The AV420 is a fantastic audio player, taking full advantage of its screen to display track information and, when available, album art. Assuming your music files have accurate ID3 tags, you can browse by artist, album, track title, genre, or year. You can also create and manage playlists on the device. However, when we copied a playlist from Musicmatch, the songs were transferred, but the playlist itself was not.
The AV420 is one of a few PVPs that lets you set bookmarks. There's also a resume option in the main menu that works independently; selecting it automatically returns you to where you left off, which is great if you forget to set a bookmark.
Archos supplies Musicmatch Jukebox 8.1 Basic for managing music collections and the freeware utility VirtualDub for converting AVI and MPEG files to an AV420-compatible format. The typical MPEG file downloaded from the Internet (or one created by the user) will not play back on the AV420, given its resolution constraints. Converting, or transcoding, your video files is an easy process with VirtualDub. However, the utility won't work without a DivX codec and, for certain files, an MP3 encoder. It's up to you to find, download, and install both -- Archos doesn't include them. Although all this is well documented in the AV420 manual, we don't think users should have to search the Web for required software components.
What's more, in order for the player to work with either Musicmatch Jukebox or Windows Media Player, you must first install a driver. Unfortunately, this fact isn't mentioned anywhere in the AV420's PDF manual, which is otherwise excellent.
The Archos takes just a few seconds to boot up, and it's equally speedy at opening large movie files. The AV420's processor did lag a bit when generating thumbnails for large video and photo files, but that's a small price to pay for the convenient previews.
We were also impressed by how quickly VirtualDub was able to convert our video files to a playable MPEG-4 format. The time taken will vary depending on the size of the source file, the speed of your PC, and so on, but in our informal tests, it usually took no more than 15 to 20 minutes to convert a full-length film.
Without exception, everything we copied, converted, and recorded looked fantastic on the AV420's LCD. However, the few TV programmes we recorded looked a bit grainy when played back on a TV, even those captured at the highest quality.
For a PVP in this price range, we expected better than the cheap, plastic earbuds Archos provides. As for the AV420's built-in speaker, no one will mistake it for a Klipsch ProMedia model, but it's good enough for kids in the backseat to watch a film together without headphones.
Or even two films -- the AV420 has the best battery life of any hard drive-based PVP we've tested. It played video for 5.1 hours and audio for 13.8 hours. That's enough in-flight entertainment to carry you across the US -- and it sets the bar awfully high for competing portable video players.
Edited by James Kim
Additional editing by Tom Espiner