards. Portable DVD players are pretty neat, but are typically plagued by short battery life and the lack of codec support (MP3? Maybe. FLAC or Ogg? No. DivX? Maybe. Xvid? No.) Plus, DVD players also require you to carry around a CD case full of discs, which makes them less portable that you might initially think, especially on airplanes or inter-city trains.

So that leaves portable (or “personal”) media players, or PMPs. PMPs typically come in one of two flavors: Windows-based (these are usually called “Personal Media Centers” or PMCs) and non-Windows based (which I’ll refer to as PMPs). PMCs are pretty nice. They’re mostly manufactured by Tier 1 vendors and typically sport killer screens and other nice features along with Microsoft’s PMC UI, which looks like a tiny version of Windows XP Media Center Edition. However, PMCs have two deal-breaker “features” for me: they typically require converting videos to a “portable” Windows Media format, and they also require using Windows Media Player (WMP) for synchronization of the device.

Most PMPs have neither of those limitations. Of course, this also means that you’re subject to the quirks of the device manufacturer. The main complaint most reviewers have about MSI’s “Megaview 561” PMP – aside from its horrible LCD – is the UI… which easily takes the “Fisher Price” award away from XP’s “Luna” theme. And not only that, but PMPs come with such a dizzying array of options, features and third-party add-ons that it’s really hard to compare one model to another. Think you might want to use the built-in microphone to do some soundseeing tours? Well, Model X has a great internal mic and software for this, but crappy battery life. Model Y has great battery life, but has no built-in mic. Model Z has both great battery life *and* a good built-in mic… but only write to uncompressed WAV files. Do ya see where I’m going with this?

So I decided to cut through all the treacle and went ahead and bought an Archos AV420 PMP. Archos is the “Mercedes Benz” of the PMP market. They also have several models: the AV700 (which has a *huge* screen and lots of storage space… but also costs more than a lot of low-end laptops these days), the AV480 (slightly larger than the AV420, but with an 80GB drive) and – of course – the AV420, which is the smallest of the bunch and has a 20GB hard drive.

Now, I’m not gonna lie to you. I sat there at my computer, thinking long and hard about getting the AV480 instead of the AV420. After all, a portable 80GB player is almost the ultimate in geek sexy. I could put my entire MP3 collection on that thing and still have 30GB left over for digital video. However, the price of the AV480 –$584.96, which is $140 more than the already-expensive AV420 – was kind of a killer for me. Also pushing me towards the AV420 was a Newegg promotion where anyone purchasing an AV420 could get a free extra battery via “mail in rebate” type of thing. Since I’m the type of guy that always buys an extra battery for my gadgets, this was the icing on the cake. I ordered the Archos player last Tuesday, and in true Newegg fashion it shipped the next day and arrived at my house on Friday, even though it was scheduled for a Monday delivery. Man, I love me some FedEx!

What Comes In The Box

If you like accessories, the Archos player won’t disappoint you. Here’s what you get for your $449:

The Archos player
A spiffy carrying case (for the player only)
An AC adapter
UK and EU power plug converters for the adapter
A standard USB 1.1\USB 2.0 Mini B / A cable
Earbud-type headphones (with built-in analog volume control)
A full-size remote with batteries
A TV cradle (more on that later)
An IR emitter (for the TV cradle)
2 manuals (one for the unit, another for the cradle)
A “Quick Start” guide\poster

Archos box

The Archos AV400 with European SCART connector
(many accessories are missing in this pic)

Setup

Dead simple. I just attached one end of the USB cable to the player and stuck the other end into a free USB slot on my computer. Windows XP immediately recognized the device as a removable disk and mounted it as the M: drive on my computer. From there, it was a snap to view the contents of the VIDEO, MUSIC, and PHOTO folders on the AV420. Although the unit doesn’t need any extra software or drivers per se, the DATA folder on the player also contains MusicMatch 8, WMP 9, a plug-in for iTunes, VirtualDub, the “Archos MPG4 Translator” (a nice, simple GUI front-end for VirtualDub with settings tailor-made for every Archos device) as well as the manual in PDF format.

Being a geek, the next thing I did was to check out the firmware version. I found it worrisome that my unit shipped with the somewhat ancient 1.7.02 firmware. Per Archos’ website, there have been 8 newer firmware versions released since 1.7.02. Whether Newegg is shipping out old stock or whether Archos is just shipping them that way remains to be seen.

