The AV420 combines the features of a digital audio player such as Apple Computer's iPod, video recorder features such as the TiVo's, and a large handheld hard drive for storing digital photos and other files. The device comes with a docking station that lets users record from any video source (through composite audio/visual cables) onto the AV420.
Music and other files can be transferred to the AV420 through a USB 2.0 cable from a PC or Macintosh. You can watch videos on the 3.8-inch color LCD screen, or connect via the docking station to a TV and watch them on a larger display. You can listen to music via the external speaker, or connect headphones to the AV420. The storage capacity is impressive -- the version we tested had 20G bytes of space, which translates to as many as 80 hours of content. A larger, 100G-byte version also is available (about US$800), which offers up to 400 hours of content.
An optional FM radio and remote-control accessory let users listen to FM radio broadcasts and record songs directly to the device.
Why it's cool: The AV420 truly becomes a handheld digital entertainment center when you combine the video player, TV (or other video source) recorder, color screen and photo-viewing applications to the standard digital audio player.
We've seen the evolution of products from Archos, and they've generally impressed us over the years. While Apple gets raves for its iPod, Archos continues to come out with products that impress.
The AV420's interface is super-intuitive. Navigating around the menus is easy with its five-way navigation buttons. File folders containing sample music, video and photos come pre-installed, so when you attach it to a computer, you easily can transfer digital files into the folders.
The addition of the color screen and video player does drain the battery; we were able to get about 3 hours of active video playing before the battery died; you should have enough time to watch a movie or listen to songs on a plane ride, but make sure you bring the charger along so the video player is powered up for the return trip.
The hardest part of connecting the docking station to our TV for video recording was untangling all the wires attached to the station. Once connected, recording a video segment involved selecting the video recording application and choosing an option to record. If you want to record a TV show that isn't on yet, you can set up the recording by inputting the time, show duration and channel.
If you need to have the system change the channel, the AV420 includes an infrared cable that connects to the docking station, which you connect to your cable box.
Using the recording application reminded us of the early days of the VCR, when you needed to remember when certain shows were on and on which channel. If you've been spoiled by TiVo and other personal video recorders, that let you pick a show from the guide and click one button, you might be put off by having to input data manually.
Fortunately, there are enough TV listings sites on the Internet that will tell you when shows are on. We hope a future software upgrade will let you connect the AV420 to a PC and download your TV listings directly to the device, but for now we're left with the manual method.
The scoop: Pocket Video Recorder AV420, from Archos, about US$550. It will be available in Australia soon. Keep an eye out for it on sites such as NuSense.