Archos believes it can take its portable media players, add a bigger hard drive and sit them under your television, but can the idea succeed? Does it beat Apple's Apple TV? We got viewing to find out.
Considerably larger than the Apple TV the device combines a Wi-Fi media player with either an 80GB or 250GB hard drive to allow you to stream or store movies, music, photos, podcasts and web video under your TV.
Around the back there is a plethora of connections both in and out: Wi-Fi, stereo analogue, composite, S-video, RGB, YPbPr (component), Ethernet, USB, SPDIF and HDMI.
The fact that you can input content to the player means you can record directly off the television treating the Archos TV+ as standard PVR. It also means you can use it, like the company's 605 Wi-Fi, as a conduit for transferring content from the television straight to a portable media device such as the company's 605 model with promised speeds of 10 minutes for a 2-hour movie - something that at present Apple TV can't do.
Boxes are boring and the Archos TV+ follows the trend, but what about inside?
Inside the interface is indentical to the 605 making us think this is merely a re-badged Archos 605 and docking station in one device.
Spilt into a number of elements the player will offer you video, music, images, web browsing, widgets and the Archos content portal all at the touch of the QWERTY keyboard remote.
Video is fairly straight-forward giving you the usual controls over your footage and you're given the ability to set the format ratio and other things, such as sound, easily on-screen from the confusing remote.
Music likewise works in a rather unimaginative format structure with the ability to select music by artist, genre, year and album. Playing the track presents a screen with the album cover and relevant details.
Images are done with a bit more excitement, however the interface is still rather dull. Images can be loaded into a slideshow and then shown or merely viewed individually.
When it comes to the browser, the Archos TV+ sports Opera, and it's very easy to use supporting Flash and other such web niceties. While it's one up on the Apple TV, that doesn't have a browser of any description, you will have to pay an additional £19.99 for the privilege and go through a laborious set-up procedure with your PC. The case is the same for widgets.
As for the Content Portal the content is pretty lacklustre and with no major studio currently offering content you shouldn't rely on getting anything to watch from here.
All sounds positive, so what's the catch?
It might look great on paper, but the interface is a clunky thing that looks rough and shoddy.
We live in a world where the focus and emphasis on making things not only work, but look good at the same time is more and more paramount, and when it comes to looks the Archos TV+ gets nil point. Compared to the Apple TV it looks like something a 2-year-old has done. Surely it wouldn't cost Archos much to hire a graphic designer to spruce things up. Hey if you are a graphic designer looking for some work give them a call, they clearly need your services.
Get past the interface and you realise you've bought a device that isn't exactly what is says without you spending more money.
Want to surf the Internet? That's an extra £20. Want to have an EPG so you can record TV without having to press the button at the right moment? That's even more money. Want to watch content in MPEG2? That's more money again. Want widgets? Yep, more cash you've just spent.
Archos in it's defence say it allows users to only buy what they want, but we think it's merely cheating the consumer.
But the horrid interface or the fact that you've got to pay for lots of the extras isn't the worse thing here: it's the lack of HD support that is most shocking. In a market where everything is becoming HD as standard, Archos seem to think otherwise again suggesting that due to a lack of HD content customers wouldn't want it. Wouldn't want it? Are they mad? What about HD pictures, HD video shot on a camcorder, HD content available on the web, HD content on Sky, on the BBC, on Channel 4? Shocking.
So what starts out as a promising challenger soon becomes nothing more than something that you should probably avoid.
That's not to say its all bad. The Archos does have some nice features like the ability to record from the television, the greater file format support such as MPEG4, WMV, H.264 up to DVD resolution and AAC sound, and MPEG2 MP@ML up to 10Mbps and AC3 stereo sound although no DivX, and the ability to plug your camera or camcorder straight in and start watching, then there is the ability to take content off and take it with you.
But once you realise that the interface is awful, many of the features aren't included in the price and it doesn't support HD it all goes downhill.