Archos has made itself the premier company for portable video players, gradually chipping away at a niche market until its products are now available on the high street. It's now easy to see the appeal of video on the move -- Apple's iPod now has video capability, which will soon make it the most popular portable video player in the world by default.
The AV500 is Archos' answer to this massive threat. Sleeker than its predecessors and with a new high-quality screen, the AV500 is the realisation of Archos' early promise. While the interface could never be described as intuitive and the chassis is prone to scratching, this is a hugely desirable product that is competitively priced and packed with features. If you regularly use DivX video and you're a frequent traveller, then the AV500 is indispensible.
The Archos AV4100 was robust but the screen wasn't a wide format. The AV700 tried to copy Apple's cool white styling, but it scratched easily and was too big for everyday use. The AV500 combines the best parts of the previous models and combines them in a sleek, endlessly desirable package. The brushed metal finish looks great and it feels built to last -- although our obviously pre-used sample had collected some scratches on its travels. The screen is also in a widescreen format and the perfect size at just over 100mm diagonally. The connectivity is excellent on Archos' player. We love the way that it can connect directly up to a digital camera and act as a host, so you can downaload images without having to go through a PC. There's also a standard USB 2.0 connector for linking up to a computer.
Archos has also included the docking station from its previous media players. The player itself doesn't dock in the same great way as the iPod -- instead it sits in the dock's rubbery grips and then a cable plugs into the same slot as the headphones. Cables for video output and input (the latter for recording TV shows) then plug into the dock. So, unlike the iPod, you'll need to carry the dock around with you to use most of the advanced functionality.
The package also includes headphones, although sadly they do not remotely operate the device from the cable. It's also rather annoying that the volume adjustment is placed on the main four-way joypad instead of being a separate wheel. It makes it fiddly to change volume and skip tracks without taking the whole device out of your pocket.
When you connect to a computer running Microsoft Windows, you might want to use Windows Media Player to sync with the device automatically. In the system setup, you tell the machine to act as a Windows Media device as opposed to an external hard drive. This means that when you connect up, Windows Media Player will transfer all of the media on the computer, and if necessary, perform conversion so it will play back. This is the novice's route -- more experienced users can just drag and drop files into the relevant folders.