Since there have been dozens of improvements in the OS since 1.7.02, I went ahead and downloaded the newest version (3.0.02). To upgrade the unit, you simply download the latest version from Archos’ website and copy the file to the root of the player’s hard disk. You then go to Setup > System and click the “Update Firmware” button. Although I had charged the battery for a good 12 hours before attempting this, the player nevertheless prompted me to plug in the unit in to DC power (yes, it said “DC power”) before attempting the upgrade, which is kind of nice. The trouble is, once I did so, the unit just kind of sat there; after around 30 seconds I began to freak out and pressed one of the buttons on the player, which caused the firmware update to proceed. Had Archos taken 30 seconds to add a line of screen text that said “please press any button to continue” I wouldn’t have had this mini-coronary. Additionally, I found the manual to be of little use for this; it does have a page about firmware updates, but no information about how to actually do it. Note to Archos’ technical writers: one small paragraph about what firmware is, why you’d want to update it, and how to get the updates just doesn’t cut it. Thus, the manual failed the one crucial test of technical writing: it let me down when I needed it most, and for a rather basic usage issue at that.

Using The Player

If I seem kind of cranky at this point, it’s only because of one little issue. Although I did flip through the rest of the manual, it’s not really necessary. Anyone that’s used Windows or Mac or even a modern cell phone should be able to figure out the basics of this thing in no time. The user controls essentially consist of a single directional pad (which has a smaller “fifth spoke” used for “back” and “off” functions), as well as a group of three keys, which are mapped as soft keys and thus change depending on the task at hand. The UI is quite consistent and in many ways bests PocketPCs in that regard (although to be fair this is a machine dedicated to just a few tasks, and it comes without the third-party software that sometimes makes one PocketPC different from another).

I dropped several video clips and a few dozen mp3s to the player’s VIDEO and MUSIC folders via Windows Explorer… and immediately discovered one of the best things about using a hard drive-based player: kick ass transfer times! I have a Windows Smartphone with an SD slot, and often transfer music and podcasts to a 512MB SD card via a USB 2.0 reader… and it’s as slow as friggin’ Christmas compared to the Archos. Copying all of my test video clips – episodes of Family Guy, The Tube, Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, The BBC’s Money Programme and the American version of The Office took around 2 minutes, which is pretty awesome in my book. Copying the MP3s seemed even faster – not quite as fast as copying them from one desktop hard drive to another, but nearly so.

Another great aspect of using a hard drive-based player is all that space – which means that I can put video on it “as-is”. Sure, it would be in my best interest to re-encode videos to a smaller size using VirtualDub or Dr. DivX – and for vacations and other pre-planned events, I might do just that. But downsampling the files is not mandatory, so I can dump a DivX file directly from my desktop to the Archos player without having to wait for some conversion process to take place.

Archos main menu

The AV400’s main menu

So how does it work? In my opinion… GREAT! For the most part. As I mentioned, the UI is quite simple to navigate, so finding the stuff I had just copied over was a breeze. Getting used to the AV-420’s playback controls is a 30-second process. But I do find the built-in speaker to be quite lacking. It’s barely loud enough to be heard over the two computers in my office, much less a crowded restaurant or airplane or commuter train. Of course, this device was designed for headphone use, and in that regard it’s just fine. The included earbuds do their job as well as any, and the output is loud enough to drown out most background noise – although I haven’t tried it out in a lot of situations just yet. The sound is quite rich with a surprising amount of bass. I haven’t tested that many MP3 players in my day, but the Archos player sounds stunningly good to me – as good as, or better than, most portable CD players (assuming you have good encodes, of course). I know that you audiophiles will probably want to ditch the included earbuds for some Sennheiser ones or whatever, but check out the rest of this review for other accessories you might want to buy first.

Of the AV400’s LCD, Tom’s Hardware said that “the screen is nothing short of incredible. With its 262,000 colors, it reproduces photos with a sharpness and color fidelity that are impressive for its size”. And they’re right. Watching video on this system is a pure joy, and the colors are indeed reproduced quite well. The AV400 has a CF slot on the side and can easily transfer photos to its hard drive: just insert the card into the slot, and the “photo transfer wizard” opens automagically. Using a simple Windows 3.1 type interface, you select the photo you want copied (or “select all photos”) as well as a destination folder, and the device does its thing. Copying the files is quite fast, but it takes a couple of seconds to display or navigate through larger images (like my Canon S400’s highest resolution 2272×1704 files). Images can be zoomed in on, rotated, displayed on a TV or even set as the wallpaper on the device. While I personally prefer to look at my digital images on my 19” CRT, for on-the-go viewing, the Archos does its job quite well. And having the hard drive on the player means that important images – of weddings, vacations, etc. – can be backed up to another medium for the paranoid amongst us (that includes me).

