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New online video options and placeshifting support coming to Archos line

The Archos 605 WiFi, 705 WiFi, and TV+ are getting some significant new feature upgrades via forthcoming firmware updates.

Archos 605 WiFi
Streaming Web video is just one of several upgrades coming to the Archos line of video products. Archos

The GPS accessory for the 605 WiFi was just the first of several product upgrades announced by Archos today. Also on deck are streaming Web video and audio and upgraded media support for the 605 WiFi and 705 WiFi; Slingbox-style placeshifting functionality for the Archos TV+ DVR; and a content deal with Paramount Digital Entertainment. Details are as follows:

Flash 9 video support: A free firmware upgrade available in May will enable the 605 WiFi and 705 WiFi to stream Flash 9 video. Using the built-in Opera browser, Archos users can go to any Web site using the latest iteration of Flash video (Hulu, ABC, CBS, YouTube, CNET TV--you name it) and watch the video of their choice. That's a major advantage over the YouTube-only walled garden available on the iPhone and iPod Touch. (If you're keeping score at home: full Flash support is on its way to Archos handhelds, while it remains unavailable on Apple's flagship portables.)

Streaming video, audio, and podcast support: Also on the way to the 605 and 705 is the "Web TV and Radio plug-in." Not to be confused with the old Microsoft "Internet on TV" set-top box, this $20 software upgrade will add dedicated streaming video and Internet radio support to Archos handhelds. The company promises support for more than 600 video streams, 9,600 Web radio stations, and 110,000 podcasts--just for starters. However, unlike the freewheeling Flash video options, this is a walled garden, so you're stuck with the content providers that Archos aggregates. For instance: the BCAT (Brooklyn Community Access TV) station in the photo above is a New York-area public access station--not exactly HBO.

"TVportation" placeshifting: The Archos TV+ DVR is getting Slingbox-style placeshifting functionality. A downloadable plug-in (normally $50, but free if you register your Archos TV+ at the company's Web site) available in May will add what Archos is calling "TVportation." It's a nice buzzword, but it basically means that the TV+ can stream your live TV programming to other Internet-connected devices, including (for starters) the Archos WiFi portables, Windows PCs, Windows Mobile smartphones, and Symbian smartphones. The viewing software will be free for those devices, and there's no monthly fee associated with the streaming. (The Windows version of the software looked nearly identical to the viewing software for Hava placeshifting products, and an Archos rep confirmed that Hava was indeed contributing its software know-how.) The initial version of the software will only allow for the streaming of live TV and the ability to change channels; for now, you'll be unable to access programs recorded on the Archos TV+, nor will you be able to manage your recording schedule.

Paramount Digital Entertainment partnership: Archos has inked a deal with Paramount, allowing selections from that studio's movie library to be available on Archos video products. In addition to being added to Archos' online Content Portal for purchase, future TV+ units will be sold with several dozen movies preloaded on the hard drive, where they can be unlocked (purchased) for instant viewing.

CNET will be updating its reviews of the 605 WiFi, 705 WiFi, and publishing a new review of the Archos TV+; as soon as the relevant software updates become available. In the meantime: what do you think? Do these imminent upgrades make the portables a worthwhile alternative to the iPhone/iPod Touch? And does the TVportation feature make the TV+ a true competitor to a TiVo/Slingbox combo?