Archos seems to have thought through almost all of the 605 WiFi's features. 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 tags, and gives you the ability to bookmark long files such as lectures and audiobooks.
The Archos 605 WiFi'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 of the bases for common video files. You can buy optional plug-ins at $20 a pop 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.
If you're willing to shell out another $99, Archos offers a hardware accessory called the DVR Station that unlocks the 605's ability to act as a sophisticated digital video recorder. By docking the 605 in the DVR Station and connecting it to your television, the 605 effectively becomes your home entertainment system. Instead of using the 605 WiFi's 4.3-inch screen, the DVR Station displays content on your television, allowing you to browse your music and movie collection, flip through photo albums, and even surf the Web from the comfort of your couch, using the included remote control.
First and foremost, the Archos 605 WiFi is a video player, and an unrivaled one at that. Portable video players such as the Cowon A2 or the Creative Zen Vision:W simply don't offer comparable video resolution, not to mention the capability to download movies wirelessly or act as a full-fledged DVR.
As a music player, the 605 weighs in at the bulkier side, but its sound quality equals that of most of our preferred MP3 players. Both the customizable five-band equalizer 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 605 WiFi 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.
If we have a single complaint about the 605's performance, it's the battery life. Rated at 16 hours for music and 5 hours for video, Our lab tests came up a little short of Archos' expectations, with just 13.5 hours of audio playback and 4.7 hours of video. The results aren't bad considering all the power that gets sucked up by the 605's high-resolution 4.3-inch screen. Although similar products such as the Creative Zen Vision:W have better battery-life scores, they also work at a lower resolution than the 605 and don't have the power demands of a Wi-Fi antenna to deal with. If you're looking to extend playback time on the 605, you'll need to invest another $49 for an Archos external battery pack that plugs into the bottom docking port.
The Archos 605 WiFi is one of the most impressive portable video players we've seen all year and its low price tag makes it very hard to resist. You may end up spending another $100 or more on extra features and accessories, but 605's ability to take the sting out of road trips and air travel should make the investment all worthwhile. While many of us are waiting to see what Apple conjures up for the holidays, its doubtful that anything in the iPod family will include the 605's drag-and-drop hard drive support, wireless music and video rental, or DVR functionality.