Archos Simpsons

My favorite family!

The AV400’s audio player is pretty straightforward to use. You simply click on “Music” in the main menu and are presented with a list of options to choose from: to play a file by browsing the hard disk, or by artist, album, title, genre, year or playlist. Since I’m an “old school” kind of guy, I prepped a playlist in WinAMP and copied it over with my mp3s. I clicked on my test playlist and was rewarded with a listing of the 51 tracks I had selected. You simply press the “play” button to begin listening, or you can use the directional pad to move up and down the list to pick out a specific song. This feature also allows me to mention one of the cool features (and attention to detail) that make the AV400 so good… Ya see, when you have the playlist open, the screen is split into two frames – the left frame (which contains all of your playlists) and a right frame (which contains a list of all the tracks from the selected playlist). When you highlight a particular song, the title scrolls, so you can see the full title. You’ve gotta remember that this is a pretty small screen, so the scrolling is quite a nice touch. After all, how versions of Office did it take for Microsoft to FINALLY allow the box that opens when you click “To:” in Outlook to be resized? Anyway, it’s quite a nice touch when you have several songs from the same album on the same playlist. I remember my old Samsung Uproar (an MP3 cellphone), and how I’d never be able to tell which song VIRGIN RADIO: THE ALBUM – DIS was until I actually played the track.

Oh, by the way, two other cool music features on the AV400:

It supports playlists on the fly, so you can create new ones or edit ones you already have on the go. As I understand it, this is a feature that a surprising number of portable mp3 players lack. After playing with it for a few minutes, I’m sure that I’d prefer using WinAMP and just copying the .M3U file over myself, but I’d be happy to use the Archos editor in a pinch.

Also, the AV400 has a something called the “ARCLibrary” (which is essentially your basic library feature), but it also works on the fly, which means that as soon as you copy an mp3 to the device, it’s added to the library with no extra effort on your part. So there’s no need to re-index anything or power-cycle the player.

Archos playing a tune

The AV400’s display when playing an MP3

The AV400 also has the ability to record sound via its built-in microphone or through the line-in. Here’s a sample using the built-in mic:

AV400 Audio Sample
(1.15MB; originally recorded in ADPCM, compressed to 96kbps MP3 for posting)

“Meh”. I don’t much care for the “stuttering” that’s going on there – whether it’s something to do with the built-in mic or is something inherent in the player I do not know. I’ll get back to you on that one.

Connecting the AV400 to A TV

Now, about that TV cradle… It’s a… well… it’s a cradle, quite similar to the cradles that come with Palms or iPaqs. There are seven cables coming out the back of the cradle – two sets of composite cables (one for audio\TV in, another for audio\TV out) as well as an S-video cable (which, according to the directions, is for the TV-in only). There is also a large “multi-connect” plug which actually interfaces the AV400 to the cradle, as well as a plug for the power adapter and a plug for the IR emitter. Needless to say, this Frankenstein’s rat nest is something to behold. The IR emitter – which looks something like a single earbud headphone – comes with some “sticky rings” that allow you to stick the emitter to the front of your cable box, satellite receiver, VCR or TV. That’s so ghetto looking, no?

As you might imagine, the cradle is not all portable. It kind of chaps my ass that Archos didn’t include a “portable” TV-out cable for visits to friend’s houses. After all, one of the main reasons I bought the thing in the first place – aside from my upcoming London trip – was that I found myself taking CD-Rs of British TV shows to a friend’s house. Because she doesn’t have a DVD player that can play back DivX files, the only option is to watch the shows on her 17” LCD computer monitor. Which would be OK – except that all of the sofas and chairs in her living room point away from the monitor. While Archos *does* offer a portable video cable on their site ($19.95), I think it’s kind of crappy that they didn’t include it with the standard package. But more on the accessories later.

Rat's Nest

The TV cradle… and the rat’s nest behind it!

Anyway, the cradle – while ugly – is quite easy to set up. Within 5 minutes I had the AV400 connected to the TV in my room – a 27” Sony Wega with analog cable. I picked up the completely non-intuitive remote and within a few minutes was watching the video I already had stored on the AV400 on my TV… And it looked GOOD! Quite good. Stunning, actually, especially given that this was a plain old composite input. Colors were reproduced well and I saw no artifacting or pixellation. Of course, there wasn’t any of that in the source data, but still… It’s not quite as good as watching a DVD, but it’s a sight better than a VCR. Color me stoked about this!

