Archos has produced some of the best quality portable media players we've ever seen. As you can imagine, when it announced it would be making a TV streaming product, we hoped its excellent work would continue.
We've had time to look over Archos TV+, which comes in a 80GB version and a 250GB version, which we've reviewed. Is this product the one we've all been waiting for or is it another example of a media streamer that just doesn't live up to the hype?
The 250GB version is available to order from expansys from £250.
The TV+ is a tidy unit. It would be hard not to draw comparisons between the styling of it and Apple TV. It has a white top with a silver bezel around the sides. On the front is a white window that has a status LED behind it, as well as the remote receiver.
At the back, there are both inputs and outputs. Archos TV+ has HDMI out, and component, composite and S-Video inputs and outputs. There is also a coaxial digital audio output as well as analogue audio inputs and outputs.
The remote control is a unique feature. It's a small square affair with a Qwerty keypad and directional buttons for navigating menus and Web pages. It's comfortable enough to hold, but really needs two hands to operate properly.
At least on paper, the Archos has a very good selection of features. Indeed, it's just possible that it has too many features and doesn't really know what it's trying to be.
The main advertised feature is its ability to stream media from a variety of sources. It has a built-in hard drive, and you can drop files on to it directly through USB. It can also connect to computers via wired or wireless networks.
The most interesting feature is the ability to record TV, but because the Archos TV+ doesn't contain a TV tuner, you have to hook it up to your existing machine. This is clumsy, and we can't help feel that for £250, Archos could have included a Freeview tuner chip.
Archos provides a service called Archos Content Portal, which offers access to free video, including some news from EuroNews and short clips from other providers. There's even the facility to rent movies. Prices are around £2.99 and are valid for 7 days after download and last 24 or 48 hours from the first time you view them. Video files can also be played while they are downloading, which is a nice feature.
Our biggest gripe with the Archos TV+ is its lack of HD support. For a product this expensive, and one that competes with HD media streamers like the Xbox 360, Apple TV and the DivX Connected streamers, we think this is a huge mistake.
At the press launch, Archos said that the lack of HD support was because there was virtually no legal HD material, and that Archos was trying to prevent piracy. Now, we call shenanigans here -- the Archos TV+ allows you to record content from both DVD and TV onto its hard drive. From there, you can copy it to your PC and freely distribute it in anyway you like.
This makes us think that rather than being the bastions of legal content, Archos is simply planning to launch an HD-capable product next year. You might like to consider that before going out and buying one.
The TV+ television recording feature is decent, although most people will have to connect it to their Freeview boxes via Scart or composite. This means you'll get a pretty ropey picture at times. We've included some screenshots with this review that show what the picture quality is like.
You'll probably notice that when you record from composite video, you get some picture jitter, colour bleeding and patterning. We tested the recorder with a Freeview box with component in, and got better results than from composite. We also like the ability to transfer files from the TV+ to your portable Archos PMP or a PC.
This screenshot was from video recorded via the component input. We've left this image with the same black bars you get when recording (click for a full-size version)
In terms of a media streamer, the Archos is less useful than most of the competition. For a start, codec support is lacking. While it does support DivX and XviD, if you have XviD files encoded with QPEL or ones that have a frame size larger than the Archos can handle, you'll get an error message. We ran into this a number of times with our test material.
Here, you can see the colour problems on video captured via composite (click for a full-size version)
We're also annoyed by the fact that the Archos supports MPEG-2 but that you have to buy an extra plug-in to activate it. This is diabolical, considering the competition to this product all provide that functionality, and generally for a much lower price too.
You'll also need plug-ins for Apple QuickTime, H.264 and AAC audio support, and if you want to watch YouTube or other Web video, you'll have to buy the Opera plug-in too. Indeed, at the launch of Archos TV the company told us that if you want all the plug-ins, you'll need to shell out a further £50 -- taking the cost of the 250GB machine up to around £300.
All this aside, we didn't find the use of Archos to be an entirely brilliant experience. Getting around the main menus was generally okay, but it isn't a patch on either Apple TV or the D-Link DSM-330. The setup procedure is satisfactory.
To answer to our own question, the Archos doesn't really live up to our expectations. Archos has clearly got a market in mind for this product, but we aren't entirely sure if that market exists. We think that the sort of person who wants a media streamer is likely to want one that outputs HD.
At the end of the day, we don't really think Archos TV+ offers anything that isn't done better elsewhere. If you want to buy or rent movies, Apple TV is a much better choice. If you want a DivX media streamer, go for one of the D-Link products.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Shannon Doubleday