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Cowon iAudio A3: The definitive PMP?

Cowon's new iAudio A3 has just hit the UK and it's set to be the be-all and end-all of portable media players. With huge codec support and a massive screen, could it dethrone the Archos 605 Wi-Fi?

You might not have heard of Cowon -- it's a Korean company responsible for some of our favourite MP3 and video players, including the superb iAudio D2 DAB. Well, the company's new player, the iAudio A3, has just launched and fans of portable video should be extremely excited.

The A3 is a fairly large portable media player. It's got a 102mm (4-inch) screen with a resolution of 800x480 pixels and 30GB and 60GB capacity options. And just look at this list of supported formats: DivX, Xvid, MPEG-4 SP/ASP, WMV, H.264, M-JPEG, MPEG 1/2, MP3, WMA, FLAC, OGG, Apple Lossless, AAC/AAC+, AC3, True Audio, Monkey's Audio, MusePack, WavPack, G.726 and WAV. This smashes the marvellous Archos 605 Wi-Fi out of the park in terms of codec support.

What really makes the A3 stand out, though, is the fact that this is the first player to let you literally drag and drop your DVDs directly into the player's memory -- no conversion is needed. Just browse into a DVD through My Computer (in Windows -- no word on other OSs yet) and drag the VOB files on to the player. Obviously we'll be testing this when we get our hands on one in a week or so, but it's a very exciting feature if it works like Cowon claims.

You're also able to plug in any video source -- games console, DVD player, set-top box -- and record directly to the hard disk. Compression is done in real time so there's no waiting around for files to encode.

Cowon players have always had stellar sound quality and we have no reason to believe the A3 will be any different. In fact, the iAudio D2 arguably has the best sound we've ever heard from an MP3 player. There's also a document viewer, FM radio and photo gallery.

The only immediate downside we see is that battery life is seven hours for video but a very poor 10 hours for audio. This is a big disappointment and we hope our tests reveal significantly better performance, but we're not holding our breath.

The iAudio A3 is on sale now for £279 (30GB) and £319 (60GB). We'll have a full review for you very soon, so be sure to check back. -Nate Lanxon

Update: Read our full Cowon A3 review.