Later on that same day, I hooked the AV400 up to my 42” Sony HDTV and can report that some aspects of it actually look slightly worse on a rear-projection HDTV than it does on a regular CRT. The UI looks horribly blocky on my HDTV – could I buy some antialiasing? – but the videos themselves look only a teeny, tiny bit worse than they do when played on my Philips DVP-642 DVD player (remember that I’m talking about DivX\XviD videos burned to a DVD-R disc, not actual DVD video). In fact, I’ll call it a draw between the two.

Viewing some pictures I had taken this past weekend was significantly less impressive, but this might be a problem inherent in viewing digital pictures on a TV, or of how the Archos had to downsample a 2272×1704 image for display on the TV. But still, if I wanted to show a room full of people some pictures, I’d gladly sacrifice some image quality not to have everyone huddled over my shoulder looking at the 2” LCD on the back of my Canon. Oh, and by the way, the AV400 is capable of displaying either a single image, a set of four thumbnails or a set of nine thumbnails… which allows you to find a particular picture in a hurry.

Archos photo browse 1

Navigating the pictures folder; notice the thumbnails to the right.

Archos photo browse 2

 

You can scroll through photos individually, or use can use a 4 or 9 thumbnail view.

Listening to MP3s on the TV is – quite frankly – just about what you’d expect. It sounds good (I’m listening to my playlist as I’m typing this) and seeing the Archos player on my TV – with the bitrate information, time elapsed\time remaining and upcoming song – is cool, but hardly earth-shattering. Still, it might be cool for parties, and besides… with the Archos as the main music entertainment, your ears will know instantly if some bastard tries to steal it!

Recording Video

One of Archos’ main selling points of their AVxxx line is that they’re “a TiVo you can hold in your hand”. This is sort of true, yet sort of a lie. The Archos doesn’t have any type of “guide-based” recording function, so you’re forced to set up recordings like you did with your old VCR: “record channel 4 from 17:00-19:00”. You can also schedule multiple recordings, as well as recurring recordings. So while the company’s “Tivo claims” are a bit off the mark, scheduling nightly recordings of the Letterman show for the train ride to work would probably be easy enough. Archos does offer an unintentionally hilarious suggestion for those that want “simple” automated recording setups:

1) Get a My Yahoo! account
2) Create a Yahoo! Calendar.
3) Add any recordings you’d like to schedule to your Yahoo! calendar from the My Yahoo! TV listings.
4) Go to the Calendar
5) Click on “Week view”
6) Click on “Printable view”
7) Save the file as an “HTML only” file in the “System” folder of the Archos player.

I’m serious, folks. It’s on page 35 on the manual. If it seems like a lot of work just to get automated recordings, well… it is. Maybe if I didn’t have a Sony HDTV with an Explorer 8300 dual-tuner HD DVR, I’d take this more seriously. Maybe if I were planning a trip or something and wanted “portable” versions of my favorite shows, I’d take this more seriously. But until I get the C&D letter from the MPAA, I’ll probably just keep downloading the shows from my favorite BT sites, thanks. But still, if I *didn’t* have the fancy-ass HD DVR already, this might be something to look into. Like I said, setting the AV400 up to record The Daily Show every night wouldn’t be that difficult. But a “handheld TiVo” it’s not.

So – how’s the recording quality on this thing? Well, here are two samples I took today from analog cable. As far as I can tell, they require only DivX to view:

Motorcycle Racing, (30s, compressed with RAR, 7.99MB)
Celebrity Poker, (1m, compressed with RAR, 12.9MB)

Looks pretty decent, no? Maybe it’s not good enough to make the “professional cappers” ditch their Hauppauge cards, but to me it’s perfectly watchable in full screen on my 19” CRT monitor. So while you might not want to use the AV400 for archiving footage of the next moon landing, it’s absolutely good enough for capturing “disposable content” that you’ll never watch again. Plus, the fact that there are no arcane settings means that even your girlfriend (if not your Mom) could figure out how to record shows on the Archos.

One last thing about recording TV before I take it to the conclusion… I made the mistake of starting this review whilst I was still testing the player out. I had already written most of the “recording TV” section while the cradle was still attached to the 27” Sony upstairs; only later did I hook it up to my 42” Sony. So if the following paragraph seems “tacked on”… well, it is.

