Archos is one of those companies that is known better for its technology than its army of rabid fans. It had a hard-drive-based music player before the iPod, and it had one of the first, if not the first, portable DVRs on the market. Last year it rolled out the 4th generation portable media players, including the 604 and 704 Wi-Fi players, but they were high priced and, frankly, had a bit of a clunky interface. Today they unveil the 5th generation, with lower price, better interface, sleeker form factor and new services. It's also beefed up to handle Flash video straight from the Internet, as you'll see in the gallery.
The main device in the new lineup, it will ship at the end of June. I like the way the flick-button interface on the side saves space while giving you all of the options of a bulkier interface. The touchscreen is now 800x480, way up from last year's 480x272. That means that the 480p output you see on the TV in the gallery shots is almost pixel-for-pixel what you see on the device itself. Fonts look smooth and the icons are clear—the abstract icons of last year's model have been improved.
The 605 will have three or four storage options: there will be a 4GB flash version for $229, a 30GB HDD for $299 and a 160GB HDD version for $399. Some retailers may also carry an 80GB edition.
You'll be able to stream from PC to PMP and any TV it's connected to. It won't do high-def, since the max output is 480p, and it can only record up to 640x480. You can also download CinemaNow files up to 2.5Mbps in resolution. With rentals, you will download files directly to the PMP, and you'll have to watch them there. With purchases, you'll be able to download a copy to the PMP, then download another to a PC. (I believe it's up to four copies total.)
To save on cost, Archos will upsell software plug-in options as follows: • Opera web browser $30 • Internet radio plug-in $20 • Cinema plug-in with DVD (MPEG-2) and AC-3 audio $20 • Podcast plug-in with H.264 video and AAC audio $20 • High-def video plug-in lets you record HDTV up to 720p (24 frames per second) $20 • Widgets plug-in with games and utilities from the Opera widget collection $20
If you order it all, the bill could get pretty high, but Archos says most people will only buy the extras they need. It's an interesting strategy. Make sure you read through the Gallery captions for a guided tour of features.