This portable video player is the replacement for Archos' well-loved AV 500. It's a lot cheaper -- £270 rather than £340 -- but the price reduction comes at the cost of a few potentially important features, the most notable of which is the ability to record from the TV (this requires an optional £70 extra).
Still, there's much this device can do out of the box. It will play videos, play music and display photos, all of which can be stored on its 30GB hard drive. It is compatible with a wide range of popular file formats in all three media -- but you'll need to connect it to a computer in order to move files over.
Our initial impression of the 604 was that it was smaller and lighter than its predecessor, but a quick look at the spec sheets reveals that there's very little difference between them. In fact, the 604 is the larger of the two (by a few millimetres here and there), despite being ever-so-slightly lighter in weight.
Whatever the dimensions, it's certainly a ruggedly handsome device. There's an uncluttered feel to the grey and silver block, as there aren't lots of different-sized buttons popping up everywhere -- just a couple on the top and five to the right of the 109mm (4.3-inch) widescreen TFT display.
These five buttons are actually two-in-one controls, as they can be rocked to the right and left. Using them takes a little getting used to, but it's a vast improvement on the baffling button layout of the AV 500. And, unlike the AV 500, these buttons usually do what you expect them to -- pressing the 'up' control will increase the volume, pressing the 'right' during music playback will skip to the next track, for example.
There isn't much in the way of connectivity here. As well as sticking in a proprietary port for hooking the device up to your PC or Mac, Archos has dispensed with the USB host feature that was part of the AV 500's line-up (so you can't hook up a digital camera and move files back and forth directly -- unless you buy an optional Docking Adapter). Naturally, there is a headphone socket, but if you want to connect the 604 to a television for recording and/or playback, you'll need the optional DVR Station, a £70 charging dock that features a host of in and outputs.
The device also has a removable battery, which can be popped out and replaced with another. Like the DVR Station and Docking Adapter, the replacement battery is an optional extra.
Next to the battery you'll find a kickstand, allowing the 604 to be propped up on a desktop. This was a notable omission on the AV 500, so we're happy to see it included here.
Features-wise, the 604 is very similar to its predecessor. One big difference is the user interface -- we've already mentioned that the button layout and design is superior, but the on-screen menu has also undergone something of a revamp to make it clearer and easier to navigate.
Browsing for and finding a file is now a very straightforward process. It's not quite as simple as, say, selecting a track on an iPod, but anyone with a hint of common sense will have few problems navigating the various menus. You can even turn the display into a simple file browser should you wish to open a particular folder.
Getting your files on to the device is easy. You simply connect it to your PC or Mac with the supplied USB cable and then drag and drop files, creating extra folders if you wish. On a PC, you can also transfer media files over using Windows Media Player 10's sync function. The 604 is a 'Plays For Sure' device, so protected movies and audio tracks are fully compatible.
The only out of the box recording you can do here is with the built-in microphone. As mentioned above, anything else will require additional gear. We managed to get our hands on the DVR Station, and found it to be a decent, well-made add-on (as you'd expect for £70). You can record from an AV device via S-Video, composite video and analogue stereo in good quality, as well as play back material from the Archos' hard drive on a larger display or better quality sound system.
Like its predecessor, the 604 provides excellent video quality if you give it a good source video. We loaded some XviD episodes of Lost on and were disappointed to see them juddering slightly due to the frame rate not 'agreeing' with the Archos' codecs. Still, an XviD version of Napoleon Dynamite ran more smoothly and looked excellent, boasting bright, strong colours and some of the best detail we've seen on a portable video player.
Audio quality is also a plus point. You can adjust settings to your own preference, but even in its default mode the device certainly acquits itself well against dedicated MP3 players, including the iPod. All things considered, it's an improvement over the AV 500.
The external speaker is mono and very much on the quiet side, so we'd certainly recommend investing in a good quality pair of headphones, as you're going to be using them a lot with this device.
Battery life is rated at four hours when watching video and around 15 hours for audio playback only (with the TFT display switched off). This is about the same as the AV 500.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Kate Macefield