Portable AV's 'Swiss Army Knife' is an absolute must-have
Depth of features
Occasional MPEG4 lip-sync glitches
No hard-wired remote
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The tablet-like AV700 - from Archos, the company that arguably initiated the portable media player revolution - is its first model to sport a 16:9 screen. And what a screen - it's 7in diagonally, has a 4:3 mode for older material and is matt-finished (making it better for viewing in sunlight).
In terms of hard disk capacity, you now get 100GB - enough for as many as 400 hours of reasonable-quality video (or over 55,000 average-length 64kbps pop tunes). On the subject of video,the AV700 supports Windows Media in addition to DiVX and XViD formats.MPEG1 and MPEG2 (eg DVD rips) are,alas,not catered for.
MP3, WMA and WAV (uncompressed) audio files can be played.Still images can also be viewed on the unit's screen,provided they're in JPEG or BMP format.The AV700 supports Microsoft's PlaysForSure programme, and will handle protected Windows media.It can also be synchronised with your PC media collection via Windows Media Player (WMP) 10.
Making this possible is a USB2.0 interface,which will also allow the device to be used with Macs.The player can be switched to a 'pure' HDD mode by PC owners,thus bypassing WMP10 and allowing MPEG4 AVI files to be copied without unnecessary conversion.
But although a computer is a natural partner for the AV700,it isn't essential. The unit also sports AV inputs (stereo audio and composite/S-video) and will make audio and video recordings directly from connected sources like VCRs.For video,you get a choice of two resolutions ('TV'and 'screen') and five bitrates between 500kbps and 2,500bps.
The AV700 records video in 'simple-profile'MPEG4 format,while the accompanying audio is captured in an archaic compressed format known as ADPCM.Audio-only recordings can be in ADPCM or PCM, with sample rates of 32kHz or nocompromise 48kHz (CD's 44.1kHz would also have been appreciated).
There's a 'scheduler'for unattended recordings,and thanks to a supplied infrared emitter the AV700 will take control of a set-top box (Sky Digiboxes are supported).Recordings - both video and audio - can be edited (partial delete) and renamed with a virtual keyboard.
But we're not finished there! Audio and composite video outputs allow the AV700 to be hooked up to a TV, so that recordings can be enjoyed on the 'big screen'. Frequent travellers will certainly appreciate this.The icing on the cake is the remote control unit, supplied specifically for armchair operation.The AV700 may resemble a hand-held games console (an opinion bolstered by the controls on either side of the screen).
And true to form, it will play games - provided they're of the Mophun variety.Then there's the second USB port,which works in 'host'mode. Plug in a compatible hard drive or USB memory, and its contents are revealed on-screen.They can be viewed or copied to the AV700's hard drive.Owners of JVC's new Everio camcorders will certainly appreciate this 'backup' facility.
The AV700's menu-driven user interface is intuitive and,in terms of performance,the device cannot be seriously faulted either. Its big screen means that detail doesn't seem as apparent as,say,one of the smallerscreened Archos players. But it makes up for this with sheer scale!
There's, alas,no way of tweaking display contrast or colour saturation and the viewing angle is quite restricted.The stereo speakers,on either side of the screen,work surprisingly well although most will use earphones.Compatible content is conveyed well,although the occasional lip-sync errors creep in with some video files.
The AV700's own recordings also look and sound surprisingly good,and are certainly far superior to those made with competing devices. In all, the AV700 must surely be the current king of personal media players.
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