As I mentioned earlier in the review, I have a 42” Sony TV that gets its HD goodness from a Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD DVR. The DVR is connected to the TV via HDMI, but also has spare composite and s-video inputs in the back. I attached the AV400 to the SA box via s-video and was pleased as punch to instantly have an auxiliary output to the AV400. This means that I can record the full digital cable lineup, as well as dump previously recorded shows from the DVR off to the AV400 – and then copy them to my computer via the USB connection. As any geek that has an Explorer can tell you, no one has been able to figure out a way to rip shows directly from the DVR, and the only “official” way to archive shows off the box is to hook a VCR to the composite or s-video output (or, “unofficially”, a computer with a capture card). Even though my girlfriend’s computer is only about 15 feet away from the DVR, it just seemed like such a hassle to spend the bucks for a capture card and 20 foot cable; not to mention the time tweaking the PC (a P3-933 with a single ATA100 drive) to get good captures. Although some of the test recordings of previously recorded shows to my AV400 was somewhat disappointing, it’s still pretty cool being able to save stuff that otherwise would disappear one day. I’ll see if I can’t tweak things a bit more and get an update in on it.

Lastly, I tried using the IR emitter with the SA box and found some issues with it. Even though it’s set to use “3 number channels” (i.e. channel 12 is “012”) in the IR options, the SA box still only “sees” 2 numbers (“12”). Again, I’ll see if I can figure out what’s going on and post an update here.

One Last Observation

If you’ve read this far, you must actually care about the Archos player or the PMP market in general. If this is you, might I ask you to check out the list of aftermarket accessories Archos offers for sale? Just click here to open a new browser window for the”Av400 Accessories” page at Archos’ web site.

Now call me jaded, but isn’t that case – which comes with a freakin’ kickstand! – much, much better than the one that ships with the AV400? And check out that audio\video travel cable for $19.95… or the cigarette lighter adapter for only $29.95. WHY aren’t these things included with the player?

I guess my question is: what percentage of people that buy an AV400 or iPod or whatever end up buying accessories like this from the manufacturer? I know plenty of people probably buy aftermarket cases for their iPods but how many people buy them from Apple? I’d *love* both the travel cable and the case (which, unlike the “standard” one you get free with the AV400 – not only has a kickstand but also opens up to let you view the screen while still keeping it secure), but I ain’t gonna pay $50 for them, ya know? I mean, in a way, it seems like a “chicken or the egg” problem to me… Archos probably doesn’t sell too many of these things, so they keep their prices high… which keeps people like me from buying them, ‘cos I feel like paying $30 for a leatherette case which has features that should have been included in the first place is kind of a rip.

Conclusion

All in all, I’d say the Archos is a pretty cool little box. Part of the problem with technology is that is raises expectations, sometimes too much. Although I dearly wish the AV400 would have some sort of built-in scheduling guide, I still have to remember the Christmas morning not that long ago when I was chomping at the bit to tear the wrapping paper off my new, state-of-the-art Diamond Rio MP3 player with its monochrome screen, “fast parallel port interface!” and whopping 32MB of flash RAM.

The Archos does everything it claims to do and does it well… and it looks good doing it. The beautiful LCD, the speedy hard drive and the better than average UI all combine to make it a joy to use. Of course I want more. I want this thing to come with a 2TB hard drive, a 21” foldable plasma screen, be able to run for 64 days on a single charge, and re-grow all the missing hair on the top of my head. But until that day comes… I think I’ll stick with this thing for a while.

What I Like:

The “geek sexay” is strong with this product.
Easy as pie to install and use.
Simple UI with nice touches (scrolling song titles, thumbnails of movies and pictures).
Drag-and-drop support (i.e. doesn’t require iTunes, WMP or MusicMatch).
Fast transfers between PC and device.
Supports a nice range of codecs and file types.
Built-in audio and video recording features seem to work well.
Backs up CF cards from digital cameras.
Nice battery life.
Recorded shows look surprisingly good on built-in LCD and TV.
Included “MPG Translator” program only needs input\output filenames and the name of your Archos device (selected from a drop-down box) to re-encode video.

What I Don’t Like:

Expensive!
Doesn’t have a built-in kickstand.
Cradle should have detachable wires for easy travel.
Cradle has too many wires.
Many optional accessories should be included with player.
Included remote control is completely confusing at first.
Included “MPG Translator” program (while easy to use) does not do batch encodes.

