The first portable video player (PVP) fit for mainstream use, Archos's AV320 Video Recorder is every commuter's dream come true. The AV320 is an excellent MP3 player, displays downloaded or recorded video on its own screen or any television, and can hold more than 370 hours of music or 40 hours of video on its 20GB hard drive. And although this PVP has the same processor and features as its predecessor, the , a vastly improved design and a Palm-like GUI make the AV320 so easy to use that it won't invoke any nightmares. However, the device's steep price reflects its encyclopedic option set.
The AV320's 3.8-inch, 65,536-color screen takes up almost the entire front panel--a boon to travelers who had difficulty with the Jukebox Multimedia 120's minuscule display. At 4.5 by 3.75 by 1.25 inches, the silver, plastic unit is about the size of a large hard drive-based MP3 player, but at 12.6 ounces, it's much heavier.
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The remote's buttons mirror those on the device.
A beautifully designed onscreen interface offers color graphics, sliders, and multiple configuration options. The controls are a toggle switch, a minijoystick, and three buttons whose functions change according to the context. Navigation is straightforward, although we tended to hold the joystick too long and overshoot our mark.
The included headphones are comfortable, fold for easy storage, and have an in-line control for tweaking volume while the player is in a bag. Like the earliest AV320 units, the new model doesn't come with a protective case, so the ample screen is vulnerable to scratches, and only rubberized corners guard against dents and falls. A redesigned housing, however, is scheduled to debut at the end of the year. We really appreciated the wireless remote, which lets you access functions from the couch when the AV320 is connected to your TV or stereo.
When you connect the AV320 to a PC's USB 1.1/2.0 port, the player appears as a removable drive. By simply dragging and dropping files, you can transfer MP3 songs from your hard drive to the unit's Music folder. The alternative is to sync using MusicMatch Jukebox Plus 7.5, which facilitates playlist creation and conversion of CD, WAV, and MP3Pro music to MP3. Contractual agreements prevent MusicMatch from adding WMA to that list of convertible file types, so if you have a vast Windows Media library, you'll need a third-party solution.
The AV320's most outstanding feature is real-time capture of TV, VCR, or DVD content (NTSC or PAL) via the included DVR module's composite and S-Video inputs. While the MPAA may object, movie lovers will appreciate the way the AV320 completely sidesteps video copy protection, delivering clean duplicates of DVD and VHS movies. The device even lets you specify five different record times so that you can set it (like a VCR) to record programs at any time or date. You can offload the MPEG-4 video files to a computer's hard drive, so the PVP always has room for more. The module also houses the infrared receiver for the wireless remote.
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|Make a connection: This slot accepts the DVR and other Archos modules.|
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|The DVR module must be attached for remote control and video recording.|
The AV320 also records and plays stereo audio. You get digital (S/PDIF) and analog inputs and outputs, a built-in microphone, and a jack for the Archos Jukebox powered mike (available separately). Entering album, song, and artist information is painstaking on the unit's virtual keyboard but easy from a computer. When you're recording old 45s or cassettes, pressing the Next button between songs creates a separate MP3 file for each track--a nice touch. You can also make slide shows of digital images with MP3 soundtracks.
The AVCam 300 module expands this already extraordinary feature by adding high-quality photo and video capture with flash photos and a 3X optical zoom. It turns the AV320 into a decent camera and camcorder, on top of everything else. An FM tuner/recorder module adds FM reception, a recorder, and an in-line remote control. You can also pick up a FireWire interface cable, as well as flash-memory adapters for CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and SD/MMC, that pull images from your digicam media to make the AV320 a digital wallet.
In addition to standard MP3 playback, the AV320 offers some rare features. A two-panel interface that wouldn't fit on a typical MP3 player's screen lets you queue songs and folders on the fly and save them as playlists. The number of allowed playlists is unlimited, and each can contain up to 5,000 tunes as long as you have enough storage space. The Resume bookmark function lets you pick up where you left off listening, and tweakable sound parameters include bass, treble, loudness, balance, bass boost, and pitch.
With a signal-to-noise ratio of more than 90dB, the AV320 sounded great through our Sony MDR-V600 headphones, and even through the bundled set, results were decent if not superb. This player blows away other portable devices with a tremendous output of 50mW per channel, enough to deafen even fans of high-volume playback.
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Pack 'n' go: The included 'phones fold up for portability and sound decent enough.
Audio-recording quality was very high, with convenient touches such as the Next button's track-separating function (see thesection). On the video front, material recorded and played back on the AV320 looked surprisingly good considering that the LCD is 3.8 inches and the screen resolution is 640x304 pixels at 30 frames per second. Colors were rich and full, and the frame rate was smooth. The picture wasn't up to the level of some of the better DVD rips we've seen, but it impressed all our viewers.
As with the AV120, however, we encountered difficulties when transcoding downloaded video files into MPEG-4. Among other things, you'll need the DivX codec (the free version is adware) and the open-source VirtualDub video-capture processing utility. You can also transcode using Nero CD/DVD-burning software.
To test battery life, we simulated typical usage: we played audio or video in one-hour intervals, between which we completely powered down. When we listened to songs, we set the screen to go dark after a minute, about the time it takes to navigate to the Music folder and pick a track. The cell held out for roughly 7.5 hours of audio and 3.5 hours of video. The latter number is crucial because it means you can watch a movie and still have playback time left. When you connect the AV320 to your PC, TV, or stereo, the battery will drain quickly, so be sure to use an AC outlet instead.