Is the Archos TV+ device from Archos the media-streaming and television recording solution we're all waiting for? As well as acting as a bridge between your computer and television, the Archos TV+ has input connections.

There have been several devices of late attempting to take over the space underneath your television next to your DVD player. In this battle for the living room we've seen some high profile losers such as HD DVD, uncertain newcomers such as Blu-ray and ongoing favourites such as Sky.

On top of this a raft of newcomers such as BT Vision, Virgin Media are jostling for space and a series of new devices aiming to bridge the gap between PC and television, such as the LinkSYS' Media Center Extender and the Apple TV.

It's clear that television is rapidly changing and that digital video has never been so important. With many people downloading television and movies over the internet (whether legally or not) there is real demand for a device that bridges the gap between PC and TV.

The Apple TV aimed to do just that, but in the UK it did very little else. And by being locked into Apple's iTunes movie format it doesn't play DivX or the myriad of other formats that do the rounds.

Media Center Extender is a more complete solution, but as we saw in our review of the LinkSYS DMA2200 this leaves much to be desired. Most notably the problems caused by its reliance on a television signal with your computer, rather than more sensibly with the device itself.

Which is where the Archos TV+ seems to have an ace hidden up its sleeve. As well as acting as a bridge between your computer and television, it has input connections. These enable it to hook-up to your Freeview or satellite TV box and act as a PVR (personal video recorder) independently of your computer.

The Archos TV+ also has an abundance of other features. You can download movies rentals from the Archos Content Portal, sync up to video and audio podcasts, stream music from the PC, surf the web via an Opera browser, access an abundance of Opera widgets (news, weather and so on), play Flash-based games, browse photographs on your PC.

Rarely have we come across a product that seemed so incredibly cool before we took it out of the box; and so achingly poor after we unboxed it and tried to set it up. The Archos TV+ disappoints.

Just as there are an abundance of features in the Archos TV+, there is also a seemingly never-ending list of problems with the device.

Then there's the way it goes about recording television (which we consider to be its star feature). They way it works is you connect your Freeview box to the Archos TV+, which means it works with your existing setup, be it Freeview or Satellite.

Sounds clever, until you try it out. The problem is that the Archos TV+ has to change the channel on your Freeview box; to do so it emits an infrared beam (in effect acting as a remote control).

Consequently the Archos TV+ has to be facing the device; which it won't be because both boxes will be underneath your television facing forwards. If you have a small enough room, the signal may bounce of the wall from one device to another. But don't bank on it.

Of course, you can twist both devices round to face each other; but then your remote controls won't work.

That is, of course, assuming that you can get the Archos TV+ to work with your Freeview box in the first place. It has a built-in list of Freeview boxes and matching remote control signals and, although the list is pretty comprehensive, many Freeview boxes are from what we could charitably call ‘up-and-coming' companies based in Taiwan and sold through Tescos for a period of about two weeks.

So we doubt very much that the list is complete. We couldn't get the Archos TV+ to work with our Nokia Freeview box, for example, even though it has four different settings for Nokia boxes.

Even if you do get through all this and manage to record television, don't expect much in the way of quality. You see, this is what happens: the digital signal goes down your aerial into your Freeview box, where it is converted to an analogue signal for your TV; it is then intercepted by the Archos TV+ and turned back into a digital signal, recorded to the built-in hard drive, converted back in to an analogue signal and sent to your TV (which is probably a digital TV in the first place). Every time it is converted something, somewhere gets lost. And boy does it show.

NEXT PAGE: other problems, and our expert verdict > >

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Is the Archos TV+ device from Archos the media-streaming and television recording solution we're all waiting for? As well as acting as a bridge between your computer and television, the Archos TV+ has input connections.

And there are other problems. Despite sporting an HDMI output socket the device can't output high definition. Apparantly this is planned for a future version, so you may want to wait for that Archos TV+ before laying down your money.

The Archos TV+ also required a firmware update before it would work, and lacks half of the functions required of it unless you go online and pay extra for them (these include the H.264 -AAC sound codec required for iTunes and podcasts, MPEG-2.VOB for DVD playback and the Opera web browser.) You'll also need to sign up to TVTV online to get the Archos TV+'s guide to work, although this is free for the first year. There is no mention of how much it will cost in future.

To be honest, all of this pales in comparison next to the over-arching problem with the Archos TV+. Everything from the manual to user interface and remote control appear to have been designed by a sadist.

There is a saying in development companies: "never let a programmer design a user interface" and it seems to be something that Archos has forgotten with the Archos TV+. Say what you like about Media Center and Apple TV, they are at least easy to navigate once you've got them working.

For the latest games and home entertainment news and reviews visit Digital World.

Archos TV+: Specs

  • 80GB or 250GB hard drive
  • MPEG-4, WMV, MP3 playback
  • optional software plug-ins for H.264, AAC sound, MPEG-2 MP@ML up to 10 Mbps, AC3 stereo sound
  • photo viewer
  • records NTSC/PAL/SECAM to MPEG-4 SP files with ADPCM stereo sound, VGA resolution (640 x 480)@ 30 or 25 f/s, in AVI format, WAV (IMA ADPCM or PCM)
  • USB 2.0, 802.11g, stereo analog, composite, S-video, RGB, YPbPr (component), ethernet, USB slave (USB B), USB host (USB A), infrared receptor for remote control, and DC-in
  • stereo analog, SPDIF (RCA type), composite, S-video, RGB, YPbPr, and HDMI, infrared emitter, AV Switch
  • external power supply
  • 250x164x37mm
  • 1294g
  • 80GB or 250GB hard drive
  • MPEG-4, WMV, MP3 playback
  • optional software plug-ins for H.264, AAC sound, MPEG-2 MP@ML up to 10 Mbps, AC3 stereo sound
  • photo viewer
  • records NTSC/PAL/SECAM to MPEG-4 SP files with ADPCM stereo sound, VGA resolution (640 x 480)@ 30 or 25 f/s, in AVI format, WAV (IMA ADPCM or PCM)
  • USB 2.0, 802.11g, stereo analog, composite, S-video, RGB, YPbPr (component), ethernet, USB slave (USB B), USB host (USB A), infrared receptor for remote control, and DC-in
  • stereo analog, SPDIF (RCA type), composite, S-video, RGB, YPbPr, and HDMI, infrared emitter, AV Switch
  • external power supply
  • 250x164x37mm
  • 1294g

OUR VERDICT

We really can't recommend the Archos TV+, which is a shame because we really wanted it to live up to our expectations. Sadly the difficulty we had setting it up, plus the lack of high definition playback, are major issues that the Archos TV+ failed to overcome.

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