MY RATING: A-

TEST HARDWARE

Archos AV400 Portable Video Player\Recorder
A homebrew P4 3.06GHz PC with 1GB RAM and XP SP2
19” SGI CRT monitor
Sony Grand Wega KDF-42WE655 42” LCD Projection HDTV
Sony Wega KV-27FV16 27” CRT TV
Philips DVP-642 DVD Player
Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD DVR

UPDATE: The Archos By The Numbers

The main reason I bought the Archos player was for a trip to London that took place during the week between Christmas and New Year’s 2005. Now that that trip has passed, I thought it might be fun to do an in-depth look at actually using the Archos player in the real world.

In my original review, I implied that an 80GB Archos player would be better than a 20GB one. After all, now that there are 60, 80 or even 100GB mp3 players on the market, 20GB seems almost.. small. But I’m here to tell you that you can cram a lot of stuff into 20GB – in fact, I was running out of ideas before I ran out of disk space!

Here’s the list of the video files I took with me on the trip:

21_grams_archos.avi
A Picture Of London with Suggs.avi
American Gothic – 01 – pilot.avi
American Gothic – 02 – a tree grows in trinity.avi
BBC.The.Human.Face.Ep1.Face.To.Face.XviD.MP3.avi
bones.s01e05.hdtv.xvid-tcm.avi
bones.s01e06.hdtv.xvid-tcm.avi
cold_feet_s01_e03.avi
cold_feet_s01_e04.avi
cold_feet_s01_e05.avi
dispatches – whats really in your christmas dinner.avi
everybody.hates.chris.102.hdtv-lol.avi
everybody.hates.chris.104.hdtv.avi
Extras – 1×01 – Ben Stiller.avi
Extras – 1×02 – Ross Kemp.avi
fear_and_loathing_in_las_vegas_archos.avi
francis fulford – why england’s fked.avi
freaks.and.geeks.s01e06.dvdrip.xvid-fqm.avi
freaks.and.geeks.s01e07.dvdrip.xvid-fqm.avi
freaks.and.geeks.s01e08.dvdrip.xvid-fqm.avi
Horizon – Parallel Universes.avi
It’s.Christmas.with.Jonathan.Ross.pdtv-iching.xvid.avi
jump.britain.pdtv-iching.xvid.avi
Madonna – Hung Up.avi
mr_and_mrs_smith_archos.avi
Nova – Lost At Sea – The Search For Longitude.avi
reunion.104.hdtv-lol.avi
reunion.105.hdtv-lol.avi
Reunion.S01E03.hdtv-lol.avi
sin_city_archos.avi
The Exorcism of Emily Rose.avi
The Grid – Episode 1.avi
The Grid – Episode 2.avi
The Office – S01E01 – Downsize.avi
The Office – S01E02 – Work Experience.avi
The Other Boleyn Girl – Part One.avi
The Other Boleyn Girl – Part Two.avi
The Tube – 22.12.05.avi
The Worst Christmas Jobs In History.avi
Time Flyers – The Missing Castle.avi
Tony Robinsons Titanic Adventure.avi
undeclared_ep_01.avi
undeclared_ep_02.avi
undeclared_ep_03.avi
wedding_crashers._part_01.avi
wedding_crashers._part_02.avi

Let’s break down the list a bit.

I have 6 full-length Hollywood movies on there (21 Grams, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Sin City, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Wedding Crashers), as well as one 2-hour BBC movie (The Other Boleyn Girl).

Of the remaining files, 23 are “hour-long” shows of various lengths. All files have had any commercials removed from them – which is easy since most of them are DVD rips. A little more than half (12) of these “hour-long” shows are British shows that run between 50 and 65 minutes each, while the remaining 11 files are American “hour-long” shows of 42-48 minutes in length.

This leaves 12 video files. One of these (the Madonna file) is a five-minute music video, while the rest are “half-hour” shows of various lengths. 5 of the 11 remaining video files are American sitcoms, which clock in at an average of 22 minutes. The remaining six files are British shows that run between 24 and 29 minutes each.

All in all, the total amount of video stored on the Archos player for the London trip clocks in at an impressive 38:11:06. That’s almost 40 hours of video on the unit!

I suppose at this point I should comment on the actual types of video files and any re-encoding that I might have done. After all, one of the main reasons I bought the Archos player instead of a flash-based player was for all the disk space. If I wanted to cram three movies onto a 512MB SD card then I know I’m going to have to re-encode them. With the Archos player, I have the option of dumping the files “as-is” onto my player in most cases. Which is, in fact, what I did. I actually prefer 700MB rips for most movies, simply because they take up less space on my PC’s hard drive. Almost every movie I download or rip from friends is a movie that I’m probably not going to want to keep forever. And honestly, the 700MB versions of Anchorman or The 40 Year-Old Virgin look quite fine, thanks. When I get around to ripping Citizen Kane I’ll think about using the “2 CD” or “3 CD” settings, but 700MB seems to work well enough for most movies.

