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Review: Archos TV+ (80GB version)

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The Archos TV+ is a set-top media extender plus (get it?) a whole lot more. And in true Archos fashion, this device demands a lot from its users. I mean that in a positive way, though, believe it or not. Archos users make up a proud community of tech-savvy enthusiasts hell-bent on getting the most out of their gadgets. I should know, I’ve been an owner of the Gmini 200, the Gmini 400, and even the ancient-but-awesome Jukebox 6000. So let’s take the Archos TV+ for a spin, shall we?

Overview

I’d have a hard time deciding which feature of the Archos TV+ is the main attraction. Is it the ability to stream audio, video, and photos from your computer? Is it the ability to record TV? Is it the ability to surf the web and download content directly? Is it the ability to transfer content from other Archos portable players and/or USB storage devices? I think Archos might place equal importance on all those features which, in the end, has the potential to make the TV+ a jack-of-all-trades, yet master of none.

Features

archosback

The hardware unit itself consists of a bevy of input and output ports like composite, S-video, RGB, component, HDMI, and an Ethernet jack. There’s also an internal Wi-Fi connection and a USB port on the side of the unit. The unit I tested had an 80GB hard drive (there’s also a 250GB version available).

archosremote

You control everything with the above remote. It’s unique, to be sure, and I love the included QWERTY keypad. If I had my druthers, though, I would have made it a little heavier/more solid and maybe a bit longer or wider. It was a bit too big for one-handed use and a bit too small for two-handed use.

interface

The interface is pretty plain. You’ve got eight main icons; Video, Music, Photos, Files, Content Portal, Web, Recording, and Widgets. Settings buttons are always in the lower-right corner and status information is always in the upper-right. The interface can appear in tabs depending upon what you’re trying to do but for the most part, almost everything’s made up of big icons. Here’s a shot of the music UI, for instance.

music

As far as content is concerned, format support consists of MPEG-4 and WMV for video and MP3/WAV/WMA for audio. You have to buy plugins for H.264 video and AAC audio playback ($20) as well as for MPEG-2 video and AC3 audio files (also $20). You also have to shell out $30 to surf the web. More on that in the “cons” section below.

Pros

Setup was an absolute breeze, which is saying a lot for a media extender. I literally took the thing out of the box, plugged it into the wall, hooked up an HDMI cable, and ripped through the initial setup in under two minutes. I didn’t have to install any special software on my home computer to start streaming files — the TV+ just found everything via the uPnP protocol and I was on my way. So high five for an easy setup.

Getting files onto the device was also dead simple, no matter which method I tried. Recording TV programs was easy but almost too simple — no “Season Pass” or other TiVo-like features beyond recording one show at a time, though — and the TV+ unit was able to IR blast my cable box without any fuss right out of the gate so that it changed to the appropriate channel at its scheduled recording time.

transfer

The included USB port also made transferring non-restricted content off of flash drives, portable hard drives, and the Archos 705 portable unit a snap (see above photo).

Finally, playback of supported files was smooth and hassle-free. Keep in mind that “supported files” part, though, because there are a LOT of file formats out there and the TV+ only plays a few of them, unfortunately. The ones it plays, though, it plays with relative ease. If you can handle transcoding your non-supported content before sending it to the unit, you should be okay.

pics

Cons

If there’s one overriding negative aspect of the Archos TV+, it’s that each feature kind of lacks “oomph”. It’s like they’re all 80% there. Digesting content works, yes, but you have to buy $40-worth of plugins to get more format support and the unit doesn’t do high-definition. It can record TV, yes, but you can’t watch something while recording something else and it doesn’t handle series recording.

You can browse the web, yes, but it’s slow enough that you’ll rarely use that feature, if ever. The Opera browser includes seven popular widgets, like Weather (see below) but it costs $30 extra.

weather

There’s a content portal (see below) that allows you to download stuff, but the available content comes from either CinemaNow (small catalog, poor interface), EuroNews (news from a far-away land), or Dailymotion (big in France, not the US).

content

Here’s a game called “Golf Practice,” which reminded me of “Lee Carvallo’s Putting Challenge,” from the Simpsons. There’s no swing meter, just very strong wind. So the object is to play the ball 48MPH to the left and hope it hits the green.

golf

Conclusion

I’m trying to look at the Archos TV+ through the eyes of its intended audience. If the target market for this unit consists of the same people who are likely to buy Apple TV (thought I’d get all the way through the review without comparing the two, huh?), then it’s not going to fare well. It’s too complicated and rough around the edges for the common user.

However, if it’s targeted at loyal Archos fans, which I think it is, then I suppose it’s an okay product. The people who are used to using Archos products and are familiar with Archos’ somewhat quirky navigation scheme (it’s gotten a lot better, though), for-pay add-ons, and quantity-over-quality features might just make a spot for this in their homes. The problem is that much of what the TV+ features is already available in Archos’ line of portable devices that many Archos users might already own, which makes it a tough sell. At $249 plus $30 for a web browser, plus $20 for H.264 video and AAC audio, plus $20 for MPEG-2 and AC3 audio puts the TV+ in a gray area as far as value is concerned, especially if you already own a 605 or 705 portable device.

The Archos TV+ section in the ArchosFans.com forum seems a tad quiet so far but a lot of people have happily adopted the 605 and 705 devices, which are basically portable versions of the TV+, so it may be that the TV+ has a hard time appealing to new users for lack of recognition and easy of use and an equally hard time appealing to existing users for lack of enough features to differentiate it from current portable device offerings — especially at over $300 with all the extras.

While the TV+ may not be a smash hit in its first iteration, I’ll bet it’s not the last we’ve seen of the platform. Archos is a pretty aggressive company and could very well already be hard at work on the next
generation. As such, I’d recommend holding off on this device for now unless you’re a die-hard Archos fan with money to burn.

Archos TV+ Product Page [Archos.com]

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