Gadget Mini-Review: Archos 5 (250 GB)

 

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Last year at this time, I first discovered the Archos 605 Wi-Fi Portable Media Player. As anyone who reads this blog probably realizes, I’m a bit of a gadget nut but most of my media-playing allegiance has gone to Apple’s iPod and iPhone. (I skipped the Apple TV originally because I’m more of a renter than a buyer these days, which has since been addressed. My living room still is without an Apple TV.)

Where Apple sacrifices extendability for simplicity, the Archos is almost like an open floodgate that handles nearly any kind of media that you can throw at it. I lusted after that 605 so my wife got me one for an early Christmas present last year, and I’ve been happily using it around the house and on-the-go ever since.

That is, until a couple days ago when I realized the local Circuit City now stocks the shiny new Archos 5 Internet Media Tablet (and particularly the 250 GB model). Of course I plunked down hard-earned cash for it, along with the new DVR Station, which lets you connect the player to your television as well as record audio & video from any source (including a programmable TV guide like the one found on most satellite or cable boxes with DVR).

I’m one of those guys who enjoys eating lunch on the couch watching TV, but what about breakfast at the kitchen table? With the Archos player, I can do both. I originally wanted the Archos 605 for one very specific purpose: to watch DVDs without being tied to the living room. How can such a tiny unit play DVDs when it has no optical drive, I hear you asking? Well, with the addition of a $19.95 software plug-in from Archos, you can copy VOB files from DVD and enjoy them on-the-go, both on the Archos player and on your television with the DVR Station. (Keep in mind that commercial DVDs will have to be stripped of CSS encryption to be playable this way… more on that in a moment.)

You see, I have a lot of TV series on disc, mostly older shows that won’t matter so much when the world finally shifts to HD. Stuff like THE JEFFERSONS or SANFORD & SON or the original DARK SHADOWS, all of which were shot on the predominant videotape format of the time (I’m guessing 1″ video back in the ’70s). These shows will not look any better on Blu-ray since the original source material was standard definition, so I’m happy to collect and own them, knowing that I’ll watch them again and again over the years.

While the Archos players can do more than play video ripped from DVDs, that was my primary use for it. Watch a bit of a show at breakfast, bookmark it so I can pick up where I left off at lunch, a few minutes before bed or wherever I happen to be. It’s the ultimate in convenience, and with the DVD VOB files, I don’t have to have the long conversion times like you do with Apple’s portable devices. I can watch them, delete them right off the device itself, then hook it to the computer and load up more. And with 250 GB on the new Archos 5, it beats every Apple portable ever made!

Now my biggest gripe about the older Archos 605 player was the quality of the TV output. Last year’s DVR Station had composite, S-Video and component output, but none of them looked all that great on my 50″ HDTV (they looked quite nice on the player itself, however). Thankfully, the Archos 5 player and the new DVR Station have changed all that. The new dock comes with HDMI (and HD-quality) output, and the same VOB files now look much closer to the original DVD source material. The 5 even has a crisper, brighter screen on its own, which is already giving new life to my old TV shows.

The Archos 5’s bag of tricks doesn’t stop there. You can record & playback shows recorded using the DVR Station, play music, view photos, use the built-in Wi-Fi to browse the Internet, check your e-mail or even buy new content from the Archos Media Club and download it straight to your device. And it will take just about any format you can throw at it… way more than Apple’s devices and there are plug-ins to add even more (in addition to the Cinema plug-in to play DVD VOB files, there’s another for Podcasts which will play back H.264 and AAC files, as long as they aren’t protected). There’s even an HD plug-in on the way, and the 605 had a free Dish Network plug-in to transfer recorded SD shows to the player, which I’m sure will also be on the Archos 5 before long (and maybe even HD… one can dream!).

As I mentioned earlier, the Archos players aren’t as slick as the Apple ones, but you can do a lot more with them. That’s not to say that Archos doesn’t have some bugs… just last night the wife and I were watching a miniseries ripped from DVD and it locked up on us a few times, necessitating a reset (and even that didn’t solve the problem sometimes). But Archos is pretty diligent with firmware updates to fix problems, and my history with the 605 is any indication, the Archos 5 will soon have its own bug-squashing firmware.

Oh, and about that DVD VOB ripping… while there are a lot of choices for both Mac & Windows, my personal Mac-only favorites are MacTheRipper (to rip all or part of a DVD to your hard drive) or even better, DVDRemaster, which comes with a small program called FairMount. DVDRemaster itself is similar to MacTheRipper, but FairMount (with a little help from the free VLC player) allows you to mount a protected DVD and simply drag & drop VOB files to your Archos player (or hard drive, if you wish)!

Whether you have one of Apple’s fine products or not, I’d suggest you give Archos a look if you like portability with your expandability. You can have it all!

Archos on Amazon.com

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 at 2:24 pm and is filed under Apple Talk, Gadgets, Reviews, Technology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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