The only videos I had to re-encode were the episodes of the The Office and the episode of Nova. These were QPEL videos that the Archos player refused to play. Thankfully, the Archos MPEG-4 Converter software converted them to a format the Archos could understand in around 10-15 minutes each. And I chose to re-encode The Wedding Crashers because it was initially two 700MB files. Once again, a few minutes with the Archos converter software and that movie was good to go. All in all, I’d say that I spent no less than 90 minutes collecting, prepping and converting the files I needed. Almost all of them (41 out of 46 – 89% of them) came straight from my hard drive to the Archos player with no modifications whatsoever. Pretty neat, huh?

But then there’s the audio. Here’s a condensed list of the audio files on the Archos:

Albums:

Bananarama – Drama
British Sea Power – Open Season
Emiliana Torrini – Fisherman’s Woman
Fischerspooner – Odyssey
Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
Kirsty MacColl – Galore
Kylie Minogue – Fever
Madonna – Confessions On A Dance Floor
The Corrs – Home

Audiobooks:

Bill Bryson – A Short History of Nearly Everything
CS Lewis – The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe
Douglas Adams – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Podcasts:

20051216_cTL6Qx6k10.mp3
Avenue ALSFUTT Podcast 2005.mp3
Engadget_Podcast_057.mp3
KBS46.mp3
NLO-045-12182005.mp3
Sarah Cracknell – 6 Mix 11-27-05

Mix:

1. H.M. Royal Marines – Rule Britannia (2:03)
2. Saint Etienne – Shower Scene (4:32)
3. Eiffel 65 – Lucky (In My Life) (3:53)
4. Visage – Fade To Grey (12″ version) (5:42)
5. Bananarama – Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango) (3:24)
6. Madonna – What It Feels Like For A Girl (Above and Below Club mix) (7:27)
7. Ferry Corsten – Punk (3:35)
8. Madonna – Sorry (4:43)
9. DJ Sammy – Why (Radio Edit) (4:01)
10. DJ Tiesto – Cass Slide – Perception (New Vocal Mix) (8:37)
11. Coast 2 Coast – Home (5 AM remix) (8:18)
12. B.I.T. Heads featuring Sofia – The Passenger (3:51)
13. Daft Punk – Technologic (4:44)
14. Revenge – Pineapple Face (5:31)
15. Propaganda – The Chase (4:04)
16. OMD – Enola Gay (3:27)
17. Saint Etienne – He’s On The Phone (4:06)
18. Bjork – Hyper-Ballad (5:21)
19. Apoptygma Berzerk – Starsign (5:35)
20. William Orbit – Adagio For Strings (Ferry Corsten Remix) (6:35)
21. Saint Etienne – A Good Thing (4:00)
22. The Killers – Mr Brightside (3:43)
23. The Jam – Town Called Malice (2:55)
24. Keane – Everybody’s Changing (3:36)
25. The Postal Service – Such Great Heights (4:26)
26. Natalie Imbruglia – Shiver (3:42)
27. RedAllOver – His First Breath Tonight (4:00)
28. Aimee Mann – She Really Wants You (3:26)
29. The Pixies – Gigantic (Single Version) (3:13)
30. Coldplay – Speed Of Sound (4:48)
31. The Cardigans – I Need Some Fine Wine And You, You Need To Be Nicer (3:33)
32. Robbie Williams – Ghosts (3:42)
33. Madness – Shame and Scandal (2:53)
34. Bowling for Soup – Ohio (Come Back to Texas) (3:50)
35. The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It (3:54)
36. Heavenly – Ben Sherman (3:07)
37. Franz Ferdinand – The Dark Of The Matinee (4:03)
38. Garbage – I Think I’m Paranoid (3:38)
39. R.E.M. – Leaving New York (4:49)
40. Del Amitri – Nothing Ever Happens (3:51)
41. Depeche Mode – Enjoy The Silence (Reinterpreted) (3:33)
42. Madonna – Bedtime Story (4:53)
43. Cocteau Twins – Cherry-Coloured Funk (3:12)
44. The Glove – Punish Me with Kisses (4:03)
45. Hooverphonic – No More Sweet Music (4:44)
46. Sarah McLachlan – I Love You (BT Mix) (9:02)
47. Area – Puzzle Boy (5:23)
48. Magnolia Soundtrack – Aimee Mann – Save Me (4:34)
49. Snow Patrol – Run (5:54)
50. Radiohead – Bones (3:09)
51. Tosca – Honey (5:57)
52. Way Out West – The Fall (Bedrock Mix) (10:03)
53. Energy 52 – Cafe Del Mar (Michael Woods remix) (10:05)
54. Saint Etienne – Dream Dentist (1:39)
55. Thomas Newman – Dead Already (3:18)
56. Roland Brant – Moons Waterfalls (Dreams Version) (6:47)
57. Clint Mansell – Aeternal (Paul Oakenfold Remix) (6:50)
58. Madonna – Nobody’s Perfect (4:58)
59. Violet Indiana – Safe Word (3:23)
60. Madonna – Paradise (Not For Me) (6:33)
61. Underworld – Born Slippy (9:44)
62. Aural Divine – In Orbit (12″ Revved Up DJM) (7:28)
63. Depeche Mode – Behind The Wheel (4:02)
64. Paul Oakenfold – Southern Sun (DJ Tiesto Mix) (9:03)
65. Rollergirl – Dear Jessie (Green Court mix) (7:09)
66. Royksopp – So Easy (4:09)
67. Simple Minds – Home (4:23)
68. The Thrillseekers – Synaesthesia (Alaska’s Sunset Mix) (6:11)

