Convergence is one of those computer industry buzzwords that gets bandied about every few years with rapturous promises of mobile phones as MP3 players, watches as cameras, and this technology cross-bred with that.
Tragically, the results normally make the user wish for a proper version of each of the gadgets before they were fused into a ropey Frankenstein’s-monster-gadget.
French company Archos has been dabbling in the lab, and has made some serious progress with its new Video AV300 series of media players that sport either a 20GB, 40GB or whopping 80GB internal hard drive with a colour 320-x-240-pixel screen in a relatively compact if chunky112-x-82-x-31mm housing – all of which weighs in at a modest 350g.
Essentially, the AV320 is a hard-drive with a screen, a processor, and loads of ports that deliver sound out or in, and which connects to a Mac via USB 2.0.
Most importantly, and Archos gets an A+ for this feature: it delivers video playback to the small screen and, optionally, to a TV set. File types supported are AVI, XviD, and DivX 4.0 and 5.0. The iPod is brilliant for music – but if you need to do anything else, Archos is the only game in town.
As a media player, it works – although not nearly as smoothly or intuitively as the iPod. Having 20GB of DivX files and a raft of MP3s while suffering a London commute is a godsend, and will be nice in winter as its purring disk keeps your hands warm. Internal battery life is an average seven hours of MP3 playback, or four hours of video.
A clever function of the AV320 is the ability to record in DivX and MP3 format, so you can use it transfer a record collection or record EastEnders to watch on the bus. A new upgrade allows for timer recording, too. Unfortunately, the DivX files it creates are much larger than they would be if encoded in some other way, weighing in at 44MB for a mere three minutes. It can also be used as a storage device for digital photos. However, viewing and navigating around the photos was painfully slow.
The element that lets it down the most is the user interface. It feels like a Windows PC, and is button-intensive with three function keys, joystick and up/down keys. A touch-screen, fewer keys, and a clever GUI would have been much better. This stumbling block could all change with upgrades.
Further expansion, including the bundled video-in port, is via an über port that will take a 3.3-megapixel digital camera with flash, FM radio tuner, memory-card reader, and eventually a FireWire port.
The idea behind the player is brilliant, but the device feels too first-generation. It’s best to wait until they’re smaller and cheaper, or when a decent PDA can take a bolt-on 20GB hard drive.