Archos has added a new 40GB variant on its AV700 PMP to the market - the AV700 TV. It's exclusive to Dixons/Currys and takes the feature count of the original model even further by specifying UHF DVBT digital TV reception! This feature can be used to watch or record/play Freeview channels, and to ensure reliable reception from iffy signals, Archos has employed an advanced diversity-reception system.
Supplied with the unit is a zip-up case containing a twin rod-aerial. This connects to a special socket on the top of the player, into which are built a pair of tuners that work in parallel, simultaneously receiving the selected channel. Two dedicated signal-processors then determine the best signal for decoding and display/recording.
For indoor use, adaptors are supplied for connection of a standard aerial. Unfortunately, you cannot record and view different channels, even when working from strong rooftop aerial signals: those two tuners are geared-up exclusively for diversity-reception. Recordings take the form of the original MPEG-2 transport streams, and so playback is indistinguishable from off-air signals. That 40GB, by the way, equates to up to 35hr of digital TV and the recorded files can be auditioned with a PC, or copied to its hard drive for subsequent DVD-authoring. Viewing of AV700 TV recordings on a PC, courtesy of the versatile freeware VLC Media player, certainly didn't pose any problems.
Pictures from digital TV are excellent - simply placing the supplied aerial on a window sill gave us good reception (the device proved popular in the office during the recent World Cup!). The display is pretty good with decent dynamic range and a sensible non-reflective matt-finish, although the screen size means that the pixel-structure is noticeable during use. An AV output allows digital TV (and recordings) to be experienced on the big-screen with good quality, although composite-video is the only option. Archos has failed to make the most of this exciting product in other ways. In order to display UK DTT, the AV700 TV must have the ability to decode MPEG-2 video - something that's not available on the original AV700 model.
But regrettably the unit won't play M PEG-2 files (even ones with DTT's M PEG-1 Layer-2 audio) sourced from a PC. Renaming them with a '.ts' extension didn't help. Were Archos to unleash the full potential of the hardware, and offer a Dolby Digital decoder upgrade commercially on its website, then the device could theoretically also play 'ripped' DVDs. Transport-streams captured with a digitally-tuned PC weren't supported - the files were reported as ' damaged or incomplete'.
Had they proved compatible, PC-equipped TV addicts would have been able to watch their recordings on-the-move with no need for conversion into DiVX. Even with this caveat, though, the AV700 TV is an intriguing proposition with top-level picture quality, smooth playback of files and the Freeview tuner is a fantastic feature - even if it is slightly expensive. Martin Pipe