Will the Archos tempt me away from my beloved iPod? I must admit, to say it was interesting is an understatement, with some very nice experiences along the way. On test was the 160Gb version of the Archos 504, yes, you read that right, 160Gb of storage.
The unit sports a 4.3 inch widescreen, capable of displaying 16 million colours. The screen is nice and bright, evenly lit and offers adjustable brightness levels. My only minor complaint was that there were not enough levels to choose from. Staying with the screen, it is very glossy, so you do get some reflections, but adjusting the angle is not a problem. The size of the actual unit is a little bulky feeling, not as pocketable as a 5th generation iPod, mainly because the size that the hard drive adds to the unit, but also due to the weight. Build quality was spot on, with a very nice brushed metal finish.
On the audio front the 504 supports MP3 and WAV files, photo viewing is also supported, plus you get MPEG4 and WMV video playback out of the box. To playback H.264, MPEG2 and VOB files you need to purchase optional plug-ins from Archos, which at the time of my review were not available.
Playing back music was superb, the sound through a decent set of headphones was rich and the on-screen display gives you a lot of information and options. There is also a built-in speaker, but this is very tinny and does not give a lot of volume, so although I do not think you would use it much, I suppose not a lot of competitors players have a speaker at all. Movie playback is awesome, the fluidity of motion scenes is great, colours are rich and again you have a lot of options. Photo viewing is also great, you get thumbnails of all your files, which are magnified slightly as you move over them for easy selection. When viewed full size the colour and definition is spot on, plus moving to the next photo is done in style with beautiful transition effects.
Where the Archos 504 takes things one step further is with its' ability to record programs. To do this you need to purchase the optional DVR Station, which serves many purposes. Use as a simple dock allows you to synchronise the 504 with your PC or Mac (for Mac please read on), it also allows you to charge the unit. The back of the DVR Station is laden with many sockets, composite video in and out, S-Video in and out, Audio in and out, Digital SPDIF out, plus Component video output too. Wow, now that is a lot to choose from. Once connected you can view content on your TV, but the exciting part is the ability to record and schedule recordings. The DVR Station is even powerful enough to bounce IR signals off a wall some 15 feet away, then back to your set-top box to change channels. The resulting recordings are nothing short of superb, with great visuals and sound.
Now, I use a Mac and an iPod every day. To get content over to the Archos, I simply plugged in via USB and set the unit to 'hard drive mode'. It then appeared on my desktop as an external drive. I then dragged folders and files from my iTunes library into the appropriate folder on the Archos (eg. Music, Movies, Photos etc.). This worked great and even pulled across and displayed my album art. The only downside was the lack of support for .mov files, so I guess once that plug-in comes this will be sorted.
So, will I give up my iPod. Well, the truthful answer is no, but I would love to have an Archos 504 as well, if I could afford it. If I didn't have an iPod already, then I would strongly consider this as an alternative, but only if I was going to put the recording features to good use. The Archos 504 is a superb product and I would strongly recommend you try and get a look at one.
Take a look at my two part video review below. The Archos product page is here.