With most portable media players, what you see is what you get. But with any Archos product, the gear you buy is a base to which you can add additional features--for a price. Some accuse Archos of skimping on features to maintain an artificially attractive price, but you can also think of it as Archos allowing their customers to purchase only the features they want. Either way, the 405 comes out of the box with most of the features people want in a PVP, and plug-ins (such as hi-def video playback, AAC support, and others) cost only $20 a pop.
Even if you don't intend on giving Archos a single extra penny for plug-in features, you'll still love the player. The 405 comes with an MP3 player, video player, photo viewer, and PDF viewer. By default, the music player supports MP3, WMA (including DRM-protected files), and WAV files. (You can purchase support for additional formats, such as AAC). During playback, the music player displays album artwork, allows for your music library to be sorted by ID3 content, and gives you the ability to bookmark long files such as lectures and audiobooks.
The Archos 405's video player is equally polished. It supports playback of MPEG-4, AVI, and WMV formats at up to 30 frames per second, covering most bases for common video files, and you can buy optional plug-ins for formats such as H.264 and MPEG-2/VOB files. Once you're actually playing video, you can bookmark, resize, and skip through your movie with ease.
Another compelling, if expensive, accessory is the $99 DVR Station made especially for the Archos Generation 5 portable video players. The DVR Station allows you to record video from your television, cable box, or satellite receiver at a resolution of 640x480. It also lets you view the contents of your Archos 405 via your television, including music, movies, and photos. Using the DVR Station also enables a Tivo-esque graphic program guide that makes scheduling recordings very simple. DVR Station includes a remote control with a QWERTY keyboard that works seamlessly for watching videos from your couch.
With the Archos 405 straddling the fine line between MP3 player and video player, it's hard to say which feature works best. We're tempted to call it a draw, but we expect most users choose the Archos 405 for its video playback capabilities.
As a music player, the 405 weighs in on the bulky side, but its sound quality equals that of most of our preferred MP3 players. Both the customizable 5-band EQ and independent Bass Boost controls err on the side of subtlety, but we think they offer just the right amount of sonic sculpting without mangling the sound into an overprocessed mush. (The same sound-enhancement features apply to movie audio playback.) For those of you pulling media files from both a Mac and a PC, you'll be happy to know that the 405 can boot in multiple USB modes, both MSC and MTP, allowing it to work as both a drag-and-drop hard drive and a Windows Media Player device.
"In our CNET Labs testing, the Archos 405's battery squeezed out 11 hours of audio playback and 4 hours of video. The video results aren't bad, considering all the power required to drive the 405's 3.5-inch screen, but we certainly had hoped for better results on audio playback time. Anyone planning to use the 405 extensively as a road trip boredom-buster should seriously consider purchasing the optional battery pack that doubles as a stand."
Despite its limited capacity, the Archos 405 is an amazing value if you're looking for a portable video player for traveling and possibly taking DVR content on the road. If you really like the idea of having Internet access on your PVP for browsing YouTube videos or downloading movies directly to the device, you'll need to go with the Wi-Fi-enabled Archos 605 instead.