All in all, we’re talking about 41 hours 2 minutes and 22 seconds of audio. Of course, a lot of this has to do with the various bitrates of the audio files. The highest bitrate of any of the audiobooks is 64kbps VBR. Just for trivia’s sake, the Bill Bryson audiobook comes in at a paltry 16kbps CBR; amazingly, it sounds pretty good – “barely tinny” given the obnoxiously low bitrate. And of course, the bitrates of the podcasts vary, but remain in the low end (except for the “Avenue” and “Sarah Cracknell” ones; they’re both mostly music and are encoded at 128kbps). Having said that, most of the podcasts are around an hour long, except for the Sarah Cracknell one, which is two hours in length.

This leaves only music files. Every one of the albums is encoded at 192kbps CBR. The 5 hour and 35 minute mix I made for the trip is made of up all types of files, although the average is 192kbps and the lowest is 128kbps CBR.

All told, I left for London with 79:13:28 worth of entertainment on my 20GB Archos player. That’s pretty impressive, if you ask me!

Battery Life

Of course, a portable player is only as good as the battery that powers it. I can report that the Archos is a workhorse in this regard. I used the player for around seven and a half hours on a nine-hour flight. Of this time, six hours was spent watching videos and an hour and a half was spent listening to audiobooks or music. Although I had a second battery fully-charged and ready to go, I had no use for it. That was awesome!

However, be warned that the battery meter on the Archos kind of sucks – as battery meters tend to do on a lot of modern devices. A fully charged battery has four green “bars” on it, OK? Within the first hour, the battery meter had slipped to “half full” (from four to two green bars). Within another half-hour, the meter had dropped to one bar and had turned yellow… where it stayed for the next four hours and forty-five minutes. At that point, the meter turned to an empty red, but I feel as if I could have gotten at least another half-hour out of the player. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to try it out, for within a couple of minutes of the meter turning red, the pilot put the “turn off electronic devices” sign as we approached Charlotte-Douglas Airport.

One Last Cool Feature

Lastly, this London trip was the first chance I had to bust out the Archos-supplied UK plug adapter. The player itself is autoswitching, which means that it accepts either America’s 110v system or the UK’s 220v system natively. It doesn’t need a bulky external voltage adapter. So all you need is a “plug adapter” to change the shape of the plug.

It was when I was first trying out the UK plug adapter that I found yet another nice touch from the Archos team. You know how the AC adapter\charger for most newer devices (especially portable devices) have prongs that fold into the adapter so that it’s flat when stored? The Archos AC adapter is like that. It’s roughly the size of a pack of unfiltered Lucky Strike cigarettes with a cord coming out of it that plugs into the Archos player. On top of the adapter is a small well you stick your thumb into to pull out the prongs when you want to plug it into the wall.

Well, the nice touch about the Archos adapters is that they fit onto the top of the adapter and sit flush with the top of the adapter. You don’t have to even pull the prongs out of the well – the UK plug adapter simply fits into the well. At first glace it looks like a native UK adapter instead of a US adapter with a big honkin’ Radio Shack plug adapter connected to it. It looks really nice and makes the adapter really easy to use in a tight space – such as I had in my hotel.

Nice touch, Archos!

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