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The Archos AV 700 TV is the first mobile television that comes with a built-in recorder. It's also got a digital Freeview tuner, giving you access to around 50 channels instead of five, making it a mightily impressive product on paper.
There's more to this device than television. It's also a fully functioning portable media player, able to display movies and photos and play back MP3s, and the USB-on-the-go function means you can even use its 40GB hard disk as a storage dump for your digital camera. There's no need to use a computer as the middleman -- you simply connect them up and move the files over. That said, it needs to be something special to justify that wallet-kicking £480 price tag.
If the AV 700 TV looks somewhat familiar to you, that's probably because it's based on a product that has been out for some time: the Archos AV 700 (which is just a portable media player, without the TV tuner). It's a big old unit that weighs in at more than half a kilo -- and that's not including the twin external antennae that you'll need to connect for Freeview TV watching. So, unless you happen to be a clown by profession (or MC Hammer), there's no way you're going to be slipping this into your trouser pocket on the way out of the house.
On a positive note, the build quality is impressive. The player is so solid that you could probably run over it with your car and still watch Neighbours afterwards (not that we recommend doing either of those things).
The AV 700 TV isn't exactly an oil painting either. Being based on an older design, it falls some way short of the ruggedly handsome Archos AV 500, and certainly won't be challenging the likes of the video iPod for style awards.
The upside of (and perhaps the reason for) the large size is the 7-inch widescreen TFT, which is one of the largest you'll find on a portable video player. It dominates the front of the device, but the designers have left a little space on each side to accommodate the controls, the remote-control infrared sensor and the integrated stereo speakers.
Around the back is the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which can be removed and replaced (you only get one supplied with the device), as well as a pull-out leg allowing you to setup the player on a table. The various input/output connections -- composite, S-Video, stereo audio and aerial -- are located along the top edge.
When watching TV, you need to hook up the twin antennae. These are located in a zip-up case that can be opened out and propped up on a desk or shelf. Unfortunately, you can't fit the AV 700 TV into the case as well, so you'll end up carrying around two separate bits all the time, which strikes us as an oversight.
Switch the device on and you're immediately greeted by an icon-packed menu screen. You access the Archos AV 700 TV's different functions by moving a cursor around and highlighting the option you want (TV, video playback, music playback, file browser etc). You then have to press the play button to start up that function. Oddly, the play button is located on the right of the screen, while the cursor controls are on the left -- it's a weird design decision, but you get used to it after a while.
Selecting most of the options brings up a new file browser. For example, if you select 'Video', you're taken to a tree of all the video files on the hard disk, including any you've recorded yourself with the built-in tuner -- and because the digital signal features programme info, these are automatically named correctly. Then you select your file and away you go -- it's nowhere near as streamlined as, say, the iPod's user interface, but finding your desired file shouldn't take long.
Select the TV option and programmes pop straight up, as long as you've got a good signal. When testing it, we never had any problems whatsoever getting reception, so the picture was stutter-free. This being digital telly, you also get programme info via the electronic programme guide (EPG), but sadly this only gives you details of the current show and the one immediately after, not of what's coming up for the next seven or eight days. You can also, of course, connect the AV 700 TV to your television or projector and use the device as a digital tuner -- although it isn't possible to get a high-quality RGB video signal out of it.
Recording is simply a matter of pressing the correct button when your desired programme comes on. You can fit 35 hours on the hard drive. You can't set timed recordings, but this makes sense given the device's limited battery life.
The USB-on-the-go feature is handy. You use a USB host adaptor and simply enter the 'External USB' folder in the file browser. Any files will show up there, and can then be moved on to the AV 700 TV's hard drive.
The television section of the AV 700 TV works like a dream. The signal is clean, the picture sharp and the colours bright. One or two channels took a while to be found by the on-board tuner, but apart from that the device performed brilliantly as a mobile digital Freeview TV.
Picture quality is also good with encoded video files, although the large screen is not particularly hi-res (it's 480x234 pixels) so it can look a touch soft at times. Still, if you download or create high-quality videos, you won't be disappointed with the results here.
Audio is another matter. Output from both the built-in speakers and any connected headphones is simply too quiet -- on a plane, even with the volume maxed out, we had trouble hearing subtler film dialogue through the headphones (you could fix this by buying better headphones, or noise-cancelling ones). The speakers, too, need to be kept at full volume most of the time.
Battery life isn't jaw-dropping, but it is respectable: you can watch around 3.5 hours of TV, 4 hours of video or listen to around 30 hours of music on one charge.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide